All 32 NFL Franchises Statistically Ranked By All-Time Greatness At The Running Back Position

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Nov 3, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) runs with ball against Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims (59) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Many NFL franchises pride themselves on running the ball and on the history that they’ve built around the running back position. But which franchises truly are the greatest ‘running back franchises?’ Which franchise is the greatest of them all? As an enthusiast of NFL history I wanted to examine this question in the fairest way possible. Thus, I had to keep everything in context.

The NFL has evolved greatly over the years and if we are going to rank franchises based on a single position (especially one as vital as running back) I figured we’d have to set up a boundary on how far back I’d reach. I did this because during the early days of the NFL the ball was ran on almost every play; the forward pass was often times more of a gimmick than a legitimate offensive plan. Because of that, statistics and awards from that time period are skewed. Not to say that the early days of the NFL should be forgotten, because they shouldn’t! They’re just not applicable for the purposes of this specific ranking.

To keep this ranking in proper context, I reached back into the history books to the dawn of ‘Modern-Day Football’ — which began in the 1950s (to avoid confusion I considered backs from the 1950 season onward). This creates a more level playing field for all 32 NFL franchises and is a better reflection of which teams have been the most successful at the running back position since the game has been played as we’ve come to know it.

I chose the top three running backs from each NFL franchise’s all-time history (aka: their top three point getters according to the following comprehensive yet simple point system). I then added up the total amount of points for each franchise’s top three running backs for a composite score. That score (total points between the three backs) determines where franchises land on this list. Notice, there are no opinions in this piece whatsoever when it comes to each team’s position in this ranking. Be forewarned, this system rewards highly successful seasons by running backs, rather than prolonged mediocrity of a career. Thus, a few dominant seasons may place a certain runner on a franchise’s ‘top three running backs’ over a longer tenured runner that slowly compiled quality career statistics.

Point Breakdown:

Pro Bowl: 1 Point
First-Team All-Pro: 2 Points
AP MVP: 3 Points

10 Touchdown Season: 1 Point
15 Touchdown Season: 2 Points
20 Touchdown Season: 3 Points

1,000 Yard Rushing Season: 1 Point
1,500 Yard Rushing Season: 2 Points
2,000 Yard Rushing Season: 3 Points

500 Yard Receiving Season: 1 Points
1,000 Yard Receiving Season: 2 Points

Note: “Touchdown Season” refers to a running back’s total touchdowns (rushing and receiving) in a single season. For the purposes of this list, NFL and AFL statistics/awards have been included for each applicable franchise.

Bolded names signify that the player is still active in the NFL. Bolded and italicized names signify the player is still active, but has since changed teams (or is currently unsigned).

Is your favorite team one of the top running back franchises of all-time? Or has the success at the running back position for your favorite team been greatly exaggerated?