During the 2006-2007 NFL season, I took a queue from Marty Schottenheimer and declared LaDainian Tomlinson the best running back to ever play the game. Now, bear in mind that I am only 23 years old, haven’t watched an entire game of football played before 1990, and that my best memory of O.J. Simpson is watching him narrowly escape life imprisonment as he told the courtroom “It doesn’t fit.”
I got a lot of flack for that piece, so out of respect to the old heads, this list of the greatest running backs will only pertain to those who suited up for at least one game anywhere after the start of the 1990 NFL season. So, before I start, I will give credence to the greats like Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell, and say that you all were great, and I’m not ranking you because I need more time in my life to watch more of your games.
With that out of the way, here are the best three running backs since 1990!
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Drafted 2001 by the San Diego Chargers – It was hard for me to put him ahead of Barry Sanders, but in 2006 he proved that their was no other running back like him. His unbelievable versatility is well documented, but don’t let that fool you into believing that he is not a hard-nosed, between the tackle, prototypical running back. LT can get it done between the tackles, outside the tackles and anywhere in between. His speed is only trumped by his explosion when he makes contact with hitters. And as the highlights often show, his quick feet can make the savviest of secondary players look quite stupid in the open field. In fact, I’m still waiting to see the play where there is one player between LT and the end zone and LT doesn’t end the day with another touchdown on his career list.
2. Barry Sanders, Drafted in 1989 by the Detroit Lions – Despite LT being better than him, Barry will always be first in my heart. He was on a team that I essentially hated because the Lions were my brother’s favorite team, and hating whomever he liked just came natural. But there was no denying him his credit whenever he said that his team had the best running back in the NFL. To average over 5 yards per carry in the NFL for an entire career is just ridiculous. And it’s not like he had the best of offensive lines ever, in fact, his entire team was never all that good, and yet Barry made the best of what he had, by juking everyone on the field, reversing field, and scoring touchdowns when you weren’t even sure he should have gained a yard.
3. MarshallFaulk, Drafted in 1994 by the Indianapolis Colts – With all due respect to those who came before and after him, there was no more complete running back than Marshall Faulk. We all know any RB on this list can run, catch, and break tackles. However, that whole “this running back really can pass block” thing is passed around too much. Faulk actually could pass block, and he was the difference in helping Peyton Manning to the most prolific rookie QB season of all time, and he was pivotal in the “Greatest Show on Turf” passing game as well. In watching Faulk play, you always felt like he was two-steps ahead of the defense. He knew when and where he was going to make his cuts before defenders were in his view, and he only got better with age. With 3 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Awards and a 2000 MVP award, Faulk is certainly one of the best of his era.