Utilizing the I-formation, a solid blocking game from the backfield, lining up from a 3-point stance, and also being able to run the football. What comes to mind when you hear these traits for a certain position? If you said fullback, you’d be correct. So today, we’re talking about the best fullbacks in NFL history.
The fullback is a classic position. Classic because it’s a solid position that is helpful to have a strong running game and it isn’t as common anymore with the game becoming more of a spread, mobile, fast, passing sport. That’s not to say there aren’t fullbacks still in the game. Just check your team’s roster. There’s probably a fullback on there.
The difference is they just aren’t used as much in today’s offense but still play a valuable role for any team, through the traits they’re known for. Every team wants to have a strong running game, so fullbacks will always be beneficial as long as blocking and strong running will be needed (which is all the time in football).
So, you may be curious who are the fullbacks who have been some of the best in this sport, those who’ve exemplified what this position is about on the field throughout their careers?
Ladies and gentlemen:
The 25 Best Fullbacks in NFL History:
25 – Jim Kleinsasser
If you were a NFL defender gameplanning against the Minnesota Vikings, you had to take into account this dude and how he was a force for a top-notch Minnesota Vikings offense. Playing college ball at North Dakota then his whole NFL career with Minnesota, he was also a Vikings tight end. Plus, he made the list for having an epic name like Kleinsasser.
24 – Howard Griffith
When you’re the fullback for a team that won two Super Bowls, you make this list. Howard Griffith is a two-time Super Bowl champion and was able to help his teams out utilizing his running and catching game as he totaled a career 844 yards and nine receiving touchdowns with 351 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
23 – Mike Tolbert
Three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro, Tolbert had 34 rushing touchdowns and 2,649 rushing yards throughout his career, making it easier for teammates like Cam Newton to do their thing on offense.
22 – Larry Centers
Super Bowl champion, three-time Pro Bowler, one-time All Pro, Larry Centers was a versatile fullback out of the backfield that helped his team put up numbers by running and catching the football. With 6,797 career receiving yards and 28 receiving touchdowns along with 2,188 rushing yards with 14 rushing touchdowns, you might as well call up a fullback school to have this guy teach how to be a consummate fullback on the field in the NFL.
21 – Daryl Johnston
You may recognize him as an analyst from the NFL on FOX booth. But before his broadcast booth days, he was a NFL fullback, winning the Super Bowl three times and making the Pro Bowl twice, finishing his career with 14 receiving touchdowns, 2,227 receiving yards, 753 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.
20 – Lousaka Polite
When you catch a sailfish as a former Miami Dolphin and your name is Lousaka Polite, yeah you’re doing something. In all seriousness, it’s all in a name right? And Polite did a polite thing as, per NFL Player Engagement, “(w)hile playing in Miami, Polite decided to begin making a difference off the field and began the Polite Way Foundation.”
“The main reason I started it is because first and foremost, it benefits single moms,” Polite said per NFL Player Engagement.. “It’s a very sensitive subject to me being that at one point in my life, my mom was a single mom. And a lot of my aunts and cousins … I just know so many of them. There’s a need. There’s a huge need for single moms, single parents assistance.”
19 – John Kuhn
You may recognize the name as Kuhn played recently as his career spanned from 2006 to 2017, providing his fullback services to the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Nineteen rushing touchdowns, 658 rushing yards, a Super Bowl, three Pro Bowls, and an All-Pro from his career, he became one of the best fullbacks to play the game.
18 – Kevin Turner
Kevin Turner had 10 receiving touchdowns, 2,015 receiving yards, 635 rushing yards, and a rushing touchdown. But as much as Turner had a successful NFL career, what his retirement eventually turned into was tragic and one that should be mentioned in hopes of raising awareness.
“Researchers from the Boston University (BU) CTE Center, VA Boston Healthcare System and Concussion Legacy Foundation, at the request of the family and the Kevin Turner Foundation, disclosed today that Kevin Turner, a former National Football League (NFL) player who died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in March at the age of 46, had the most advanced stage of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (Stage IV out of IV) with motor neuron disease. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated brain trauma that has been shown to cause ALS symptoms in some cases.”Boston University School of Medicine
Boston University School of Medicine went on to say: “Turner, a former fullback for the University of Alabama, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, was a leading plaintiff in the concussion lawsuit brought by former players against the NFL. Diagnosed with ALS in 2010, he pledged to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation and created The Kevin Turner Foundation due to his suspicion that playing football may have been a contributing factor. That same year, BU and VA researchers led by Ann McKee, MD, discovered a connection between brain trauma, CTE and ALS, which led to ALS being included as a covered disease in the lawsuit settlement.”
May God continue to be with Turner’s family, friends, and loved ones through the grieving the mourning, and celebrating of his life.
17 – Mack Strong
A two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All Pro, Mack Strong was a strong fullback (you have to be at this position), playing his whole career from 1994 to 2007 with the Seattle Seahawks. With 909 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, 1,456 receiving yards, and 10 receiving touchdowns, Strong was a valuable player for this Seahawks team.
16 – Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson was a three-time Pro Bowler and was named to the Hall of Fame 2000’s team. Those accolades right there get you into one of the best fullbacks to play the game conversation. Throughout his 16-year NFL career, Richardson played with the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, and spent the bulk of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
- Rushing Yards: 1,727
- Rushing Touchdowns: 15
- Receiving Yards: 1,543
- Receiving Touchdowns: 9
15 – James Develin
A Pro Bowler, this fullback won three Super Bowls with that one team named the New England Patriots led by Tom Brady and co.
“To some people, James Develin may be ‘unsung’ in terms of publicity and fame, but to his coaches and teammates he is one of the most appreciated and respected players we have ever had,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said per Patriots.com. “In football, there are a lot of tough, unselfish and dependable people who bring positive leadership on a daily basis, but the name James Develin represents those qualities at an elite level. A tribute to the impact James had on our success, of the five seasons in which he appeared in every game, we won three championships. Any team would be fortunate to have a James Devlin-‘type’ on its roster but the reality is he is a rarity and we are very fortunate he was a Patriot.”
14 – Carlton Chester ‘Cookie’ Gilchrist
In just six years in the league, Gilchrist made four Pro Bowls, was three-times All-Pro, an AFL champion, and the 1962 AFL AP and UPI Player of the Year. During that span, Gilchrist rushed for 37 touchdowns and 4,293 yards.
13 – John L. Williams
A two-time Pro Bowler, John L. Williams played his career with the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers with a bulk of his career in that Pacific Northwest. Getting to the Pro Bowl twice, Williams was a force to be reckoned with in that Seahawks backfield.
12 – Rocky Bleier
No, not Rocky the underdog, motivational boxer in the films. We’re talking Rocky Bleier, the non-fiction actual fullback in real life who has a motivational true story to his life and overcoming obstacles to get to be one of the best fullbacks to ever play in the NFL.
Per his website: “Not falling within the ideal of what a running back should look like, Bleier had to run harder and play smarter to be able to stand out. Despite his drive and ability to make the big play, the Pittsburgh Steelers only considered him a late round pick. But before the season ended that first year, he was drafted again…this time by the United States Army. At the height of the Vietnam War, Bleier was thrust into combat early and was seriously wounded when his platoon ran into an ambush. Receiving wounds from both rifle fire and grenade fragments in his legs, he was barely able to walk and his professional football career seemed to have ended before it began…”
Bleier’s website bio went on to say: “For more than two years, he drove himself. Little by little he overcame obstacles and fought his way back. He not only made the Pittsburgh Steelers, but also eventually became a starting running back on a team that won four Super Bowls and became the greatest football team of the 20th century. The hard lessons Rocky Bleier learned early in his life that helped him overcome adversity and reach his goals, have paid off after football. These lessons are seen between the lines in the popular book on his life, ‘Fighting Back’ and on stages of speaking appearances around the country.”
Now that’s an American hero.
11 – Lorenzo Neal
Four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, named to the 2000’s Hall of Fame team, Lorenzo Neal is by far one of the greatest fullbacks to suit up in the NFL. Having a 16-year career in the NFL playing with seven different teams, Neal was able to post up these numbers:
Rushing Yards: 807
Rushing Touchdowns: 6
Receiving Yards: 1,086
Receiving Touchdowns: 12
The Top 10 Fullbacks (including Hall of Fame fullbacks)
The Pro Football Hall of Fame lists the players by position, which was helpful as a resource to see which fullbacks are in the Hall of Fame (saw Riggins was in the Hall of Fame via Pro Football Reference and Nagurski, Johnson via the Hall of Fame pages of Nagurski and Johnson). Without further ado, below are where you’ll find the Hall of Fame fullbacks, which obviously take some of the the top spots on this list, comprising most of the rest of this field.
10 – John Henry Johnson
You know you’ve made it as a fullback when you’ve been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “It was with the Steelers that John Henry enjoyed his finest seasons. In both 1962 and 1964, he broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier, the first Steeler to achieve that lofty level. It was with the Lions, however, that he participated in his only NFL title game, the 1957 contest that saw Detroit overwhelm the Cleveland Browns, 59-14. Johnson was a key figure in the Lions’ title drive that year and wound up as the club’s leading rusher with 621 yards. Johnson was selected to play in the 1955, 1963, 1964, and 1965 Pro Bowl Games.”
“There’s far more to playing fullback than just running with the football. Everybody wants to run with the ball, that’s the quickest way to get the headlines and lot of newspaper space. But how many times does a back peel off a long run by himself? I’ll tell you – absolutely none.”John Henry Johnson according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
9 – Bronko Nagurski
If you were an NFL defender back then, you were probably frightened when lining up against this Hall of Famer in the backfield. And when your name is ‘Bronko’, defenders better watch out when you’re running that ball.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame: “Never fancy, he just ran straight ahead, over and through the opposition. Although he is best remembered for his bull-like running, he had no peer as a blocker and his tackling was as effective as any the game has seen. He was the complete player. At the University of Minnesota he played four positions and was named All-America at both fullback and tackle. With the Bears, his defensive play was as awesome as his offensive ball carrying.”
“I always used my strength in football. I liked to meet guys head-on when I was carrying the ball. Then I’d drop my shoulder, and catch him with that, and then brush him off with my arm. It worked -most of the time.”Bronko Nagurski according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
8 – John ‘The Diesel’ Riggins
There’s nothing rigged about it, John Riggins was another consummate fullback on the field. You’ve got Shaq ‘Diesel’ on the basketball court and then you have John ‘The Diesel’ on the football field.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Riggins played in the 1982 and 1983 NFC championship games and Super Bowls XVII and XVIII and made the most of his comparatively few postseason appearances. He was the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XVII with a then-record 38 carries for 166 yards. He capped off his big day with a 43-yard touchdown run that clinched Washington’s 27-17 victory over Miami. Riggins rushed over 1,000 yards five times in his career and over 100 yards in 35 games, including a then-record six in post-season.”
“I’m not much for X’s and O’s. All that stuff really can’t prepare you for a defense. You have to adjust to what they do from play to play. That’s why I like to carry the ball a lot. It lets me get a feel for what the defense is doing.”John Riggins according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
7 – Jim Taylor
You might as well put Jim Taylor next to the definition of a good NFL fullback. Taylor is up there as one of the best fullbacks to play in the game, placing him at eighth on this list. A four-time NFL champion (before the Super Bowl era), a one-time Super Bowl champion, a Hall of Famer, a MVP, a five-time Pro Bowler, and an All-Pro, Taylor put up numbers and had incredible success in the NFL.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame: “As the Packers’ dynasty grew, so too did Taylor become the symbol of power in the awesome Green Bay attack. Jim was a throwback to an earlier era, who ran with a fierceness no one could match. He caught the short swing passes and blocked with rugged determination. Thousand-yard seasons became a specialty for Taylor. He went over 1,000 yards five straight seasons beginning in 1960 but reached his zenith in 1962, when he had a career-high 1,474 yards and was named the NFL Player of the Year.”
“You got to enjoy punishment because you are going to deliver so much of it, and you are going to get so much of it…If you are prepared you don’t really feel the punishment during the game.”Jim Taylor according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
6 – Joe Perry
Joe Perry wasn’t nicknamed ‘The Jet’ for no reason. Perry could flat out fly on the field with his legs and ran for almost 10,000 yards and 71 touchdowns becoming a Hall of Famer, three-time Pro Bowler, and two-time All-Pro. But before all that, he would honorably serve our country. His story is motivating, especially for any JuCo player out there who wants to make it to the league.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Perry put Compton Junior College on the football map when he scored 22 touchdowns in one season. However, before he completed his college football career, he was called into military service. He was playing football for the Alameda, California Naval Training Station team when spotted by a player from the San Francisco 49ers of the new All-America Football Conference. The player reported his find to the 49ers’ hierarchy who offered Joe a contract. Upon his discharge from the military in 1948, Perry accepted their proposal.”
“Football is my life. I’ve given it everything I’ve had and I’ll continue to do so as long as I can do the job.”Joe Perry according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
5 – Marion Motley
Not only was Motley running blazing through defenders on the field as a NFL fullback, he was blazing trails in society off the field, as well.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: “In 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson signed with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, four players smashed pro football’s race barrier. The trailblazers were Marion Motley and Bill Willis, who signed with the Cleveland Browns of the new All-America Football Conference, and Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who signed with the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams…Browns’ coach Paul Brown was already familiar with Motley, having coached the big fullback at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station during World War II.”
“I was as big as the linemen I ran against, so I didn’t worry about them. And once I ran over a back twice, I didn’t have to run over him a third time. He had reservations by then.”Marion Motley according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
4 – Larry Csonka
A Hall of Famer who was a Super Bowl MVP (per the Pro Football Hall of Fame), a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champion, he also was the 1979 PFWA Comeback Player of the Year.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame: “Larry Csonka, a classic 6-3, 235-pound line-smashing fullback, provided the major rushing thrust in the Miami Dolphins’ vaunted ball-control offense when the team was dominating the National Football League in the early 1970s…Perhaps his finest single-game effort came in Super Bowl VIII, when he was selected as the game’s Most Valuable Player. Miami’s powerful attack was at its best with Csonka carrying 33 times for a then-Super Bowl record 145 yards and two touchdowns.”
In true fullback fashion, here’s what Csonka said at one point per the Pro Football Hall of Fame, describing what his role is as a fullback.
“My role is to make the power running game work. A lot of plays I run are momentum plays. They are not designed for long gains. If you make four or five yards, everyone is happy. It’s not a spectacular strategy but I’ve lived and breathed it and I know it works.”Larry Csonka according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
3 – Cory Schlesinger
Although not in the Hall of Fame, there is a case for Cory Schlesinger to get there one day. As a Detroit Lions fan, I saw how important Schlesinger’s game was for the Lions offense and his grit, his strength being the team’s fullback in the running game. Playing his whole career with the Lions from 1995 to 2006, he totaled 1,445 receiving yards with nine receiving touchdowns, 473 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
But what Schlesinger also did (which doesn’t show up glaringly on stat sheets) is block for one of the best running backs, if not the best, running back to ever play in the NFL: Barry Sanders. Sanders did his thing with the help from holes being opened up from the blocking from his fullback and offensive line. And that, my friends, is deserving of any Hall of Fame. Being a good teammate.
2- Mike Alstott
Although not in the Hall of Fame, there certainly could be a case for Alstott to be in Canton. Alstott is a prototypical fullback, a Super Bowl champion, six-time Pro Bowler, and three-time All-Pro. It’s crazy because Alstott’s career similarly parallels to Schlesinger’s in regards to timeline and playing with one team. Alstott played from 1996 to 2006, all with the Buccaneers.
As a featured part of the Buccaneers offense, Alstott aka the ‘A Train’ totaled 5,088 rushing yards and 58 rushing touchdowns, along with 2,284 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns.
1- Jim Brown
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Jim Brown was a superb craftsman whose primary job was to run with the football for the Cleveland Browns. For nine seasons, he did it better than any player before him. When he retired at the age of 30 at the peak of his career, he left behind a record book clogged with Jim Brown notations. Brown was more than just a one-of-a-kind running back. He caught passes, returned kickoffs, and even threw three touchdown passes. His 12,312 rushing yards and 15,459 combined net yards put him in a then-class by himself.”
Jim Brown. You can’t have a greatest fullbacks in NFL history list and not have Jim Brown take the top spot. You know him as a great fullback on the field and a voice off the field, fighting for social justice as an athlete that would help pave the way for athletes today to be able to use their voices to hopefully bring about change for the better.
“Yardage isn’t the big thing. Having your team win the championship is…That’s what I work for, winning the championship, and this requires a certain standard of performance.”Jim Brown according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Championships. Winning championships, whether on the field or in life, being the best person you can be each and every day, working as a team to accomplish one goal. Together.
There you have it, folks! The top 25 fullbacks in NFL history. Let me know in the comments who your favorite is, whether they made this list or not. Keep on blocking, keep on being a good teammate for your spouse, your family member, your company, your team.
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 25 – Jim Kleinsasser
- 2 24 – Howard Griffith
- 3 23 – Mike Tolbert
- 4 22 – Larry Centers
- 5 21 – Daryl Johnston
- 6 20 – Lousaka Polite
- 7 19 – John Kuhn
- 8 18 – Kevin Turner
- 9 17 – Mack Strong
- 10 16 – Tony Richardson
- 11 15 – James Develin
- 12 14 – Carlton Chester ‘Cookie’ Gilchrist
- 13 13 – John L. Williams
- 14 12 – Rocky Bleier
- 15 11 – Lorenzo Neal
- 16 The Top 10 Fullbacks (including Hall of Fame fullbacks)
- 17 10 – John Henry Johnson
- 18 9 – Bronko Nagurski
- 19 8 – John ‘The Diesel’ Riggins
- 20 7 – Jim Taylor
- 21 6 – Joe Perry
- 22 5 – Marion Motley
- 23 4 – Larry Csonka
- 24 3 – Cory Schlesinger
- 25 2- Mike Alstott
- 26 1- Jim Brown
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