There are 31 running backs... This is a list of NFL running backs by total career rushing yards, which includes the 31 players who have ran for at least 10,000 yards. Emmitt Smith leads the league with 18,365 yards and also leads the postseason with 1,586. Eric Dickerson is second with 14,879 yards and Barry Sanders is third with 12,927 yards.
The list only includes runners who played in the NFL during its modern era (1967-present). The first two runners listed above did not finish their careers as runners because they retired before the end of the season was fixed in 1967. In other words, they retired in a year when there were 16 games per season, rather than the 14 games that has been the standard ever since. Dickerson and Sanders both broke the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season (3,495 by Dickerson in 1990 and 20/11 by Sanders in 1999), but they both lost last game of their seasons and were unable to play in the playoffs.
Since 1967, there have been only nine other running backs who have rushed for 10,000 yards in the NFL: Jim Brown, Franco Harris, Marshall Faulk, Eddie George, Clinton Portis, LeSean McCoy, Mark Ingram, and Arian Foster. Of these nine players, seven played in the 1960s, one played in the 1970s, and one played in the 2000s.
18,355 Emmitt Smith holds the all-time running yardage record in the National Football League (NFL) with 18,355 yards. He broke the record that had been held by Walter Payton for 17 years and 10 months.
Payton himself is second on the list with 16,948 yards. Other notable runners who have more than 15,000 yards include Barry Sanders (16,097), Marcus Allen (15,607), Thomas Jones (15,383), and LeSean McCoy (15,214). Two other current NFL players, Mark Ingram Jr. and Jamaal Charles, are within 100 yards of breaking into the top 10 all time.
In addition to being one of only three players to score 100 or more points twice in a single season (the others being Jerry Rice and Roger Staubach), Smith also holds several other records: he has the most seasons with 1,000 or more rushing yards (nine); he is the leading rusher in playoff games (seven times); and he is the only player to ever rush for at least 200 yards in his first six playoff games. His overall postseason ranking third behind Jim Brown and Payton.
A two-time First Team All-Pro selection and two-time Super Bowl champion, Smith was also the league's MVP once.
Only Martin, Emmitt Smith, and Barry Sanders have had ten consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. There have been a few running backs that have started 166 games or gone six seasons without missing a start. Great running backs seldom switch teams in their fourth season, especially if they have rushed for over 1,000 yards in their previous three seasons. The only running back to do so was Jim Brown with the Cleveland Browns in 1964 and 1965.
The longest active streak of 1,000-yard seasons is nine by Emmitt Smith. He will likely break this record after rushing for 1,084 yards last year alone. Only two other players have ever reached 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons: Earl Campbell and Walter Payton.
Campbell did it in 1978 through 1981 while playing for the Houston Texans. He also led the league in scoring three years in a row (1977-79).
Payton did it from 1974 through 1988 while playing for the Chicago Bears. He also led the league in scoring twice (1975, '77).
There are several running backs that have five consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage. They are Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Terrell Davis, and Frank Gore.
Smith has the most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with nine. He also leads the league in scoring seven times. Faulk has five 1000-yard seasons and one 100-yard season.
In the NFL, a decent rushing yard per game is anything above 100, with the top running backs averaging 1000-2000 yards each season. The top five runners currently are Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Arian Foster, all of whom have topped 100 carries this year.
The average NFL runner produces about 75 yards per game, which is why it takes over 10 runs to reach 100 yards. It's also why most runners see a decline in production as they age: their bodies can't handle the high volume work required to stay effective at running back. However, some remain productive into their 30s and 40s if they find a home with a team that uses them primarily as a receiver rather than a run blocker.
When you break down the stats, you'll see that most players fall between 70 and 80 rushes per 16 games. This is because most teams want to limit their exposure to injury by keeping their maximum offensive load at 20 snaps or less per game. A few players have reached 100 attempts without incident, but most need a little help from their friends: linemen who can block for them on extra plays or receivers who can act as hand-me-downs if they suffer an injury during a game or practice.