Top 25 NFL running backs whose careers were derailed too early

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley - Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley - Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /
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Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati Bengals
Ki-Jana Carter #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals – (Mandatory Photo Credit – Getty Images) /

What 25 NFL running backs may have lost the most statistics off their career totals because their careers derailed too early?

There’s a reason NFL running backs don’t seem to last as long as players in other positions.

Few positions in the NFL face as daunting a gauntlet from game to game and season to season than running back, and some of the all-time greats to play the sport not only played the position but had their careers cut way too short.

Whether due to debilitating injuries, battles with addiction, or simply walking away at the peak of their stardom, many of the greatest running backs in NFL history’s careers left us wanting more. Much more.

There have been No. 1 overall draft picks who shredded their knees before even stepping onto the field for their first career NFL regular-season game, Hall of Famers who battled through various nagging injuries but couldn’t outrun father time, and other careers — and lives that ended tragically too soon.

Barry Sanders walked away less than a year after his best season and is arguably the greatest player to ever play the position. Meanwhile, Joe Delaney was killed at the devastatingly young age of 24, after a tantalizing glimpse of his talent that might have propelled him to an elite career.

Those are the type of stories you can expect to find on this list … May the countdown begin!

Scroll through for our countdown of the 25 “what if” running backs in NFL history: 

. 1,144 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns. Cincinnati Bengals. Ki Jana Carter. 25. player. 56

Ki Jana Carter might be the ultimate “what if” story in the history of NFL running backs.

Chosen with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft following a stellar collegiate career at Penn State, injuries beset Carter before his career even had the chance to really get going.

Carter suffered a torn ACL on the third carry of his first career preseason game and was forced to sit out his entire rookie campaign and he was never quite the same player.

When he finally returned to action and made his NFL debut in 1996, Carter rushed for 264 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns and added 22 catches for 169 yards and a receiving touchdown while only starting four of 16 games.

Carter went on to play four seasons with the Bengals, averaging 3.3 yards per carry over that span and scoring 16 touchdowns before spending one season with Washington and finishing out his career with the New Orleans Saints in 2003 and 2004.

Just as an injury cost Carter his rookie season, they plagued him throughout his career. Carter suffered a torn rotator cuff in 1997 and missed the following two seasons due to a broken wrist in 1998 and a dislocated kneecap in 1999. Carter’s career came to a close when he was among the Green Bay Packers’ final cuts in 2005.

The Bengals signed Carter to a seven-year contract worth $19 million, but he only appeared in 35 games over five years before signing with Washington in 2001.

  • Career stats: 319 carries for 1,144 yards with 20 touchdowns, 66 receptions for 469 yards and 1 touchdown