With the retirement of LaDainian Tomlinson, the people at the Pro Football Hall of Fame can start preparing his bust and plaque.
Tomlinson will almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in five years.
Just how good of a career did LT have? In this era, in the past 20 seasons, he was certainly near the top of the list in terms of best careers among running backs.
BEST CAREERS: RUNNING BACKS
* Who played entire career within past 20 years
1. Marshall Faulk
(1994-2005) / IND-StL
If the battle for “Best RB of the Past 20 Years” was a battle of regular-season achievements, LT would sit atop this list. But because of Faulk’s overwhelming “second season” advantage, the Hall of Famer gets the nod.
It’s not just that Faulk played in two Super Bowls, winning one title with the St. Louis Rams, it’s his complete dominance in the 12 postseason games he played.
Here’s a rundown of Faulk’s playoff numbers:
7 games with 100+ yards from scrimmage
8 total TDs (twice scoring 2 TDs in a game)
In 3 playoff games in 1999, Faulk tallied 257 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs
He was even better in 2001, when the Rams lost to the Patriots in the SB: 431 yards from scrimmage & 3 TDs (including 130 yards in the SB)
Faulk was more than just a RB throughout his career, catching 767 passes for 6,875 yards (and scoring another 36 TDs). Just as a receiver alone, Faulk ranks ahead of stars like Dwight Clark, Chris Collinsworth and yes, Hall of Famer Lynn Swann in career receiving yards.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson
(2001-2011) / SD-NYJ
Tomlinson retires as one of the most prolific scorers in league history. His 162 career TDs rank third
on the all-time list (behind Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith) and his 145 rushing scores is second
, behind only Smith. LT scored 10+ TDs in a season nine times, including an NFL-record 28 rushing scores in 2006.
Tomlinson leaves the game ranked fifth
on the all-time list with 13,684 rushing yards (surpassing Bettis in his final career game). He led the league in rushing twice, and in scoring three times. LT also retires fifth
all-time in yards from scrimmage (18,456) – just behind Faulk.
While the Texas Christian University product never had the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl, he did contribute in the postseason. LT scored 13 career TDs in 10 playoff games, and his best single-game effort came in a 2006 loss to New England, when he scored twice while racking up 187 yards from scrimmage on just 25 touches (7.5 YPP).
3. Curtis Martin
(1995-2005) / NE-NYJ
Perhaps the most underrated back of the past two decades, Martin was not flashy or outspoken, but he sure did produce. Martin topped 1,000 yards 10 times (twice surpassing 1,500 yards), and had double-digit TDs four times. He also caught 40+ passes nine times.
He also proved exceptionally durable, as he played in 16 games for six straight seasons; Martin is third all-time in carries, with 3,518, and because of his ability to catch the ball, he’s also third all-time in career touches.
4. Jerome Bettis
(1993-2005) / StL-PIT
The best big back in league history, Bettis went out on top, retiring after he and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in Februray 2006. The “Bus” retired as the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history (although he was subsequently bumped down a spot by LT).
As punishing as Bettis was, he was also known for his nifty footwork. He also proved extremely durable, as only four players in league history have ever had more touches from scrimmage than Bettis’ 3,679.
5. Edgerrin James
(1999-2009) / IND-AZ-SEA
When the Indianapolis Colts drafted James in 1999, they waved goodbye to the Faulk Era, and watched their new RB win the rushing title his first two seasons (averaging 1,631 yards per season). He rushed for 1,500+ yards four times and surpassed 10 TDs four times.
James is one of only eight backs in league history with over 3,000 career carries. James just missed out on earning a championship ring, as his Arizona Cardinals lost a heartbreaker to Pittsburgh in SB XLIII.
6. Eddie George
(1996-2004) / Hou/TEN
The 1995 Heisman Trophy winner left his mark on the NFL, rushing for over 1,290 yards each of his first five seasons, and becoming one of only five backs in league history with 400 carries in a season in 2000. George’s 128 consecutive starts at RB are second all-time (behind Walter Payton). The ironman George rushed for 10,000 yards in his career without missing a single game. He also just missed out on celebrating a SB win, as the Titans fell just short against St. Louis in SB XXXIV.
If the Titans had won that game, George would have stood a good chance of winning MVP honors, with 92 rushing yards, 2 TDs, and another 35 receiving yards (including Tennessee’s longest pass play of the day, for 32 yards).
7. Shaun Alexander
(2000-2008) / SEA-WAS
The league MVP in 2005, Alexander led RBs in just about everything (attempts, rushing yards, TDs), and added 95 rushing yards against Pittsburgh’s solid defense in SB XL. In his best five-year span, Alexander averaged 1,500 yards and 17.4 TDs a season. Alexander is one of only eight backs with 100 career rushing scores – and he briefly shared the NFL single-season record with 27 rushing TDs (before LT topped it by 1 in 2006).
8. Tiki Barber (1997-2006) / NYG
Barber might not have had the career workload of some of these other backs (with only 2,217 career carries), but he certainly made the most of his time in the league. Not only did he surpass the 10,000-yard plateau rushing, he also added another 5,183 yards receiving (with nine seasons of 40 or more receptions).
Barber surpassed 1,500 yards rushing three times in his career, and had the opportunity to play in one SB (unfortunately for him, against arguably the best defense in NFL history in the form of Baltimore).
9. Terrell Davis
(1995-2001) / DEN
Davis’ career was brief, but during his stretch of three brilliant years, all he did was surpass 1,500 rushing yards each season, lead the league in four major categories and score 53 times. Oh, and help John Elway over the hump by carrying the Broncos to a pair of SB titles.
In 8 career playoff games (the final 7 which were wins), TD surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage each time, scoring 12 TDs in the process. In five of those games he gained at least 150 yards. He saved his best for the most important games, as he rushed for 3 scores in SB XXXII and followed that up with 152 yards from scrimmage in SB XXXIII.