Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Best Players Not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Running Backs

Posted on July 03, 2009 by Dean Hybl

Roger Craig

Roger Craig

The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio is where NFL greats take the next step and become immortal legends. Since opening its doors in 1963, 253 former players, coaches and administrators have received football’s greatest honor, but there is a growing list of seemingly deserving players who for one reason or another have been unable to earn a bust in Canton.

Over the next several weeks, I am going to review every football position through a series of “Top 10” lists that looks at the best eligible players in NFL history at each position who are not in the Hall of Fame. I will also look at the 10 most deserving players not in the Hall of Fame (regardless of position) and 10 players who are in the Hall of Fame, but maybe shouldn’t be.

I am starting my position-by-position rundown by looking at the best eligible running backs not in the Hall of Fame.

As is the case with all offensive skill positions, the statistical numbers accumulated by running backs has ballooned over the last three decades. Of the top 50 players in career rushing yards in NFL history, only seven played a majority of their careers prior to 1980.

In 1980, Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson were the only members of the 10,000-career rushing yards club. Today, that club includes 24 players.

Among running backs in the Hall of Fame, 16 totaled less than 6,000 career yards rushing, but all of those players completed their careers prior to 1972.

It will probably start to sound like a broken record as I move through this series, but one of the biggest problems with the Hall of Fame selection process is that as the game changes and statistics increase, the Hall of Fame voters have forgotten an entire generation of great players who played most of their careers before the stats explosion.

That is particularly the case for running backs, as the Hall of Fame voters seem to have basically decided to ignore the position despite its obvious value in helping teams win championships. Rather than genuinely comparing stats from skill position players of all generations to determine who legitimately belongs in the Hall of Fame, voters seem to have tossed the entire issue aside by gravitating toward selecting players at positions where statistics have little impact.

Since 1995, only four running backs (Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas) and nine wide receivers have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Conversely, during the same period, 18 offensive linemen and 10 defensive linemen have received the call from the hall.

So, as I look at the players I consider to be the best eligible player at each position not in the Hall of Fame, career statistics will be just one of a number of factors used to create the lists.

First and foremost, I am looking at the career of each player in the context of when he played. I will look particularly at how he compares against other players (Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers) from that era and whether, at the time of his retirement, he was considered a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Below is a list of my choices for the top 10 running backs not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Click here to read more and see pictures of each player in the top 10.

10. Freeman McNeil – New York Jets – 1981-1992

9. Curt Warner – Seattle Seahawks/Los Angeles Rams – 1983-1990

8. James Brooks – San Diego Chargers/Cincinnati Bengals/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Cleveland Browns – 1981-1992

7. Floyd Little – Denver Broncos – 1967-1975

6. Chuck Foreman – Minnesota Vikings/New England Patriots – 1973-1980

5. Terrell Davis – Denver Broncos – 1995-2001

4. Herschel Walker – Dallas Cowboys/Minnesota Vikings/Philadelphia Eagles/New York Giants – 1986-1997

3. Ricky Watters – San Francisco 49ers/Philadelphia Eagles/Seattle Seahawks – 1992-2001

2. Ottis Anderson – St. Louis Cardinals/New York Giants – 1979-1992

1. Roger Craig – San Francisco 49ers/Los Angeles Raiders/Minnesota Vikings – 1983-1993

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