It has taken me a while to come to this conclusion, but I’m finally 100% on this, and I don’t really know if it is debateable on any level. I encourage you to try though after further explanation.
When I look at the RB position, and the evolution of what it has become, you can almost put certain running backs in a category of the type of style they had and the way the organization used them. With Barry Sanders, there is no comparison. You can’t tell me he can be. He is in a category all by himself.
In my first category we got what I like to call the Bull Dozers. You know the type, the running backs that made defenders stay up night fearing because they knew they were going to try to run right over them, and it was going to hurt. So, bad their own mama would be feeling it in her back the next day too. If you notice with these RBs, they all got intimidating nick names. You can’t accuse these bull dozer types of taking the path of least resistance, and there isn’t too many highlights of them running out of bounce to avoid contact. The name at the top of this list, would be the brown bomber, Jim Brown. The guy was a man among boys, at least that is what he made them look like. Back then it was only 12 or 14 game seasons, but 9 seasons is a lot of years for a running back with this type of style play. Next up would be Adrian Peterson for me, he just put another 1,000 yards last season in his 11th year in the league and at a time where defenders in the league are stronger then ever. His longevity and his ability to bounce back time and time again is nothing short of miraculous. He is also in comparison, small in comparison to the others with the bull dozer type running style. After him, the names that come to mind are “the bus” Jerome Bettis, the name speaks for itself. Then we got Earl Campball, who didn’t last too long but was fun to watch while he was around. And then my personal favorite, “the nigerian nightmare” Christian Okoye.
This next category of running backs I call the Surgeons. Now these types were my least favorite to watch but, i got to give them their credit due. Their field vision was uncanny, they all had that ability to pick the right hole more often then not. I got to beleive a lot of film study was involved as well. I also look at these certain RBs and the offensive line they had in front of them, and the offensive running scheme that was in place for them to have the success they had in the league, because I do feel like those factors played into it as well, when it comes to these surgical type of backs. It is the “perfect storm” type of situations where they fit the offensive scheme perfectly and they had that great offensive line you don’t see too often anymore these days. I got to put Emmitt Smith at the top of this list, because of his numbers, and rings, even though he more than anyone was the product of the best offensive line ever assembled, which we might be seeing currently in Dallas as well with that O line. Another great that comes to mind in this same type of mold is Terrell Davis. Then you have a guy like Curtis Martin that you have to put in there and followed by Thurman Thomas as well. There was nothing eye popping to me watching these guys, but they got the job done. I don’t want to take anything away from these guys but to me it is almost like these guys could of very well have just been mediocre, okay players that turned themselves into hall of famers.
Next on the docket, the Elusive Speedsters. Those guys that made a few guys miss untouched, or they would beat everyone to the edge, and be gone 10-15 yards in front of any defender. While you are sitting there trying to figure what the hell just happenned, how did those professional athletes get made to look like they were in pee wee football. When those guys were on the field it’d be hard for me to not stare at the t.v. just so I didn’t miss that one play where they just exploded through the line of scrimmage for a 60 70 yard touchdown. The guy at the top of this list, Gale Sayers without a doubt. O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen comes in close behind him. More recently you have players like Chris Johnson, and Jamaal Charles.
Then we come to the last category for me, the Duel Threats. Suprisingly there is a lot I could mention in this particular category but, I think that is mainly due to the original duel threat and players growing up wanting to be like him. Waltor Payton is the original, the first of his kind, and probably number 2 on the greatest running backs of all time. Duel threats were exactly that, they could kill you running it or catching the rock, pick your poison. For a lot of teams it opened up their offense so much more having these type of backs, even if they used them for a decoy, just the threat of potentially having these guys with the ball in their hands, I got to believe had defensive coordinators losing sleep. After Walter did it, more guys followed with the likes of Marshall Faulk and the greatest show on turf. Then you have Ladainian Tomlinson, and Priest Holmes. Currently you got guys coming out of college in that same mold with superstars like Leveon Bell, Christian , Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Melvin Gordon to name a few.
And then there is Barry Sanders. The human highlight reel. Personally, sometimes when I was watching him I’m not too sure that they even called a play. I think the coach might of just said hand it to Barry. The man didn’t even really need an offensive line half the time. He could run over defenders, he could embarrass the hell out of defenders, he could do it all. Honestly he probably would of been a great duel threat but he didn’t need to be. All you had to do was hand him the ball and he would find a way. There will never be another Barry Sanders. If you never witnessed this man play I encourage you to watch some highlights and tell me I’m wrong, but you can’t.