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NFL - US Sports: Greatest running backs in history

Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor are the NFL's two leading running backs currently, but how do they stack up against the legends of the past?

At 5/1 to have the Most Regular Season Rushing Yards again, Henry's still a juggernaut, even if he hit a bump in the road last year when injuries restricted him to just eight starts.

Taylor, also 5/1, usurped him as the 2021 rushing champion, becoming only the fourth player to total over 1,800 yards in the past 15 years - which is no mean feat in a league that is becoming increasingly fixated with passing offense.

The guys that grind out the hard yards on first and second downs will always be remembered - such as the legendary names on this list of the greatest running backs in history.

Jim Brown - Cleveland Browns 1957-1965

Establishing himself as football's premier rusher as soon as he entered the league as the Cleveland Browns' sixth overall draft pick in 1957, "First Down Brown" didn't lose that unofficial status until he retired nine seasons later.

He could run over or around any defender with ease and could still hold every rushing record in the books had he played longer.

When he retired, aged 29, to focus on his blossoming acting career, Brown held the NFL records for carries (2,359), rushing yards (12,312) and rushing touchdowns (106).

A nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time first-team All-Pro selection still holds the record average of 104.3 rushing yards per game.

He won three MVP awards, one NFL championship with the Browns in 1964 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.

Marion Motley - Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers 1946-1955

One of the first African-American men to play professional football in the modern era, Motley stood out from the rest on a post-war football field as the biggest, strongest and fastest athlete.

Nicknamed "The Train", he not only intimidated and bulldozed his way through defenders, but also shone as a crushing run blocker and devastating pass protector for just shy of a decade.

He spent time as a linebacker and on the defensive line in goal-to-go situations in an era where it was normal for stars to play both sides of the ball.

He put his physical traits to good use as arguably the best blocking back in football and, when called upon to run himself, showed how to break big plays all over the field.

Motley held the record for single-game rushing average (17.1 yards per carry) for 52 years and still holds the career record (5.7) for all running backs.

Walter Payton - Chicago Bears 1975-1987

Despite his relative lack of size at 5ft 10ins and just 200 pounds, "Sweetness" was a tough backfield runner capable of strong finishes who seemingly sought out defenders in order to deliver trademark hits.

Payton could also use his hands well on halfback passes, was a solid blocker, useful kick-off returner and inspiring team leader.

A nine-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro, Payton finished with a then-NFL Record 16,726 rushing yards upon his retirement with 110 rushing TDs and a respectable 4.4 YPC average.

He finally won a Super Bowl ring late in his career with the legendary 1985 Bears team.

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Marshall Faulk - Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams (1994-2005)

Faulk was the spark plug of "The Greatest Show on Turf", a nickname given to the Rams' offense after he moved from the Colts in 1999.

He amassed an NFL-record 2,429 yards from scrimmage that year with 1,381 yards rushing (5.5 yards-per-carry average), 1,048 receiving yards and12 touchdowns.

The New Orleans native had the soft hands and speed of a receiver, but the hips of a back that could take punishment when running between the tackles.

A seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro, Faulk finished his 12-year dual threat career with 19,154 combined yards.

Emmitt Smith - Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals (1990-2004)

Cowboys fans would have kittens if he wasn't included on this list, but the knock on Smith is that he benefitted from playing on the best team of the '90s with huge offensive lines.

There's no doubting the 5ft 9ins 216lb Floridian had the ability and toughness to rack up enough yardage to become the NFL's All-time leader with 18,355 yards and 164 TDs at an average of 4.2 YPC.

He was also a seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro, 1993 NFL MVP, and Super Bowl MVP.

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