Where’s the Bus(t)?: Ranking Bettis & The Best RBs Ever


Mazel tov to the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s tough to quibble with the guys deemed worthy of a gold jacket this year. Well, except for the guys voted in by the Seniors Committee … but that’s a debate for another time.

As a man of justice, I’m especially pleased to see Cris Carter get in. I have no idea what took so long, but at least he’s getting his just reward. (Sidenote: he’s taking a serious run at the prohibitive favorite Ray Lewis for “Most Tears Shed in NOLA This Week.”) By almost any measure -– the most important one being the eyeball test – Carter ranks among the 20 best wide receivers of the Super Bowl Era.

Applying that same standard, I’m disappointed to see Charles Haley and Jerome Bettis still on the curb outside the Hall. Have there been 20 better players at their respective positions over the last half century? (That was intended to be a rhetorical question, the answer to which is ‘no’.) However, when I tweeted that opinion on Saturday night, I was surprised so many people disagreed with me on Bettis. Seems like a no-brainer to me. He’s probably the most durable big back ever, he finished sixth all-time on the rushing list, and had a requisite “defining” style, paradoxically nimble-footed but punishing all the way through the last game of No. 36’s 13 seasons.

I now feel obliged to self-validate -– and hopefully convince you –- by listing off the best runners of the NFL’s modern era.

First of all, though, there are four guys who’d be in the Hall and much higher on this list if it weren’t for injury. They are:

    Bo Jackson
    Billy Sims
    Terrell Davis
    William Andrews

And here are seven current rushers whose stories still need a few more chapters before a determination can be made:

    Shady McCoy
    Arian Foster
    Ray Rice
    Steven Jackson
    Marshawn Lynch
    Frank Gore
    Jamaal Charles

Wasted years in the USFL might have deprived four more guys of a trip to Canton:

    Herschel Walker
    Joe Cribbs
    Kelvin Bryant
    Mike Rozier

And now, with those human caveats out of the way, here’s the list of … the best running backs of the last half century:

    Jim Brown
    Walter Payton
    Barry Sanders
    Eric Dickerson
    O.J. Simpson
    Tony Dorsett
    Adrian Peterson
    Earl Campbell
    Emmitt Smith
    Marshall Faulk
    Gale Sayers
    Marcus Allen
    Franco Harris
    Thurman Thomas
    LaDainian Tomlinson
    Edgerrin James
    Curtis Martin
    Clinton Portis
    Freeman McNeil
    Maurice Jones-Drew
    Rickey Watters
    Roger Craig
    John Riggins
    Larry Csonka

Agree? Disagree? Speak now or … do it later.