Brown heads ESPN.com's Top 10 RBs

A panel of ESPN NFL experts determines ESPN.com's Top 10 running backs of all time.

Originally Published: October 23, 2002
ESPN.com

Editor's note: This ranking was compiled in October of 2002 using top 10 lists from a panel of ESPN NFL experts. The voters were: John Clayton (JC), Merril Hoge (MH), Tom Jackson (TJ), Andrea Kremer (AK), Mark Malone (MM), Chris Mortensen (CM), Len Pasquarelli (LP), Sean Salisbury (SS), Mark Schlereth (MS) and Joe Theismann (JT).

Players received 10 points for a first-place vote, nine points for second and so on down to one point for a 10th-place vote.

Top 10 RBs
Player/voter JC MH TJ AK MM CM LP SS MS JT Total
1. Jim Brown 10 9 10 10 10 10 10 9 10 10 98
2. Walter Payton 9 10 8 8 9 7 8 10 9 9 87
3. Emmitt Smith 6 6 3 9 7 6 5 8 6 8 64
4. Barry Sanders 8 8 1 7 4 8 9 7 4 4 60
5t. E. Dickerson 3 5 6 5 3 5 7 4 5 3 46
5t. O.J. Simpson -- 4 7 1 2 9 6 2 8 7 46
7. Earl Campbell -- -- 9 6 -- 4 -- 3 7 -- 29
8. Gale Sayers 2 3 -- -- 8 1 -- 5 1 6 20
9. Marshall Faulk -- 7 -- 3 1 2 -- 6 -- 1 20
10. Tony Dorsett 4 2 4 -- -- 3 2 1 -- -- 16
Others receiving votes (points): Franco Harris (14), Marcus Allen (13), Bill Dudley (7), Red Grange (5), Terrell Davis (5), Joe Perry (4), Steve Van Buren (3), Larry Csonka (3), John Riggins (2), John Henry Johnson (1), Johnny Blood McNally (1) and Thurman Thomas (1).

Jim Brown
Brown
1. Jim Brown -- Cleveland Browns, 1957-1965
There were no other backs like Brown during his era and have been very few since his retirement. Brown, 6-foot-2 and chiseled, just literally ran over folks and then had the speed to pull away if he had an opening. His record of 12,312 rushing yards stood until Walter Payton surpassed him in 1984. An eight-time league rushing leader, Brown retired at the age of 30, deciding he'd rather be in movies than star on a football field. In addition to holding the mark for rushing yards, he was the career leader in touchdowns (126) and rushing touchdowns (106). Brown was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

Walter Payton
Payton
2. Walter Payton -- Bears, 1975-1987
Payton was simply one of the best -- and most respected -- players of all time. He didn't possess the breakaway speed that some of the other top backs had, but he made up for it with power. Instead of Payton getting hit, he often battered foes as they attempted to take him down. He finished with 16,726 rushing yards, 110 rushing touchdowns (125 overall) and held the single-game rushing record of 275 yards before Cincinnati's Corey Dillon broke it in 2000. Payton was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

Emmitt Smith
Smith
3. Emmitt Smith -- Cowboys, 1990-present
Some fans and media members projected that Smith wouldn't last seven or eight years because of his size (5-foot-9) and the number of carries he got early in his career. But Smith managed to do what so others can't over an extended period of time -- stay healthy. In addition to collecting three Super Bowl rings in four years (1992, '93, '95), Smith finds himself high in a number of noteworthy categories: No. 1 rushing touchdowns (150); No. 2 overall career touchdowns (161); No. 4 most combined yardage (19,746).

Barry Sanders
Sanders
4. Barry Sanders -- Lions, 1989-1997
Had Sanders not abruptly retired prior to the 1999 season, he would likely have broken Payton's mark two years ago. Sanders might have been the closest thing to Gale Sayers, an incredible improviser capable of turning a near five-yard loss into an 80-yard touchdown run. In 1997, Sanders became just the fourth back (joining O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Terrell Davis) to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. He finished with 15,269, gaining over 1,000 yards in all ten seasons he played.

Eric Dickerson
Dickerson
5t. Eric Dickerson -- Rams, Colts, Raiders, Falcons, 1983-1993
Dickerson had power and speed like many of the great ones, but his vision set him apart. Perhaps no other back had the knack for seeing the field like him and knowing how to end up in places where no defenders would be. In his 10-year career, Dickerson was second all-time in rushing yards (13,259) at the time of his retirement; earned four league rushing titles (1983, '84, '86, '88); still holds the Rams mark (7,245); and is No. 3 on the Colts list (5,195). Enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

O.J. Simpson
Simpson
5t. O.J. Simpson -- Bills, 49ers -- 1969-1979
Over his 11-year career with the Bills and 49ers, Simpson rushed for 11,236 yards and 61 TDs on 2,404 carries (4.7 per carry). Rushed for a then NFL-record 2,003 yards in 1973 and is still the only player to break the 2,000-yard mark in 14 games. Had over 1,000 yards for five straight seasons (1972-1976). Won the Heisman Trophy in 1968 after setting the NCAA regular-season rushing record (1,709) yards. He was the first overall pick in the 1969 draft. Enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

Earl Campbell
Campbell
7. Earl Campbell -- Oilers, Saints, 1978-85
Campbell had a brief but spectacular NFL career, rushing for 9,407 yards in only eight seasons with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. He burst into the NFL as a rookie in 1978, rushing for 1,450 yards and 13 TDs and winning MVP, Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. NFL rushing leader in 1978-80, he rushed for 5,081 yards over that three-year span. First overall pick in 1978 draft after winning the Heisman Trophy his senior season at Texas. Campbell was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

Gale Sayers
Sayers
8. Gale Sayers -- Bears, 1965-71
One of the most jaw-dropping runners in NFL history, Sayers made a spectacular, if brief, impression in his seven-year career with the Bears. In a career that was hampered and cut short by injuries, Sayers rushed compiled 9,435 combined yards (4,956 yards rushing on 991 carries). Was named Rookie of the Year in 1965 after scoring 22 touchdowns, an NFL record at the time. Sayers still leads the NFL in highest average kickoff return (30.56 yards). A severe left knee injury in 1970 effectively ended his career. After playing only two games in 1971, his career was over at the age of 28. Enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Marshall Faulk
Faulk
9. Marshall Faulk -- Colts, Rams, 1994-present
Faulk has to be the most likely candidate to have a legitimate shot of surpassing Smith. Faulk, with his speed and shiftiness, has made more teams search for backs who are dual threats. In 1999, he became the first player since Roger Craig to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. He then went on to record 2,000 offensive yards in each of the next two seasons. Last weekend, he surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards and already has 119 touchdowns.

Tony Dorsett
Dorsett
10. Tony Dorsett -- Cowboys, Broncos, 1977-1988
Dorsett didn't make a living on going straight ahead and carrying two or three defenders on his back en route to touchdowns. He was better known for hitting the corner, and then leaving tacklers in the dust. A Heisman Trophy winner in college (Pittsburgh), Dorsett holds the NFL record for the longest run (99-yard touchdown). Dorsett never led the league in rushing, but still is fifth all-time in career rushing yards (12,739). Dorsett was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 1994.

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