Published in


Before the current pass-happy era of the NFL, there was once a time where running backs were almost as revered and valued as quarterbacks. In the old days, things were much more about “ground and pound” football, and having an elite running back could change the trajectory of a franchise almost as much as a quarterback could.

But as the game evolved over the better part of the last two decades, running backs became more of a replaceable commodity, versus a franchise cornerstone. That’s what makes the accomplishments of these guys even more impressive.

Here’s a list of the best running backs of the “modern” (21st century) era:

3. Frank Gore — Frank Gore is probably the Rodney Dangerfield of running backs among the top 10 in the NFL’s all-time rushing list: he just doesn’t seem to get the respect he deserves, especially considering the names he can be mentioned amongst. A third-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft who is still in the NFL, Gore currently ranks eighth on the all-time rushing list — ahead of Tony Dorsett and Jim Brown — and could leapfrog guys like Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson to move into the top five by the time this season is over. And yet, even with that type of productivity, Gore has never been named a First-Team All-Pro running back. If it’s any consolation, former Washington Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan recently stated that Gore is one of the draft picks he’s most proud of identifying and taking as a lead personnel executive.

2. Adrian Peterson — The Minnesota Vikings selected Adrian Peterson with the 7th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, and it’s safe to say at least four of the six teams that passed on Peterson will be kicking themselves for a very long time. Peterson will go down as the second best running of this century, only behind Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Of course, Peterson appears to be well on his way to a first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame himself. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl seven times in his 11-year career, and either First or Second-Team All-Pro in seven seasons as well. He has led the league in rushing three times, led the league in rushing touchdowns twice, and holds the record for the most rushing yards in one game (296). Even with all those accolades, his most impressive feat might be rushing for 2,097 yards in 2012 only months after tearing both the ACL and MCL in his knee, en route to winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

1. Curtis Martin — You know those people who are so consistently good at something that we eventually take it for granted? That was Curtis Martin. Case in point, how many people realize that Martin ran for over 1,100 yards in nine of his first 10 seasons in the NFL? After three seasons in New England, in which he averaged over 1,260 yards, Bill Parcells traded away first and third-round draft picks to bring Martin with him to the New York Jets. In his first seven seasons with the Jets, Martin missed only one game and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times. I realize that most of his yardage came between 1995 and 2000, but in 2004, Martin became the oldest player, at age 31, in league history to win the rushing title. Today, he’s on the proverbial Mount Rushmore of the greatest running backs of All-Time, ranking alongside Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders for running backs with the most rushing yards ever.

Originally written as part of a freelance opportunity for



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Rajan Nanavati

Father. Husband. Indian American. Sports Junkie. Marketing Dude. Freelance Writer. Productivity Zealot. Enthusiastic Gourmand.