The Mount Rushmore of Running Backs: The All-Time Greats of the NFL

by | Feb 17, 2024 | Sports

The Mount Rushmore of Running Backs: The All-Time Greats of the NFL

Data updated as of February 18 2024. 

There are always ongoing debates of who is the best. Whether it’s in sport, in school, or in business. Now with most things the debate is, well, debatable, but with sports it is a little easier to make bold statements about the best thanks to the endless tracking of statistics and the shared end goal of winning. This article uses a formula that brings in all running backs (halfbacks/fullbacks/etc.) from the entirety of NFL history and spits out the true victor of who is the best. Now with everything in sports fandom, these results will be argued, but that’s just what sports are all about.

The formula itself is pretty fundamental, but uses a simplified combination of total scrimmage yards, total touchdowns, playoff performance, championship wins, as well as multipliers for seasonal All-Pro honors given across multiple accredited awarding systems. These stats are all relative based on games played, so this does favor players who had the most significance in all games played regardless of their changing roles on their respective teams (because we know roles change, but relative data does not).

After putting in all of the running back data from the NFL and when the machines are finished computing, the formula spits out a RB Score for each player. The higher the score, the better. For some relative perspective, of all the current Hall of Fame (HOF) running backs, the average RB Score is 9.03 while the top 50 spread goes from 23.37 (#1) to 2.52 (#50). Also, it is important to note that some of these players are still active and will climb (or descend) the list as their careers play out.

Let’s get into it!


Hall of Fame Snubs

Priest Holmes – RB Score = 5.17 (Era: 1995s)

Priest Holmes, where do we begin? This guy was a human highlight reel, leaving defenders in his dust on a regular basis. But for some strange reason, he’s yet to receive a golden ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s like the Hall of Fame is that one friend who always forgets to invite you to the party, even though you’re the life of the party. Maybe it’s because his career was cut short by injuries, preventing him from racking up the kind of stats that Hall of Famers are made of. Or maybe it’s because his prime years were during a time when passing offenses were dominating the league, and voters were too focused on the shiny new toys to notice Holmes’ brilliance. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure, Priest Holmes was a force to be reckoned with on the field and his omission from the Hall of Fame is a crime.

Roger Craig – RB Score = 5.10 (Era: 1980s)

Roger Craig, the man, the myth, the legend…or at least that’s what his fans would have you believe. But for some inexplicable reason, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has yet to open its doors to this running back extraordinaire. It’s like the Hall of Fame is the cool kids’ table at lunch and Craig is always left sitting at the nerd table, even though he’s the captain of the chess club AND the star running back. Craig’s career stats jump off the page like some of his contemporaries, but because he played on team of legends (Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, etc.), the voters don’t think he deserves the credit. Make sense? I didn’t think so either.

Chuck Foreman – RB Score = 4.83 (Era: 1970s)

Why is Chuck Foreman not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? It’s a question that has puzzled football fans for years. Foreman was a versatile running back and a major contributor to the Minnesota Vikings’ success in the 1970s, but despite his impressive career statistics and numerous Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, he has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Maybe it’s because his career was somewhat short-lived, or maybe it’s because he played during an era when the league was dominated by running backs like O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure, Chuck Foreman was a dynamic playmaker and his omission from the Hall of Fame is a mystery that needs to be solved.

Players Who Are in The Hall of Fame, But Maybe Shouldn’t Be (Based on the Data)

  • 55 – Paul Hornung (HOF)
  • 59 – Floyd Little (HOF)

Rounding Out The RB Score – Ranking #26 to #50 (plus Other HOFers)

  • 26 – Jerome Bettis (HOF)
  • 27 – Marshawn Lynch
  • 28 – Larry Csonka (HOF)
  • 29 – Arian Foster
  • 30 – Todd Gurley
  • 31 – Shaun Alexander
  • 32 – John Riggins (HOF)
  • 33 – Maurice Jones-Drew
  • 34 – Tiki Barber
  • 35 – Gale Sayers (HOF)
  • 36 – Marion Motley (HOF)
  • 37 – Earl Campbell (HOF)
  • 38 – Ezekiel Elliott (Active)
  • 39 – LeSean McCoy
  • 40 – Alvin Kamara (Active)
  • 41 – Eddie George
  • 42 – Jamaal Charles
  • 43 – Frank Gifford (HOF)
  • 44 – Le’Veon Bell
  • 45 – Steven Jackson
  • 46 – Curt Warner
  • 47 – Ottis Anderson
  • 48 – LeGarrette Blount
  • 49 – Mike Alstott
  • 50 – Larry Brown
  • 55 – Paul Hornung (HOF)
  • 59 – Floyd Little (HOF)


Summary: Closing Thoughts

Yes, we know that in fact these numbers are debatable as there are dozens of stats and intangibles that make any athlete great that are hard to quantify. Nonetheless, we wanted to build a formula that helped clear the air a bit for any of those friendly debates happening across the world.

Let us know your thoughts. Is there a key metric we should add to the equation? Does the current equation need tweaking to perform better? Is there a favourite player, old or new, that you are surprised is or isn’t on the list? We’re happy to keep the debate going!

See you next time.

Also, check out our other All-Time NFL articles:





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