25 of the Strongest Running Back in NFL History

25 of the Strongest Running Back in NFL History

If you had to choose one player to be named the strongest running back in NFL history, who would you choose? Who do you think deserves that title? To be honest, there are plenty of players that come to mind, so narrowing it down to one player is more difficult than you’d think. 

In the NFL, there are two major types of running backs — those that bring power and those that bring speed. Some running backs specialize in one over the other, while other running backs give you a combination of both. Either way, every team needs some strength at running back.

Most successful teams in the NFL have a running back duo that gives you a little of each — known as thunder (power) and lightning (speed). Even the strongest running back in NFL history was at their best when they had a complimentary back that helped keep the offense balanced.

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Who Is the Strongest Running Back in NFL History?

25 of the Strongest Running Back in NFL History
Arturo Holmes / Shutterstock

In order to be named the strongest running back in NFL history, you have to be fierce and use your strength to your advantage. You must instill fear in every player you come across. You have to be difficult to tackle and can’t be scared to run through anyone who gets in your way. 

The strongest running backs in NFL history aren’t always the greatest to ever play — though you will find some of the greats on this list. Since power running backs absorb a lot of contact, they’re more prone to injuries than other running backs and generally have shorter careers. 

With that said, they shouldn’t be unappreciated. They should be remembered for who they were — some of the most fierce running backs of all-time. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who we believe to be the strongest running back in NFL history as we move through our top-25 list. 

25. Maurice Jones-Drew

Height/Weight: 5’7’’, 210 pounds

Seasons: 2006-2014 (9 seasons)

Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders

Career Stats: 126 games, 8,167 rushing yards, 68 rushing touchdowns, 4.4 rushing yards per attempt, 346 receptions, 2,944 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns, 2 kick return touchdowns

Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the smallest running backs in the league, but don’t let that fool you. He could run through just about anyone and never backed down from lowering his shoulder. He recorded three-straight seasons of 1,300+ yards, including 1,606 yards in 2011. 

24. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 215 pounds

Seasons: 2008-2013 (6 seasons)

Teams: New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals

Career Stats: 84 games, 3,914 rushing yards, 42 rushing touchdowns, 3.9 yards per attempt, 52 receptions, 418 receiving yards

Another sleeper pick that many people might forget about, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was one of the most underrated and underappreciated power running backs of his time. He only lasted six years in the NFL, but he had over 4,000 yards from the line of scrimmage and 42 touchdowns.

23. Jamal Lewis

Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 245 pounds

Seasons: 2000-2009 (9 seasons)

Teams: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns

Career Stats: 131 games, 10,607 rushing yards, 58 rushing touchdowns, 221 receptions, 1,879 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns

Jamal Lewis was drafted fifth overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000 NFL Draft. He was as consistent and reliable as they come, finishing with 1,000+ yards in seven of nine seasons. He had four seasons of more than 1,300 yards, including 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2003. 

22. Alan Ameche

Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 218 pounds

Seasons: 1955-1960 (6 seasons)

Teams: Baltimore Colts

Career Stats: 70 games, 4,045 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per attempt, 40 rushing touchdowns, 101 receptions, 733 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns

Known as ‘The Horse,’ Alan Ameche was a powerful runner and blocker back in the day. He was listed as a fullback, but put up consistent numbers that you would expect out of a running back. Despite playing just six seasons in the NFL, he amassed 4,000 yards and had 40 TDs. 

21. Marshawn Lynch

Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 215 pounds

Seasons: 2007-2019 (12 seasons)

Teams: Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders

Career Stats: 149 games, 10,413 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per attempt, 85 rushing touchdowns, 287 receptions, 2,214 receiving yards, 9 receiving touchdowns

It wouldn’t be right to talk about the strongest running back in NFL history without mentioning Marshawn Lynch. Tackling him was never easy and he consistently made a fool of those that tried. From 2011-2014, he finished each season with 1,200+ yards and 11+ touchdowns. 

20. Mike Alstott

Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 248 pounds

Seasons: 1996-2006 (11 seasons)

Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Career Stats: 158 games, 5,088 rushing yards, 3.7 yards per attempt, 58 rushing touchdowns, 305 receptions, 2,284 receiving yards, 13 receiving touchdowns

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used to have a fearsome running back duo in Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Alstott was the FB that brought the thunder and Dunn was the HB that brought the lightning. Alstott has the most rushing touchdowns and second-most rushing yards in Bucs’ history.

19. Eddie George

Height/Weight: 6’3’’, 235 pounds

Seasons: 1996-2004 (9 seasons)

Teams: Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys

Career Stats: 141 games, 10,441 rushing yards, 3.6 yards per attempt, 68 rushing touchdowns, 268 receptions, 2,227 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns

Eddie George was drafted by the Houston Oilers with the 14th overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. He was bigger than your average running back and showed it every snap he got. Despite only playing a total of nine seasons in the NFL, his 10,441 rushing yards ranks 28th all-time. 

18. Jim Taylor

Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 214 pounds

Seasons: 1958-1967 (10 seasons)

Teams: Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints

Career Stats: 133 games, 8,597 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per attempt, 83 touchdowns, 225 receptions, 1,756 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns

Jim Taylor is a Hall of Fame fullback that was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 1958 NFL Draft. He recorded five straight seasons of 1,000+ yards, including 2,781 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns over an incredible two-year period (1961 and 1962). 

17. Bill Brown

Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 228 pounds

Seasons: 1961-1974 (14 seasons)

Teams: Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings

Career Stats: 194 games, 5,838 rushing yards, 3.5 yards per attempt, 52 rushing touchdowns, 286 receptions, 3,183 receiving yards, 23 receiving touchdowns

Bill Brown might not have the stats that some of the other running backs on this list have, but that’s not what this list is about. He’s considered one of the strongest running back in NFL history and was nicknamed ‘Boom Boom’ due to his violent, bruising, and bulldozing run style.

16. Marion Motley

Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 232 pounds

Seasons: 1946-1955 (9 seasons)

Teams: Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers

Career Stats: 105 games, 4,720 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per attempt, 31 rushing touchdowns, 85 receptions, 1,107 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns

Marion Motley never amassed 1,000 yards in a single season during his nine-year career, but he was one of the strongest running back in NFL history. In fact, he also played linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, which is a true testament to how strong he was on the football field. 

15. Franco Harris

Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 230 pounds

Seasons: 1972-1984 (13 seasons)

Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks

Career Stats: 173 games, 12,120 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per attempt, 91 rushing touchdowns, 307 receptions, 2,287 receiving yards, 9 receiving touchdowns

Over his 13-year NFL career, Franco Harris recorded more than 1,000 yards in eight different seasons and more than 10 touchdowns in five of those seasons. His 12,120 rushing yards ranks 15th all-time and his 91 rushing touchdowns is tied for 11th (with Jerome Bettis) all-time.

14. Craig Heyward

Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 260 pounds

Seasons: 1988-1998 (11 seasons)

Teams: New Orleans saints, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, St. Louis Rams, Indianapolis Colts

Career Stats: 149 games, 4,301 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per attempt, 30 rushing touchdowns, 177 receptions, 1,559 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns

You can’t talk about the strongest running back in NFL history without mentioning Craig Heyward. He was nicknamed ‘Ironhead’ for his vicious running style and incredible strength. His best season came in 1995 when he rushed for 1,083 yards (career high) and 6 touchdowns.

13. Bronko Nagurski

Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 226 pounds

Seasons: 1930-1943 (9 seasons)

Teams: Chicago Bears

Career Stats: 97 games, 2,778 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per attempt, 25 rushing touchdowns, 11 receptions, 134 receiving yards

Bronko Nagurski defined what a power running back was in the 1930s. Many consider him one of the strongest NFL players of his time. He never cared to run around opposing defenders, instead choosing to run straight through them. He eventually retired to become a wrestler.

12. Christian Okoye

Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 253 pounds

Seasons: 1987-1992 (6 seasons)

Teams: Kansas City Chiefs

Career Stats: 79 games, 4,897 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per attempt, 40 touchdowns, 42 receptions, 294 receiving yards

You don’t earn the nickname, ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ without instilling a bit of fear in the opposing defense. Christian Okoye used his brute strength to run through the defense and if it weren’t for several injuries that forced him to retire early, who knows what he could have accomplished. 

11. Jim Nance

Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 235 pounds

Seasons: 1965-1973 (8 seasons)

Teams: Boston Patriots, New England Patriots, New York Jets

Career Stats: 101 games, 5,401 rushing yards, 4.0 yards per attempt, 45 rushing touchdowns, 133 receptions, 870 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

Jim Nance spent a majority of his career with the Boston Patriots after being drafted by the team in the 19th round of the 1965 AFL Draft. In his second and third season in the league, he combined for 2,674 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, largely thanks to his strength. 

10. Marcus Allen

Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 210 pounds

Seasons: 1982-1997 (16 seasons)

Teams: Los Angeles Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs

Career Stats: 222 games, 12,233 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per attempt, 123 rushing touchdowns, 587 receptions, 5,411 receiving yards, 21 receiving touchdowns

As we crack the top-ten in our quest to find the strongest running back in NFL history, we arrive at Marcus Allen — one of the greatest goal-line backs ever. He was drafted 10th overall by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1982 and recorded more than 11 rushing touchdowns in six seasons.

9. Adrian Peterson

Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 220 pounds

Seasons: 2007-2020 (14 seasons)

Teams: Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions

Career Stats: 180 games, 14,820 rushing yards, 4.6 yards per attempt, 118 rushing touchdowns, 301 receptions, 2,466 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns

Adrian Peterson is one of the greatest modern-day running backs and was known for his incredible strength as he bulldozed his way through any defense. He came extremely close to breaking the all-time record for most yards in a season when he rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012

8. Bo Jackson

Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 227 pounds

Seasons: 1987-1990 (4 seasons)

Teams: Los Angeles Raiders

Career Stats: 38 games, 2,782 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per attempt, 16 touchdowns, 40 receptions, 352 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns

Bo Jackson was a one-of-a-kind athlete and we’ll never know just how good he could’ve been if he never suffered that hip injury in 1991. He only spent four years in the league and only amassed 2,782 yards, but he will go down as one of the strongest running back in NFL history. 

7. Jerome Bettis

Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 252 pounds

Seasons: 1993-2005 (13 seasons)

Teams: Los Angeles Rams, St. Louis Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers

Career Stats: 192 games, 13,662 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per attempt, 91 rushing touchdowns, 200 receptions, 1,449  receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns

When you think of Pittsburgh Steelers’ running backs, Jerome Bettis is the first name most people think of. He was a beast of a man and made opposing defenses look childish when out on the field. From 1993-2001, he finished with 1,000+ rushing yards in eight of nine seasons. 

6. Larry Csonka

Height/Weight: 6’3’’, 237 pounds

Seasons: 1968-1979 (11 seasons)

Teams: Miami Dolphins, New York Giants

Career Stats: 146 games, 8,081 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per attempt, 64 rushing touchdowns, 106 receptions, 820 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns

Larry Csonka is one of ten Miami Dolphins’ players in the Hall of Fame and for good reason. He was a line-smashing fullback that instilled fear in the opposing defense every time he touched the ball. He recorded three-straight seasons of 1,000+ rushing yards from 1971-1973. 

5. John Riggins

Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 230 pounds

Seasons: 1971-1985 (14 seasons)

Teams: New York Jets, Washington Redskins

Career Stats: 175 games, 11,352 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per attempt, 104 rushing touchdowns, 250 receptions, 2,090 receiving yards, 12 receiving touchdowns

With John Riggins, our list of the strongest running back in NFL history is finally down to the top five. Riggins is a player that seemed to get better as he aged. He recorded a career-high 1,347 rushing yards and 24 rushing touchdowns in his 12th season in the NFL (he was 34 years old).

4. Walter Payton

Height/Weight: 5’10’’, 200 pounds

Seasons: 1975-1987 (13 seasons)

Teams: Chicago Bears

Career Stats: 190 games, 16,726 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per attempt, 110 rushing touchdowns, 492 receptions, 4,538 receiving yards, 15 receiving touchdowns

Walter Payton is widely regarded as one of the best running backs ever, but some people also regard him as the strongest running back in NFL history. He spent 13 years in the NFL, recording the second-most career rushing yards and fifth-most career rushing touchdowns. 

3. Earl Campbell

Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 232 pounds

Seasons: 1978-1985 (8 seasons)

Teams: Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints

Career Stats: 115 games, 9,407 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per attempt, 74 rushing touchdowns, 121 receptions, 806 receiving yards

Earl Campbell had an amazing start to his career — could be one of the greatest starts ever. In his first four seasons in the NFL, he rushed for 6,457 yards and 55 touchdowns. He would follow that up with 1,914 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 23 games over the next two seasons.

2. Eric Dickerson

Height/Weight: 6’3’’, 220 pounds

Seasons: 1983-1993 (11 seasons)

Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders, Atlanta Falcons

Career Stats: 146 games, 13,259 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per attempt, 90 rushing touchdowns, 281 receptions, 2,137 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns

Speaking of incredible starts to their careers, Eric Dickerson easily takes the cake. For comparison, he rushed for 6,968 yards and 56 touchdowns in his first four years in the NFL. He followed that up with 4,258 rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns over the next 3 years. 

1. Jim Brown

Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 232 pounds

Seasons: 1957-1965 (9 seasons)

Teams: Cleveland Browns

Career Stats: 118 games, 12,312 rushing yards, 5.2 yards per attempt, 106 rushing touchdowns, 262 receptions, 2,499 receiving yards, 20 receiving touchdowns

No running back has ever accomplished so much in so little time as Jim Brown. In just nine seasons, Brown recorded the 11th-most career rushing yards and sixth-most career rushing touchdowns in NFL history. His worst season was his rookie year (942 yards, 9 touchdowns).

Who’s the Strongest Running Back in NFL Right Now?

Jim Brown will go down as the strongest running back in NFL history, but who do you think is the strongest running back in the NFL right now? While there are several players that can be considered, there’s one running back that’s stronger than most and his name is Derrick Henry

Henry is 6’3’’ and weighs 247 pounds. He makes other running backs in the NFL look like high school players and very well could have the greatest stiff arm in NFL history. He knows how to use his strength to his advantage and it’s why he’s regarded as one of the best backs right now.

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Outside of Derrick Henry, some of the other strongest running backs in the NFL right now include JoshJacobs, NickChubb, LeonardFournette, JoeMixon, AustinEkeler, SaquonBarkley, NajeeHarris, EzekielElliott, SamajePerine, KareemHunt, and ChrisCarson.

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