Former NFL executive and current NFL Network analyst Gil Brandt is going through ranking the best players of all time by position. Naturally, it raises some eyebrows, and it’s safe to say his running backs list has some questions.
Brandt ranked his top five as follows: Jim Brown, Walter Payton, O.J. Simpson, Gale Sayers, Ladainian Tomlinson. His next five were Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Tony Dorsett, and Emmitt Smith. I would put Sanders higher, but there are some great running backs in there.
Where I find it a little odd is that Brandt did not include Frank Gore, and has Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ranked No. 26. I’ll let that sink in.
I do think Elliott is a great running back, but he also only has one year under his belt. He came up 177 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record, although it is worth noting Elliott did not play the final game of the regular season. His talent is undeniable, but one would think a larger body of work is necessary.
Frank Gore is a tough one to figure out for purposes of these kinds of rankings. He ranks No. 8 all time on the rushing leaderboard, and stands a good chance of climbing to No. 5 by the end of the season. Career rushing yards is certainly not the ultimate measure of a running back, but when you’re getting into that kind of rarified air you’re doing something right.
Jerome Bettis currently ranks No. 6 all time with 13,662 yards. He earned six Pro Bowl nods and two first team All Pro nods. He ranks No. 18 on Brandt’s list. He was a very capable running back, but he was never a running back that struck me as an all-time great. He finished his careers with 91 touchdowns, which is No. 11 all-time. However, he averaged a mere 3.9 yards per carry for his career. Gore has 74 rushing touchdowns, and has averaged 4.4 yards per carry for his career. Gore’s last two seasons were sub-4.0 yards per carry, but his previous ten were all over that mark. Bettis averaged more than four yards per carry three times in his 13 year career.
I don’t really know where Gore belongs on this list, but he belongs. He remains one of the more underrated running backs in recent memory. He was never super flashy, but he consistently got the job done. A list like this is just a discussion piece, but it will be interesting to see how this all reflects when it comes time for Hall of Fame votes.