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Ranking 10 greatest running back seasons in NFL history: Barry Sanders reigns supreme

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Long ago, before quarterbacks ruled the field, the running back was considered the most important position in football. The biggest and brightest stars in the league have played in this position, including the Giants’ Frank Gifford, Chicago’s Gale Sayers, Cleveland’s Jim Brown, and Green Bay’s Paul Hornung. These players helped set the stage for future generations of runners, players who took the position to even greater heights.

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There have been many prolific fast-paced campaigns over the years, from John Riggins MVP campaign in 1983 to Derrick Henry’s 2000 yard season in 2020. However, none of those seasons managed to make it onto our list of the top 10 fastest seasons in the league. story. As did Jamal Lewis’ monstrous 2003 season, in which he scored 2,066 yards, second most in league history at the time. The fact that those individual efforts were left on the cutting room floor is a testament to how many impressive seasons have turned into runners over the years. Only the best seasons were included in the selection, and each of them is presented in detail below.

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Before we break down the best peak seasons in history, here are the official criteria used to compile the list.

  • One seat allowed per RB
  • Individual statistics
  • Individual awards
  • Team success
  • Individual postseason success
  • Enduring Legacy

1 Barry Sanders: Lions 1997

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The 1997 season was a testament to the greatness of Sanders, who did more with less than any running back before or since. Sanders rushed for 53 yards in the first two games of the season and then ran for exactly 2,000 yards in the last 14 games. He eclipsed for over 100 yards in each of those games, leading the Lions to the playoffs. The ever-elusive Sanders finished the season with 2,053 yards (then second most in NFL history), averaging a whopping 6.1 yards per carry.

2. Eric Dickerson: 1984 Rams

Dickerson’s 2,105 yards in ’84 is still the league benchmark. Using his devastating combination of size and speed, Dickerson led the “47 Gap” to dominant effect that season, running behind a talented Rams line that included Hall of Famer Jackie Slater. The former SMU standout had a dozen 100-yard games that season, including his 215-yard game against Houston in Week 15, a game in which he set the rush record.

3. Terrell Davis: 1998 Broncos

Immediately after his Super Bowl appearance, Davis became the league’s MVP in 1998 with 2,008 regular season rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. But Davis was just getting started. A powerful (but deceptively fast) cutback runner, Davis rushed for an extra 468 yards and three touchdowns in three playoff games as the Broncos won back-to-back titles. In total, Davis has amassed 2,476 yards this season, a record for a running back.

4. O.J. Simpson: Accounts 1973

By becoming the first player to run for 2,000 yards, Simpson accomplished a feat that was similar to Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in the 1927 season. The fact that Simpson reached 2,000 yards in 14 games makes that feat much more noticeable. But Simpson did not achieve this alone. He was assisted by a talented offensive line nicknamed the “Electric Company”. That year, Simpson averaged 143.1 yards per game while averaging 6 yards per carry.

5. Jim Brown: Browns 1963

The best quick season in the league’s first 50 years was created by perhaps the best running back in league history. In his seventh season, Brown’s 1,863 yards, 12 touchdown runs, and 6.4 carry yards were league records. He also caught three touchdowns for 2,131 yards in a 14-game regular season. Brown won his fifth of seven rushing titles that season before leading the Browns to the last NFL franchise championship in 1964.

6. LaDanian Tomlinson: Chargers, 2006

The league’s most valuable player that season, Tomlinson led the league with 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns. Tomlinson’s 31 total that season broke Sean Alexander’s yearly record by three touchdowns. Along with his fast-paced and scoring prowess, Tomlinson caught 56 ​​passes for 508 yards. His accumulation of yards and touchdowns that season helped the Chargers go 14-2 in the regular season while making a lot of fantasy football players happy.

7. Walter Payton: 1977 Bears

Like Sanders, Payton was often a one-man orchestra. Although Payton didn’t have a lot of relief, Payton led the NFL with 1,852 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns and a 5.5 yards per carry average in a 14-77 14-game season. His standout came in Week 10 when, despite playing with a 101-degree fever, Payton rushed for an NFL-record 275 yards in a 10-7 win over the Vikings’ formidable defense. The Sweets took Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since 1963.

8. Adrian Peterson: 2012 Vikings

Peterson was 9 yards behind Dickerson’s record, breaking the record by 2,097 yards in 2012. He advanced to the Vikings’ regular season finale with 1,898 yards. Needing a win over the Packers to advance to the playoffs, AD stormed for 199 yards and scored that day, leading Minnesota to a last-second win over their rival. Peterson endured a slow start to the season (having only one game for 100 yards in the first six games) before averaging 141 yards per game in the final 10 games of the season.

9. Earl Campbell: Oilers, 1979

Tyler Rose took the league by storm shortly after arriving in Houston. He led the NFL in shooting in each of his first three seasons and was named the league’s MVP in 1979. In 1980, Campbell beat defensemen for 1,934 yards and 13 touchdowns with an average of 5.2 yards per carry. He had four 200-yard runs to lead the Oilers to a playoff berth.

10 Chris Johnson: Titans 2009

Johnson used his incredible speed in a masterpiece season in 2009. He rushed for 2,006 yards leading the NFL with 358 carries and 408 touches – an insane workload for any player, let alone one who registered at 5ft 11in and 195in. pounds. His 91 yard touchdown against the Texans was his signature moment that season, but in the 2009 season, Johnson overlooked the fact that he also caught 50 passes for 503 yards.

Honorable Mention: Emmitt Smith, Cowboys (1995)

Smith, who won the league’s MVP in 1993, had an even better campaign in 1995. He rushed for a league-record 1,773 yards while aiming for an NFL-record 25 touchdowns. Smith, who also caught 62 passes in the regular season, rushed for almost 300 yards and had six playoff touchdowns as the Cowboys won their third Super Bowl of the ’90s.


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