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Top Single Season NFL Rushers

Updated on November 6, 2007

Eric Dickerson

Jamal Lewis

Barry Sanders

Research for most NFL statistics is easy to find these days, but even the source I used for this only went back to 1960. Still, it's unlikely that there were many performances better than this top ten of the last 47 seasons:

Eric Dickerson, Los Angeles Rams - 2105 Yards - 1984

Eric Dickerson had a great career, ranking sixth all-time in rushing yardage with 13,259. But Dickerson rushed for 2105 of those yards in 1984 while with the Rams, setting an NFL record that has not been broken in almost 25 years. That season, Dickerson carried the ball 379 times for a 5.6 yards per carry average, and scored 14 rushing touchdowns.

Jamal Lewis, Baltimore Ravens - 2066 Yards - 2003

He's only been playing since 2000 and has battled injuries and off the field trouble, but former Raven and current Cleveland Brown Jamal Lewis rushed his way to second in the record books with 2066 yards in 2003. Almost mirroring Dickerson's record-breaking year, Lewis rushed 387 times for a 5.3 yards per carry average and 14 TDs that season. He also rushed for 500 of those yards against his current team, the Cleveland Browns, including an NFL record 295 yards in week 2 (which was just broken by the Vikings' Adrian Peterson).

Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions - 2053 Yards - 1997

Barry Sanders played for a Lions team that only reached the playoffs a handful of times during his career, all with Detroit, from 1989 to 1998. And in 1997, Sanders rushed 335 times for 2053 yards with 11 touchdowns. But what's most astonishing is the 6.1 yards per carry average for the season.

Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos - 2008 Yards - 1998

Unfortunately, Terrell Davis' career was cut short by injury (1995 to 2001), but he did manage to help the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles. In one of those seasons, 1998, Davis rushed 392 times for 2008 yards and 21 touchdowns, a season that made his fantasy football owners as happy as Denver fans.

OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills - 2003 Yards - 1973

At this point in history, many people forget what a great football player OJ Simpson was. In a career that spanned 11 seasons with Buffalo and San Francisco, Simpson rushed for 11,236 yards. And he racked up 2003 of those yards in one season, 1973 with Buffalo. That year, OJ rushed 332 times for the 2003 yards and 12 TDs, averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

Earl Campbell, Houston Oilers - 1934 Yards - 1980

Earl Campbell was a powerful running back who had a relatively short but great career with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints from 1978 to 1985. In 1980, Campbell rushed 373 times for 1934 yards, ranking him sixth in single season totals in NFL history. Campbell also scored 13 rushing touchdowns that year.

Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions - 1883 Yards - 1994

You have to be great to be on this list twice, but calling Barry Sanders great might seem redundant if you saw him play. In fact, Sanders never had less than 1115 yards rushing in a single season. His second best, 1883 yards in 1994, ranks seventh in NFL history. That year, Sanders carried the ball 331 times for a 5.7 yards per carry average and 7 rushing TDs.

Ahman Green, Green Bay Packers - 1883 Yards - 2003

Ahman Green has had a pretty good, if not injury plagued, career that began in 1998 with Seattle. Since then he's played for the Packers and now the Texans, and Green's best year was in 2003 with Green Bay, when he rushed 355 times for 1883 yards and a career best 15 TDs.

Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks - 1880 Yards - 2005

Shaun Alexander began his pro career in 2000 and has played for the Seahawks ever since. It's not likely he'll ever match his great year of 2005, when Alexander rushed 370 times for 1880 yards and a then record of 27 touchdown runs. That season, Alexander had 11 games with over 100 yards rushing.

Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns - 1863 Yards - 1963

If Jim Brown played today, he would probably go down as the greatest running back in history. That's subjective, but I feel like it's a pretty accurate statement. Ranking 10th all-time with 1863 yards in the 1963 season (when they only played 14 games) with the Browns (his only team), Jim Brown rushed 291 times for those yards, for an unbelievable 6.4 yards per rush average. He also scored 12 touchdowns that season, and added another 3 TDs as a receiver.


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    • profile image

      LAW 6 years ago

      Just think if Barry Sanders played on a good team. He would have averaged 2000 yards a season. You also should have mentioned that OJ Simpson was the only player to rush for 2000 yards in 14 games.

    • profile image

      rob r 7 years ago

      Sorry--my mistake--they HAD switched to a 14 game season by 1963.

      Though I still think, yards per carry puts Sanders and Brown as the greatest backs ever.

      But I was wrong about Brown's 12 game season--sorry about that. Only his first few years were 12 games--by '63, the league had gone to 14 games, as the article accurately states. Sorry about that.

    • profile image

      rob r 7 years ago

      While Simpson DID rush for his 2,003 in 14 games,and all the other 2,000 yard players had 16, you neglect Jim Brown and his 12 game season.

      Look it up. Jim Brown gained 1,863 yards in a 12 (TWELVE!) game season--that's how long an NFL season was in 1963. If you go by yards per game, he would have easily passed OJ's (admittedly great--I saw him live 2X that year, including the game he passed 2000 against the Jets) 2,003.

      So, while OJ's season was AMAZING, I'd argue Brown's 1,863 in a 12 game season (with 6.4 yards per carry) is the greatest single season of any running back in history.

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      nick 7 years ago

      Terrell davis rushed for over 2000 yards while also missing 8 full quarters of play.

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      Barry the best ever 7 years ago

      Barry Sanders played for the Lions...enough said he was and is the best RB to play the game...

    • profile image

      YOU FORGOT... 7 years ago

      Chris Johnson! i think 2,006 yards? maybe 2,008?

    • profile image

      Rudy 7 years ago

      Forgetting for a moment all of his other problems, O.J. Simpsom belongs in a class all by himself. When he gainged over 2,000 yards in a single season, there were only 14 games in a season. The others gained the milestone in a 16 game season.

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      TR3Y 8 years ago

      Maybe u should do QB rushing yards next that if u like scrammbling qbs like i do.

      Mick vick and randall cunningham

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      Football Lover 8 years ago

      Interesting thing about this Green, Alexander and Davis duded out shortly after.

    • Drew Breezzy profile image

      Drew Breezzy 8 years ago from somewhere in my mind

      Too bad rushers don't get enough attempts anymore to beat these records. 20+ carries a game is very rare in the NFL these days.

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      GO BROWNS 8 years ago

      Jim Brown WAS the best. Heck, even Otto Graham can hang with a lot of those rushers lol.

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      T.Wood 8 years ago

      Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, and Earl Campbell are the shiz. and OJ

    • Teeny Tots profile image

      Teeny Tots 9 years ago from USA

      good hub!

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      Lee Burough 9 years ago

      Great Page!

      I'd like to see you recognize Tyrell Davis for ALL the yards he ran in 1998....Meaning, include the yards from the post season and Super Bowl too....No running back has ever put up more than TD. Thanks :-)