Sunday, July 17, 2011

Top 10 Running Backs of the 90's

Since ranking the Top 10 QBs of the 90's was pretty fun, I'm going to turn this into a series and now rank the 90's top 10 RBs! As far as the decade of my childhood goes, the debate has always centered around Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders. Was the lack of talent around Sanders further indicative of his superior talent? Could the Cowboys have still won the 3 Super Bowls they did without Smith? The debate still rages. I'll attempt to tackle all of these questions and determine the best once and for all, because we all know that my opinion is the only one that really matters. Furthermore, I'll sort out all the other great, but not as good, RBs of the decade. Aren't Top 10's fun??? Let's get started!

10. Rodney Hampton- New York Giants:
Hampton was drafted as the Giants' RB of the future in 1990, and while he was a part of that year's championship team, an injury kept him out of most of his Rookie year (thus allowing Otis Anderson to achieve his own Super Bowl glory). But things weren't over for Hampton. During his 8 year career, all in NYC, Hampton reached two Pro-Bowls in '92 and '93. His 6,897 career rushing yards set a franchise record, which was later broken by Tiki Barber. At 5'11", 215, he was a load and ran downhill with surprising break-away speed. Throughout the 90's, he proved to be NY's most consistent offensive weapon, breaking the 1,000 yard rushing mark each year from '91-'95. He retired in '97.

9. Jerome Bettis- LA/St Louis Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers:
"The Bus" was a fullback coming out of Notre Dame, but in the NFL his surprising quickness and bruising power made him an efficient weapon at RB for many years. His build was an enigma of sorts; at 5'11" 252, it was like trying to tackle a small defensive lineman. This 4-time 90's Pro-Bowler was also Rookie of the Year in '93 for the Rams. His greatest success, however, came with the Steelers, who won the Super Bowl in his final season (but that was in 2005). His 13,662 career rushing yards actually rank 5th on the NFL's all-time list.

8. Curtis Martin- New England Patriots, New York Jets:
While Bettis ranks 5th on the all-time NFL rushing list, Martin has him beat with the 4th place ranking, rushing for 14,101 yards throughout his 12 year career. While he is remembered more for his career as a New York Jet, much of his 90's success came playing for the rival Patriots. In '95, he was named the offensive Rookie of the Year and went to the first of his three 90's Pro-Bowls. Martin was also a huge contributing factor to the Patriots' Super Bowl appearance in '96. He rushed for over 1,000 yards each year of the decade. The key to Martin's game was speed, coupled with great vision and lateral quickness. A lethal combination.

Ricky Watters- San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks:
Certainly the most infamous member of this list and one of the most polarizing RBs in NFL history. Watters was a me-guy and a diva, which has probably negatively influenced his (so-far) non-inclusion in the HOF. Still, despite his personal issues, Watters was quite talented. Selected to 5 Pro-Bowls, Watters was also a major contributor to the 49ers' '94 Super Bowl Championship. Likely one of his most coveted skills was his receiving, which made him a huge weapon for Steve Young out of the backfield. In this way, he was somewhat ahead of his time. His production on the field was clear, but at the same time he was locker-room poison. And that's why his career is somewhat tainted.

6. Eddie George- Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans:
While George was more decorated as a college player at Ohio State, he was still a very solid pro and falls just short of my top 5 90's backs. The best way I can describe his running style is power and determination. George never missed a start due to injury, starting 128 consecutive games. He and Jim Brown are the only NFL RBs to eclipse the 10,000 yards mark while never missing a start. He was also a great leader on offense for the Titans, and put out a valiant performance in their Super Bowl loss in '99. Rookie of the Year in '96, George went to 3 Pro-Bowls in the 90's. It has been suggested that the Titans relied to heavily on George and wore him out before his time was done, as he carried the ball more than 330 times in 5 of his 8 seasons with the team. Of course, this wouldn't be the first time this franchise ran a great back into the ground (see Earl Campbell).

5. Terrell Davis- Denver Broncos:
Are there better initials for a RB than TD? The creator of the "Mile High Salute" deserves a salute himself for the major contribution he made the the Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl titles in '97 and '98. His 7,607 yards make him the Broncos' all-time leading rusher. His career was short, but very bright. He went to 3 Pro-Bowls and was named Super Bowl MVP in '97 and League MVP in '98. As a late round draftee, he had to work uphill from 6th on the depth chart, but still managed to start his rookie season. Davis was strong, fast, and hit like a linebacker. He was also instinctive with the ball in his hands and had a nose for the endzone, scoring 60 TDs in his 8 year, injury-plagued career.

4. Marshall Faulk- Indianapolis Colts, St Louis Rams:
While this now HOF-er truly blossomed as a member of the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" from '99-'06, he was still a very potent weapon for the struggling Colts throughout the bulk of the decade in question for this list. Faulk is the only player in history to have over 12,000 yards rushing and 6,000 yards receiving and is also the only player to score 70+ rushing TDs and 30+ receiving. He reached 4 Pro-Bowls in the 90's and won his only Championship with the Rams in '99. Other 90's honors include Rookie of the Year in '94, Pro-Bowl MVP in '94, and Offensive Player of the Year in '99. His jersey number (28) has been retired by the Rams.

3. Thurman Thomas- Buffalo Bills:
The first of two OSU Cowboys on this list, both in the top 3. Thomas was an offensive force on the AFC juggernaut Bills that appeared in 4 consecutive Super Bowls from '90-'93 (losing all 4). He went to 4 Pro-Bowls in the 90's, was NFL MVP in '91, and Offensive POTY in '92. Thomas represented a lethal combination of speed and power, and his stocky frame made him increasingly hard to tackle. He presented a fantastic complement to the Bills dangerous downfield passing game, making their offense one of the most potent of the decade. 11,938 career rushing yards make him the Bills' franchise leader and 12th among all-time NFL rushing leaders.

2. Emmitt Smith- Dallas Cowboys:
As a Cowboys fan, it kills me to put Emmitt in the #2 spot, but I simply cannot rank him above Barry Sanders, all things considered. However, it is not fair for critics to cheapen his success by saying anybody could have run behind his o-line. The Dallas line was awesome in the early 90's, but you have to remember, Emmitt ran downhill and after he hit his hole (at lightening speed) he did most of the work in the defensive backfield. Emmitt was tough, determined, and extremely talented. You wouldn't know that a player as short as him could be not only so fast, but so strong. He also had about the best field vision of any back I've seen. He is a HOF-er and went to 8 Pro-Bowls (all in the 90's). He also holds the NFL records for career rushing yards at 18,355, rushing TDs at 164, and career 100+ yard rushing games at 78. Other honors include offensive ROY ('90), NFL MVP ('93), and Super Bowl MVP ('93). Before you bash Emmitt for simply being surrounded by an incredibly talented team, consider this: at the height of their dominance, in '93, Dallas went 0-2 to start the season without Smith on the team (he was holding out due to a contract dispute. The 'Boys, of course, got Emmitt back and went on to a 12-4 season and Super Bowl Championship. So it's worth thinking about just how vital Emmitt was to the Cowboys when he played, although the team as a whole was very talented. I would go as far to say, without Emmitt, there would have never been a Cowboys Dynasty in the 90's. He may be my #2, but he is a very close to #1.

1. Barry Sanders- Detroit Lions:
If Detroit has nothing else to be proud of, they absolutely must be proud of the great Sanders. As complimentary as I am of Emmitt Smith, it would simply be foolish to rank him above Barry Sanders. If I was to describe his running style in one word, it would be "elusive". If I was to use two words, they would be "inexplicably elusive". There's really no way to describe or understand how it was that Sanders was able to avoid tackles. He WAS the Lions offense. Despite a dismal line and shouldering the full load, he still made amazing happen year after year, until he got burnt out and retired after  10 seasons, while still in his prime (in true Jim Brown fashion). It drives many people absolutely insane that he retired just before capturing the All-time rushing record, thus they bitterly throw darts at Emmitt Smith. But the record just wasn't that important to Sanders. He played because he loved the game, and when the love began to fade (which I can understand playing for the Lions) he didn't care to do it anymore. In the 90's, he went to 9 Pro-Bowls, won offensive POTY twice ('94, '97), and was NFL MVP in '97. He holds 10 Lions franchise records. While he was only 5'8", 200 lbs, his legs were like tree trunks, and you will never find a back with better quickness and agility. He had the uncanny ability to stop and start on a dime, and hit his top speed almost instantaneously. His 15,269 career rushing yards make him 3rd on the all-time NFL rushing list, behind Walter Payton and of course, Emmitt Smith. Bottom line is, I can lobe all the statistic at you in the world, but you can't truly appreciate Sanders unless you've seen him run. So please enjoy this highlight tape of my #1 RB of the 90's: Barry Sanders!


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