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Top 5 Best Ever NFL Running Backs, Then and Now, Predictions and Odds

Written by: Mike Lukas
Updated October 14, 2022
11 min read
Top 5 Best Ever Nfl Running Backs
  • How do the top-5 all-time RBs measure up to today’s current best?
  • The position of running back has evolved from being simply a ball carrier to also a receiving threat out of the backfield.
  • For old school and modern NFL backs, power, quickness, and a solid front line are key.
  • The threat of an elite running back opens up the secondary for the wide receivers.

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As fun as it is to watch an NFL quarterback spin a football fifty yards down the field, a solid run game is what many pro offenses tend to base their game plan around, since rushing the ball is both tough to defend and weather-proof.

And now that the modern, soft-handed running back has become a dual-threat out of the backfield, that position has become even more valuable to the franchise, especially when the athlete happens to be one of the elite playmakers on this list.

Here we take a quick look at the (arguably) top-5 running backs now and historically, athletes who have taken their position to its highest levels in various eras of the pro game, and then we see how that expected greatness is reflected in their odds of success during this 2020 season.

Top 5 Best Ever NFL Running Backs Odds

NFL Running Back, 2020 Season Total Rushing Yards +/- Odds
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers 1150.5 O / U -110
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys 1275.5 O / U -110
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns 1275.5 O / U -110
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans 1325.5 O / U -100
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints 850.5 O / U -110


Odds from DraftKings. Get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today or check out more offers and promo codes for the best online sportsbooks.

Keep in mind the odds in these wagers will shift plenty of times before the actual games are played, so be sure to check back here often to get all the latest numbers.

Top-5 NFL Running Backs THEN

These historically elite running backs each had a distinct style of playing the game of football, but every one of them was able to make their team better, earning spots in both the College and Professional Football Halls of Fame.

Footage of these men at the height of their game is still breathtaking, each able to find moves and holes and break tackles to find the endzone in a way that leaves defenses and fans forever breathless.

5. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers, 2001-2009, College and Pro HOF

Career Stats: 3,174 carries for 13,684 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, and 145 rushing TDs plus 624 receptions for 4,772 receiving yards and 17 receiving TDs in 170 games.

LT could not only run and catch the ball, but he could also score, his 162 total career touchdowns the third-most ever (behind only Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith), with Tomlinson still holding the single-season TD total record in the league with 28.

4. Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys, 1990-2002, College and Pro HOF

Career Stats: 4,409 carries for 18,355 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, and 164 rushing TDs plus 515 receptions for 3,224 receiving yards and 11 receiving TDs in 226 games.

Defenses didn’t attack Emmitt Smith, he attacked them, all the way to three NFL records that still stand (total carries, yards and TDs) and the 3x Super Bowl Champ and Big Game MVP even has the most ever seasons with 1,000+ rushing yards having posted 11 of them.

3. Walter Payton, Chicago Bears, 1975-1987, College and Pro HOF

Career Stats: 3,838 carries for 16,726 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, and 110 rushing TDs plus 492 receptions for 4,538 receiving yards and 15 receiving TDs in 190 games.

You do not get the nickname “Sweetness” if you’re not scoring TDs and turning heads with sweet finesse, and Walter Payton did that and plenty more in the NFL on his way to a Super Bowl Championship, three league MVPs and nine trips to the Pro Bowl, his early death at 46 years old a tragic end to his inspirational and record-breaking life.

2. Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, 1989-1998, College and Pro HOF

Career Stats: 3,062 carries for 15,269 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, and 99 rushing TDs plus 352 receptions for 2,921 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs in 153 games.

In just ten seasons, Barry Sanders is ranked fourth on the running backs career list, the gravity-defying pummel-er of all things defense was the NFL MVP twice, plus snagged the rushing title four times, a 10x Pro Bowler who repeatedly got the fans in the stands to rise up and cheer.

1. Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns, 1957-1965, College and Pro HOF

Career Stats: 2,359 carries for 12,312 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, and 106 rushing TDs plus 262 receptions for 2,499 receiving yards and 20 receiving TDs in 118 games.

Remember, the football era that Jim Brown dominated was filled with defenses dedicated to crushing the run, but that did not prevent him from averaging 5.2 yards per carry and over 100 rushing yards per game (the only back to ever do that) on his way to eight NFL rushing championships, four league MVPs, all in only nine short seasons, truly the greatest back of all time.

Top-5 NFL Running Backs NOW

To make it on this shortlist of top-tier NFL running backs, you have to be a dual-threat out of the backfield with a history of staying relatively healthy throughout the season.

All five of these playmakers are predicted by the oddsmakers to have breakout seasons in 2020.

5. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints, age 25

2019 Stats: 171 carries for 797 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, and 5 rush TDs plus 81 receptions for 533 receiving yards and 1 receiving TD in 14 games.

Hopefully, Kamara is back to full health after missing some games due to injury in 2019, plus it doesn’t hurt that the Saints’ receiver corps (Michael Thomas and now Emmanuel Sanders) is so good that defenses struggle to cover the entire field, leaving Kamara with plenty of holes to exploit.

4. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans, age 26

2019 Stats: 303 carries for 1,540 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, and 16 rush TDs plus 18 receptions for 206 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs in 15 games.

Last year’s rushing leader Derrick Henry is predicted to have a repeat performance, his 2019 productive enough to earn him the franchise tag for 2020, another prove-it season for the man responsible for 18 total touchdowns last year.

3. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns, age 24

2019 Stats: 298 carries for 1,494 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, and 8 rush TDs plus 36 receptions for 278 yards and 0 receiving TDs in 16 games.

Nick Chubb narrowly lost the rushing title in Week 17 last season, and that was an amazing feat given how sub-par the Browns’ game-planning and the front line was all year, but now with all that having been upgraded plus a new offensive coordinator (Alex Van Pelt) and head coach (Kevin Stefanski) calling the shots, expect Chubb to have an even bigger season in 2020.

2. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, age 25

2019 Stats: 301 carries for 1,357 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, and 12 rush TDs plus 54 receptions for 420 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs in 16 games.

Now that Zeke has gotten paid by Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, he can continue to focus on being one of the most consistent at his position in the NFL, the 2020 version of America’s team being led by new head coach Mike McCarthy, who has plans to use Elliott’s keen ability to catch the ball on the run to Dallas’ full advantage.

1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers, age 24

2019 Stats: 287 carries for 1,387 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, and 15 rush TDs plus 116 receptions for 1,005 receiving yards and 4 receiving TDs in 16 games.

No running back played for more snaps last season than the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey (93.4 percent of them), and expect that to continue since he has become basically unstoppable as a runner, a pass-catcher, a stiff-arm and juke artist out of the Carolina backfield.

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Mike Lukas

1204 Articles

Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]

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