NFL Rushing Leaders – Who Has The Most Rushing Yards in NFL History?
Last Updated: November 2, 2023
Being amongst the NFL rushing leaders, year in and year out, is absolutely necessary to be remembered as one of the greatest NFL running backs of all time. But that feat is a combination of stellar performance and long endurance.
When talking about a position that takes such a pounding and regularly suffers some of the worst NFL injuries, longevity plays a big role. So who are the players that have racked up the most rushing yards? Let’s find out!
Who Is The All Time Leading Rusher In The NFL
The man with the most rushing yards is none other than Emmitt Smith. This Dallas Cowboys legend spent 12 years exploiting every crack in the defense for some extra yardage. Some might claim that his job was made easier by one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history.
Others try to credit the attention wideout Michael Irvin and QB Troy Aikman drew. But all those people have probably never seen him run with the football. And it’s the eye test that proves why Emmitt Smith is the all time leading rusher in NFL history.
NFL Teams: Dallas Cowboys (1990–2002), Arizona Cardinals (2003–2004)
Personal Stats: 4,409 carries, 18,355 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 164 rushing touchdowns, 515 receptions, 3,224 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: 3× Super Bowl champion (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX), Super Bowl MVP (XXVIII), NFL Most Valuable Player (1993), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1990), 4× First-team All-Pro (1992–1995), 2× Second-team All-Pro (1991, 1996), 8× Pro Bowl (1990–1995, 1998, 1999), 4× NFL rushing yards leader (1991–1993, 1995), 3× NFL rushing touchdowns leader (1992, 1994–1995), NFL scoring leader (1995)
Cowboys fans are still upset at how Zeke’s tenure in Dallas ended. And they have nobody to blame but themselves and their high standards. I guess these things tend to happen when you’re used to watching the greatest NFL rusher for more than a decade.
Emmitt Smith is widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Apart from the numerous achievements, it’s his legacy as the all-time leader in rushing yards that cemented his spot in NFL history.
Born on May 15, 1969, Smith was selected 17th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft. Smith missed the season opener and the entirety of the preseason, giving new owner Jerry Jones a big headache.
But after participating in the longest holdout by a rookie in franchise history, Emmit Smith was back in action. From the moment he stepped onto the field, his impact was immediate. So much so that he became the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and earned Pro Bowl honors, after rushing for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year.
Dallas Cowboys All Time Rushing Leader
His exceptional vision, agility, and durability made him a nightmare for opposing defenses. Smith possessed an innate ability to find small cracks in the defense and had the power to break tackles. The following year in 1991, he earned the first of his rushing titles.
That level of production would continue in the following seasons, leading to major success. By the end of the 1995 NFL season, Smith became the first player in league history to rush for 1,400 rushing yards or more in five consecutive seasons and set the NFL record with 25 rushing touchdowns.
More importantly, he paved the way for 3 Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl wins during that stretch, capturing the Lombardi trophy in 1992, 1993, and 1995. He was also named the Super Bowl MVP in 1993, leading a second-half comeback with 132 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the biggest stage.
By then, Smith was no stranger to postseason success. He still remains the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards in playoff history. That 1993 NFL season remains one of the most dominant showings from a running back ever.
Despite playing in just 13 games, Smith ran for 1486 yards and caught 57 passes for another 400 yards. Not only did this earn him the 1993 NFL MVP trophy, but it also put him in a category of his own. At the time, the running backs weren’t much of a receiving threat, much like the NFL tight ends.
By the end of his Dallas tenure, Emmitt Smith was already first among the best NFL rushing leaders of all time. During his career, he amassed a staggering 18,355 yards on the ground, and he also holds the record for the most rushing touchdowns in a career with 164.
Top 10 NFL Rushing Leaders All Time
02. Walter Payton
NFL Teams: Chicago Bears (1975–1987)
Personal Stats: 3,838 carries, 16,726 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 110 rushing touchdowns, 492 receptions, 4,538 receiving yards, 15 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: Super Bowl champion (XX), NFL Most Valuable Player (1977), 5× First-team All-Pro (1976, 1977, 1980, 1984, 1985), 3× Second-team All-Pro (1978, 1979, 1986), 9× Pro Bowl (1976–1980, 1983–1986), NFL rushing yards leader (1977), NFL rushing touchdowns leader (1977)
Chicago is and has always been a great sports city. And before there was Emmitt Smith, it was Walter Payton making defenders look foolish while trying to tackle him. That is if he wasn’t revolutionizing the role by himself.
Walter Payton, often referred to as “Sweetness,” was born on July 25, 1954. Payton was selected by the Chicago Bears with the fourth overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft. Despite having a slow start to his career, the last game of his rookie season would foreshadow what was to come.
Over the course of his illustrious 13-season career, Payton became one of the most dominant NFL rushing leaders in football history. Payton’s playing style was a harmonious blend of power, agility, and determination. He possessed an uncanny ability to break tackles, elude defenders, and gain yards after contact.
During the 1976 NFL season, in his second year in the league, Payton rushed for 1,390 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. This earned him Pro Bowl and All Pro recognition, the first of many to come his way.
His unique combination of speed and strength made him a formidable force on the field. In the following 1977 NFL season, Payton rushed for 1,852 yards and scored 16 touchdowns, becoming the league’s leading scorer for the season.
Chicago Bears All Time Rushing Leader
This was more than enough to give him the 1977 NFL MVP award, especially after his record-setting performance against the Vikings in late November. With a 101-degree fever and intense flu symptoms, Payton rushed for a then NFL record 275 yards in a single game.
Payton had the world at his fingertips that year, leading the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns during his MVP campaign. But despite having the best running back in NFL history at the moment, the Chicago Bears managed just 2 playoff berths in his first 7 years with the franchise.
But after Ditka took over as head coach, the Bears were back in the game. With one of the NFL all time sack leaders in Richard Dent on their roster, the Bears finally had a defense to complement Walter’s greatness.
Payton rushed for over 1400 yards in both the 1983 and 1984 NFL seasons, with the franchise going from 3 to 10 wins. During the 1985 NFL season, this culminated with a Super Bowl win.
With the best defense in NFL history, and with Walter Payton rushing for 1500 yards and 10 touchdowns, the Chicago Bears cruised to a 15-1 record and routed the Patriots with a 46 to 10 scoreline in SuperBowl 20.
Payton had another highly productive year following that SB win, after which he retired. He made a major impact on the running game, both as a blocker and a receiver, on top of his running prowess.
The father of the stutter step and stiff arm retired as the all-time NFL rushing leader, holding the record for most rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns. He averaged over 1300 rushing yards throughout his 12-year career proving that none of his accolades could measure his impact on the running game.
03. Frank Gore
NFL Teams: San Francisco 49ers (2005–2014), Indianapolis Colts (2015–2017), Miami Dolphins (2018), Buffalo Bills (2019), New York Jets (2020)
Personal Stats: 3,735 carries, 16,000 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 81 rushing touchdowns. 484 receptions, 3,985 receiving yards, 18 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: Second-team All-Pro (2006), 5× Pro Bowl (2006, 2009, 2011–2013),
NFL record most games played by a running back with 241;
They say that availability is the best ability in professional sports. And nobody embodies that better than Frank Gore. He might not have been the flashiest or most explosive player in his position. But he got the job done, week in and week out, for 15 years straight.
Born on May 14, 1983, Gore was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He’s the third all-time leading rusher in NFL history, with 16,000 rushing yards flat. So his spot here is well deserved, given that he holds the NFL record for most games played by a running back.
Gore showed glimpses of brilliance during his rookie campaign but was shut down with major surgeries on both shoulders after the season. The following year, Frank Gore exploded onto the scene, rushing for a franchise-record 1,695 yards on 312 carries.
Gore broke multiple franchise records that year, this time for total scrimmage yards. He added another 510 receiving yards to his running total, eclipsing 2200 scrimmage yards for the season. His 9 100 yard rushing games and his career high 212 rushing yards against the Seahawks that year were also franchise records.
With 5,4 yards per carry and just 3 fumbles in his last 12 games that year, 2006 was a major breakout season for Frank Gore.
49rs All Time Rushing Leader
Although Gore would never reach those heights again, his consistency throughout his career was remarkable. He recorded nine 1,000-yard rushing seasons, showcasing his ability to perform at a high level year after year. Most of these came during his time with the 49ers, where he became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
Gore’s accolades are a testament to his greatness. He earned five Pro Bowl selections during his career and was named to the All-Pro second team in 2006. But his impact was not limited to the regular season, he also helped his teams make deep playoff runs.
He played a pivotal role in the 49ers’ Super Bowl appearance in the 2012 season, recording 320 yards and 4 touchdowns on 63 carries in 3 games. Outside of his remarkable consistency, Gore’s durability was a defining trait of his career.
He overcame multiple injuries and setbacks, showcasing his resilience and determination to continue playing at a high level. Gore’s work ethic and leadership qualities made him a respected figure in NFL locker rooms, earning the admiration of teammates and coaches alike.
His playing style was defined by his exceptional vision, patience, and ability to find cracks in the coverage. Gore wasn’t just a rusher, he was also a reliable receiver out of the backfield, making him a dual-threat offensive weapon. He possessed a rare combination of power and agility, allowing him to break tackles and gain extra yards after contact.
Gore hung his cleats in 2020, going down as the third most productive running back of all time. He also holds the record for most consecutive seasons with 600+ rushing yards (including his final season in 2020) and is one of only five players in NFL history to record 3,000+ rushing attempts.
04. Barry Sanders
NFL Teams: Detroit Lions (1989–1998)
Personal Stats: 3,063 yards, 15,269 carries, 5.0 yards per carry, 99 rushing touchdowns. 352 receptions, 2,921 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: NFL Most Valuable Player (1997), 2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997). 6× First-team All-Pro (1989–1991, 1994, 1995, 1997), 4× Second-team All-Pro (1992, 1993, 1996, 1998). 10× Pro Bowl (1989–1998), 4× NFL rushing yards leader (1990, 1994, 1996, 1997). NFL rushing touchdowns leader (1991)
Barry Sanders might go down in history as one of the biggest “what if”’s. But he’s also going to be remembered as one of the premier NFL rushing leaders. Similarly to Megatron, Sanders’ talents were wasted away on a troubled Lions franchise. But he still tried his best.
Born on July 16, 1968, Sanders was selected by the Detroit Lions as the third overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. While the Lions were considering another Sanders at the time, with Deion “Primetime” Sanders being available, they instead chose the electrifying yet undersized running back.
Similarly to Emmit Smith, Sanders had the college production to warrant the hype, with a Heisman trophy to boot. But at 5 ft 8 in tall and weighing 203 lbs, scouts wondered if he could take the pounding that the running back role suffered.
Instead, Barry Sanders used his explosive speed and incredible elusiveness to become one of the greatest players in NFL history. Throughout his illustrious 10-season career, Sanders’ playing style was characterized by his unmatched agility which left a mark on the league.
His ability to change direction on a dime, coupled with his vision and balance, made him a nightmare for defenders. Sanders was known for his trademark moves, jukes, and spins, leaving opponents grasping at thin air as he effortlessly maneuvered through defenses.
Detroit Lions All Time NFL Rushing Leaders
This helped him make an immediate impact, earning him the 1989 NFL Rookie of the Year award. In his rookie campaign, Sanders rushed for a staggering 1470 yards on just 280 attempts in his 13 starts.
In his second season, Sanders led the league in rushing. While in his third year, he would score the most rushing touchdowns in the league and help the Lions nab a playoff berth. It was their first postseason appearance since the 1957 NFL season. And their 12-4 record is still the most wins the franchise has had in a season.
Sanders’ long list of accolades is a testament to his brilliance on the field. He was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and a six-time First Team All-Pro. He won the NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1997 and was named the Offensive Player of the Year multiple times.
Sanders led the league in rushing yards for four seasons and was a critical component of the Lions’ offense throughout his career. He managed to record a 1000 or more rushing yards in each of his 10 seasons in the league.
During his MVP campaign in the 1997 NFL season, he rushed for 2053 yards. Gaining 6.3 yards on average per carry. This sustained level of dominance is evident in the history books as well, as he and Jim Brown are the only two NFL rushing leaders to average over 5 yards per carry for their career.
I guess that’s a lot easier to achieve when you’re one of the fastest NFL players to ever grace the pitch. Sanders’ sudden retirement in 1999 shocked the sports world. He retired with 15,269 rushing yards, making him the second all-time leading rusher in NFL history at the time. And just 1457 yards behind Payton.
05. Adrian Peterson
NFL Teams: Minnesota Vikings (2007–2016), New Orleans Saints (2017), Arizona Cardinals (2017). Washington Redskins (2018–2019), Detroit Lions (2020), Tennessee Titans (2021), Seattle Seahawks (2021)
Personal Stats: 3,230 carries ,14,918 yards 4.6 yards per carry, 120 rushing touchdowns. 305 receptions, 2,474 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: NFL Most Valuable Player (2012), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2012), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (2007). 4× First-team All-Pro (2008, 2009, 2012, 2015), 3× Second-team All-Pro (2007, 2010, 2013), 7× Pro Bowl (2007–2010, 2012, 2013, 2015). 3× NFL rushing yards leader (2008, 2012, 2015), 2× NFL rushing touchdowns leader (2009, 2015)
Adrian Peterson is the closest we’ve come recently to seeing one of the NFL rushing leaders live in action. Sure, the game and rules have vastly changed over the past few years. But Peterson might just be the last running back we see carrying his team through a massive workload.
Injuries robbed us of seeing Peterson climb up this ladder, given that he averaged more yards per carry than any running back not named Barry Sanders. Peterson’s playing style was defined by his extraordinary combination of strength, speed, and elusiveness.
He was known for his ability to break tackles, gain yards after contact, and accelerate past defenders, making him a constant threat on the field. His exceptional vision allowed him to find running lanes and exploit defensive weaknesses, enabling him to consistently produce big plays.
After spending 3 years in college, the track star turned running back was on his way to the NFL as the 7th pick in the 2007 NFL draft. He immediately made an impact, breaking Vikings franchise and NFL records throughout his first 4 games.
Minnesota Vikings NFL All Time Rushing Leaders
He finished second in the league in rushing yards in his rookie season. Notching 2 200-yard games, and finding the endzone 12 times as the carrier. For his efforts, Peterson was rewarded with the Rookie of the Year award and a Pro Bowl appearance, where he would win the MVP award.
Throughout his career, Peterson has been a force to be reckoned with, earning numerous accolades and records. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and has earned First Team All-Pro honors four times. Peterson won the NFL MVP award in 2012, becoming one of the few non-quarterbacks to receive this prestigious honor in recent decades.
One of Peterson’s most notable achievements is his remarkable comeback from a torn ACL and MCL in 2011. Despite suffering a severe knee injury late in the 2011 season, Peterson made a swift recovery and returned to the field for the Vikings in 2012.
Against all odds, he not only made a successful comeback but also had one of the most impressive seasons of his career. In 2012, he fell just eight yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, finishing the season with 2,097 rushing yards.
In terms of records, Peterson has several notable achievements. He holds the single-game rushing record with 296 yards, a feat he accomplished against the San Diego Chargers in 2007. He also became the fastest player to reach 10,000 career rushing yards, achieving this milestone in just 101 games. Additionally, Peterson has the second-highest single-season rushing total in NFL history, falling just short of Dickerson’s record.
Peterson never suited up for one of the worst NFL teams, but he rarely enjoyed postseason success, as evidenced by his total of 4 playoff games.
06. Curtis Martin
NFL Teams: New England Patriots (1995–1997), New York Jets (1998–2005)
Personal Stats: 3,518 carries, 14,101 yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 90 rushing touchdowns. 484 receptions, 3,329 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1995), First-team All-Pro (2004), 2× Second-team All-Pro (1999, 2001). 5× Pro Bowl (1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004), NFL rushing yards leader (2004)
It’s hard to become a role model for one of the greatest NFL rushing leaders. But that’s how influential Curtis Martin was in his second season to Adrian Peterson. After all, he’s the sixth all-time leading rusher in NFL history for a reason.
Born on May 1, 1973, Martin was drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He is remembered as one of the most consistent and durable running backs to ever grace the pitch.
Martin’s playing style was defined by his exceptional vision, patience, and versatility. He was known for his ability to patiently wait for blocks to develop before explosively hitting the hole, making him a highly effective and efficient runner.
Over his 11-season career, split between the Patriots and the New York Jets, Martin was an exceptional receiver out of the backfield, making him a dual-threat offensive weapon. His durability was equally impressive, as he missed just 11 games throughout his entire career.
Which is kinda ironic, considering Martin slipped to the third round of the draft due to durability concerns. Martin made an immediate impact on the field, becoming the first Patriots rookie to rush for 100 yards during their debut.
With one of the greatest NFL coaches in Bill Belichick calling the shots on the sideline, Martin enjoyed instant success.
New York Jets All Time NFL Rushing Leaders
He nabbed the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and a Pro Bowl appearance after rushing for 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. In his second year, Martin had only 2 100-yard games. But he still managed to put up 1,152 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
That year, Martin helped the Patriots reach Superbowl 31 against the Green Bay Packers, setting multiple franchise and NFL records during that postseason run. But they ultimately fell to the Packers, a precursor to the Tom Brady era in New England.
In the offseason that ensued, Martin became a restricted free agent and signed with the Jets. In his first seven seasons with the Jets, Martin missed only one game and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times.
He recorded ten consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons throughout his career, carving out his spot amongst the NFL rushing leaders. One of Martin’s most memorable seasons came in 2004 when he led the league in rushing yards with 1,697, earning him the NFL rushing title.
He won the NFL rushing title by one more yard than runner-up Shaun Alexander. Becoming the oldest player, at age 31, in league history to accomplish this feat. For his efforts, he was rewarded with his first and only First-team All-Pro selection and his fifth and final Pro Bowl nod.
Martin never returned to the Super Bowl. Although he was an instrumental piece to the success of those Jets teams in the early 2000s. He retired prior to the start of the 2007 NFL season after missing the entire 2006 campaign due to knee surgery. At the time, he was only the fourth running back to accumulate over 14.000 rushing yards during his career.
07. LaDainian Tomlinson
NFL Teams: San Diego Chargers (2001–2009),New York Jets (2010–2011)
Personal Stats: 3,174 carries, 13,684 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 145 rushing touchdowns. 624 receptions, 4,772 receiving yards, 17 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: NFL Most Valuable Player (2006), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2006), 3× First-team All-Pro (2004, 2006, 2007). 3× Second-team All-Pro (2002, 2003, 2005), 5× Pro Bowl (2002, 2004–2007), 2× NFL rushing yards leader (2006, 2007). 3× NFL rushing touchdowns leader (2004, 2006, 2007), NFL scoring leader (2006)
When the Chargers chose Tomlinson over Michael Vick, they knew they were getting the better running threat. And LaDainian proved the front office right, with 7 consecutive seasons over 1200 rushing yards.
LaDainian Tomlinson, often referred to as LT, is widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Born on June 23, 1979, Tomlinson was drafted fifth overall by the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. Over his illustrious 11-season career, he left an undeniable mark on the league as a premier NFL rushing leader.
After dominating at the collegiate level in his last 2 years there, Tomlinson was expected to help the 1 win Chargers turn around their fortunes. He barely missed out on the Offensive RoY award. Despite having an insane workload of 339 carries for 1,236 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In his second season, with Drew Brees by his side and with a new voice on the sideline, LaDainian Tomlinson broke out. The Chargers improved their record by 3 wins on the back of Tomlinson’s franchise record 1,682 rushing yards.
He came a close second to securing the rushing title, but he became the first Charger to gain 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage, after catching 80 passes for 490 yards.
Chargers All Time Rushing Leaders
Tomlinson’s playing style was defined by his exceptional speed, agility, and vision. He was renowned for his ability to accelerate past defenders and change direction with ease. Additionally, he was an excellent receiver out of the backfield, adding another dimension to his game.
One of Tomlinson’s most remarkable seasons came in 2006 when he set the NFL single-season touchdown record, scoring 31 total touchdowns (28 rushing, 3 receiving). He also led the league in rushing yards that season with 1,815 yards, earning him the NFL MVP award. His proficiency as an end-zone threat both as a runner and receiver made him a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Tomlinson earned 5 Pro Bowl selections and was a First Team All-Pro 3 times throughout his career. He followed up his 2006 MVP campaign with another rushing title in 2007, leading the league in both rushing yards and touchdowns.
Tomlinson’s versatility was further highlighted by his ability to throw touchdown passes. He threw 7 touchdown passes in his career, showcasing his all-around skills and football IQ. It’s fair to say that no other running back has been the offensive and scoring threat that prime LaDainian Tomlinson was.
Unfortunately, his production rarely translated to postseason success, except for the Chargers 2007 AFC Championship game run. There, Tomlinson would re-injure an MCL sprain that he suffered the week prior, which would later come to haunt him.
His last 2 seasons in San Diego saw a steady decline in production because of nagging injuries, which were likely a result of his heavy workload. Tomlinson spent his last 2 years with the Jets, becoming a solid and efficient contributor to their 2010 AFC Championship game run.
08. Jerome Bettis
NFL Teams: Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams (1993–1995), Pittsburgh Steelers (1996–2005)
Personal Stats: 3,479 carries, 13,662 yards, 3.9yards per carry, 91 rushing touchdowns, 200 receptions, 1,457 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: Super Bowl champion (XL), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1993), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1996). Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2001), 2× First-team All-Pro (1993, 1996), Second-team All-Pro (1997). 6× Pro Bowl (1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004)
When you see the bus coming down the street, you usually stay clear of his way. Well, that’s the dilemma that defenders faced every time Jerome Bettis had the ball handed to him. And it’s for that exact reason why he’s eight all time amongst the NFL rushing leaders.
Jerome Bettis, affectionately known as “The Bus,” is a football and Steelers legend whose powerful running style is sorely missed in today’s NFL. Born on February 16, 1972, Bettis was drafted tenth overall by the Los Angeles Rams in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft.
Bettis did not become the full time starter until the sixth game of his rookie season. But that didn’t stop him from battering through opponents en route to 1,429 rushing yards. Although he barely missed the running crown, he was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler and secured a First-team All-Pro nod all in his first campaign.
And those stats were not just empty calories. He led the NFL in 100-yard games with 7, and had an NFL-best 79 rushing first downs.The following year saw a decline in his usage and production after a coaching change ensued the relocation to St Louis.
After Bettis was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers, his career took off to another level. With 6 straight years of over a 1000 rushing yards, he became the focal point of the Steelers’ offense from the first snap. He led the team to numerous playoff appearances. Ultimately to a Super Bowl victory in his final season in 2005.
Throughout his career, Bettis displayed remarkable consistency, recording a total of eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His best statistical year came in 1997 in his second season with the Steelers, when he rushed for a career-high 1,665 yards, showcasing his ability to dominate as a primary ball carrier.
Bettis’ playing style was characterized by his immense strength and exceptional balance. Standing at 5’11” and weighing over 250 pounds, Bettis was a downhill runner who could break tackles with his signature move.
Every time “The Bus” lowered his shoulder before powering through defenders, he gained crucial yards after contact. His ability to wear down defenders and convert short-yardage downs made him a valuable asset to his teams.
He might have not been one of the biggest NFL player ever. But he was certainly above average for his position. And his way of playing made sure that every defender brave enough to stand in his path, would be sore and feeling every hit the following day
Bettis was selected 6 times to the Pro Bowl. He also earned First Team All-Pro honors twice. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, being recognized for his exceptional contributions to the sport.
09. Eric Dickerson
NFL Teams: Los Angeles Rams (1983–1987), Indianapolis Colts (1987–1991), Los Angeles Raiders (1992), Atlanta Falcons (1993)
Personal Stats: 2,996 carries, 13,259 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 90 rushing touchdowns. 281 receptions, 2,137 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1986), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1983). 3× UPI NFC Offensive Player of the Year (1983, 1984, 1986). 5× First-team All-Pro (1983, 1984, 1986–1988), 6× Pro Bowl (1983, 1984, 1986–1989). 4× NFL rushing yards leader (1983, 1984, 1986, 1988), NFL rushing touchdowns co-leader (1984)
Rams fans have always gotten the shorter end of the stick when it comes to running backs. Especially when considering who other Cali teams have had to carry the ball. But before there were Tod Gurley and Jerome Bettis, it was Eric Dickerson who was moving the chains on the ground.
Born on September 2, 1960, Dickerson was selected as the second overall pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1983 NFL Draft. His remarkable career spanned 11 seasons, during which he became the prototype of the most prolific running backs in NFL history.
In his rookie season with the Rams, Dickerson took the league by storm. He rushed for an astonishing 1,808 yards, setting a rookie record that still stands today. He also set rookie records for most rushing attempts (390) and most rushing touchdowns (18), including another two receiving touchdowns.
For his efforts, he earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections. This was coupled with Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards. The following year, he also set the single-season rushing record in 1984 with 2,105 yards. A record that has yet to be surpassed.
Dickerson Colts Trade
In his 4 years with the Rams, Dickerson carried the ball for over 7000 yards, and led the league in rushing in 3 of those years. With an average of 1750 yards per season, that’s as great of a start to a career as you can hope for.
Understandably, Dickerson wanted to be compensated as one of the NFL rushing leaders. But Rams ownership wasn’t willing to budge on the contract dispute. Instead, they shipped off their premier running back to the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite playing in just 9 games during the strike shortened 1987 NFL season, Dickerson still managed to rush for 1,288 yards and led the Colts to the first playoff berth in a decade. The following 1988 campaign was the last time Dickerson led the NFL in rushing with 1,659.
Despite rushing for another 1,311 yards in the following 1989 NFL season, Eric’s best days were behind him. That year he broke the 10,000 yard benchmark, becoming the fastest NFL running back to do so, in just 91 games.
After posting 7 straight 1000-yard seasons, and leading the league in rushing in 4 of them, Dickerson was a shell of his former self. Another contract dispute, a suspension and a slew of injuries resulted in reduced usage and productivity.
Dickerson would finish his career as a 6 time Pro Bowler and earned 5 First Team All-Pro selections. He never got the chance to play with a Superbowl-winning QB, and only participated in 1 NFC Championship game in 1985.
10. Tony Dorsett
NFL Teams: Dallas Cowboys (1977–1987), Denver Broncos (1988)
Personal Stats: 2,936 carries, 12,739 yards, 4.3 yards per carry. 77 rushing touchdowns, 398 receptions, 3,554 receiving yards, 13 receiving touchdowns;
Accolades: Super Bowl champion (XII), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1977), PFWA All-Rookie Team (1977). First-team All-Pro (1981), 2× Second-team All-Pro (1982, 1983), 4× Pro Bowl (1978, 1981–1983)
Before it was Emmit Smith leading America’s team to 3 Super Bowl wins, there was another of the NFL rushing leaders hoisting the Lombardi trophy. Tony Dorsett helped the Cowboys create their storied legacy in the 70s and made Roger Staubach one of the oldest QBs to win a SuperBowl.
Born on April 7, 1954, Dorsett was selected as the second overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1977 NFL Draft. Despite coming off a Superbowl loss, the Cowboys held the second pick they acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks.
This enabled them to draft the best player in the draft, which slipped into their hands as Buccaneers scouts had concerns regarding his size. But in his rookie season with the Cowboys, Dorsett wasted no time making an impact.
He rushed for 1,007 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in his first season. Dorsett’s speed and agility allowed him to excel in the Cowboys’ offense, making him a focal point of their game plan.
For his efforts, he was rewarded with the 1977 NFL Rookie of the Year award. And his record stood for 39 years, when in 2016, Ezekiel Elliot ran for a 1000 yards in just 9 games. He was exceptional throughout the entire postseason as well, which resulted in a Super Bowl 12 win over the Denver Broncos.
Over the next 4 years, Dorsett would consistently eclipse over a 1000 rushing yards for the season. Dorsett’s best statistical season came in 1981 when he rushed for a career-high 1,646 yards.
He was on pace to do it for a sixth straight season. But the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season saw him play just 9 games, in which he ran for 745 yards. That year, he set a record that can only be tied, with a 99-yard touchdown run.
Over the next 3 seasons, he averaged 1250 rushing yards, before age and reduced usage rendered him expensable. Throughout his career, Dorsett earned numerous accolades, including 4 Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro nod.
Dorsett’s playing style was characterized by his explosive speed and ability to change direction on a dime. He possessed exceptional acceleration, allowing him to burst through gaps in the defense and break away for long runs.
But once father time had crept up to him, his lack of size made him a liability in other areas running backs were expected to succeed in. Despite this, Tony Dorsett retired as the second among the NFL rushing leaders at the time, trailing only Walter Payton.
His versatility as a runner and receiver made him a dual-threat offensive weapon. In essence, he was way ahead of his time, and was capable of making significant contributions throughout his illustrious career spanning over 12 seasons.
Active NFL Rushing Leaders
|Player Name||Total Yards||Career|
NFL Rushing Leaders 2022
|Player Name||Rush Attempts||Total Rushing Yards|