Rushing touchdowns have a lot to do with how good of an offensive line a running back had during his career, but all stats have someone else behind the story. Emmitt Smith isn’t the greatest running back of all time. Jim Brown probably is, or maybe Barry Sanders, or Walter Payton. But they don’t have his numbers, like the rest of the guys on this list.
Number 10 (Shared) – Jerome Bettis, 91 Touchdowns
Jerome Bettis left the NFL the best way possible – winning a Super Bowl with the Steelers. The big back had 13 years in the NFL, scoring over 10 TD’s a season only twice, with his best coming in 2004, running for 13 touchdowns. Bettis is fifth in NFL history with 13,662 rushing yards, and fourth in carries with 3479. He was the plow horse type, not for the big and long runs, averaging 3.9 yards per attempt.
Franco Harris, 91 Touchdowns
Another Steelers running back, with a bit more Super Bowl success. The cause for “Franco’s Italian Army“, Harris won four Super Bowls with the Steelers during the 1970’s. He was nine time Pro Bowler and seven time All-Pro. In 1976, he led the league with 14 touchdowns and is 13th all time in rushing yards with 12,120, averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
Number 9 – Barry Sanders, 99 Touchdowns
Many will argue that Sanders is the NFL’s greatest running back in history. Leaving the game after the 1998 season with no apparent reason at the time has just made his legend even greater. The greatest player to don the Lions uniform, Sanders was phenomenal from the first moment he stepped on the football fields. He led the league with 16 touchdowns in 1991 and led it in rushing four times, including 2053 yards in 1997. He was a Pro Bowler and an All Pro in all of his 10 seasons, and his 15,269 career yards are third best all time. He averaged 5 yards per carry and his 99.8 yards per game is second best in NFL history.
Number 7 (Shared) – Marshall Faulk, 100 Touchdowns
Probably the greatest dual threat running back in NFL history, Marshall Faulk (played 1994-2005 for Colts and Rams) is one of three NFL Players with 10,000 rushing yards and 5000 receiving yards and the only one with 12,000 and 6,000. He is also the only player with more than 70 rushing TD’s and 30 from passes.
He won the league’s MVP award in 2000 and had four consecutive seasons with over 2000 yards in scrimmage. He led the league in rushing touchdowns once, in 2000, with 18, and twice in all manners of scoring including 26 in 2000.
Shaun Alexander, 100 Touchdowns
One of those “Madden Curse” guys, Alexander’s career spiraled down after his 2005 MVP year, ending in a Super Bowl loss against the Steelers. Alexander spent most of his career with the Seahawks, playing in 2008 with the Redskins before failing to sign another deal with anyone due to fear from his injuries. Alexander led the league in Rushing touchdowns twice, including 27 in 2005, also running for 1880 yards.
John Riggins, 104 Touchdowns
A peculiar case of a player peaking after a long term injury and doing his best during the early 80’s and final years of his career. Riggins played for the Jets and Redskins from 1971 to 1985. He was a Pro Bowler only once and an All-Pro twice. He won a Super Bowl MVP with the Redskins in 1982 and led the league in rushing touchdowns the next two seasons, including 24 in 1983.
Number 5 – Jim Brown, 106 Touchdowns
The popular choice for greatest running back ever, still after all these year. He played in the NFL before the Super Bowl era, nine seasons with the Original Cleveland Browns. A 3 time MVP, nine time Pro Bowler and on every all decade or anniversary NFL team, Brown led the league in Rushing TD’s five times. His yards per carry is 5.2 and his yards per game numbers (104.3) is still the best ever.
Number 4 – Walter Payton, 110 Touchdowns
At one point, Payton was the NFL’s all time leading rusher in yards, touchdowns, carries, all-purpose yard, yards from scrimmage and more. He led the league in rushing touchdowns once, in 1977, with 14. He had over 2000 yards from scrimmage four times, leading the league twice. He won the MVP in 1977, the Super Bowl once with the Bears and was a nine time Pro Bowler. Mike Ditka described him best – The Greatest Football player I have ever seen, but even greater as a human being.
Number 3 – Marcus Allen, 123 Touchdowns
Probably the greatest short yardage and goal line running back in history, Marcus Allen was the first rusher to reach the 10,000 rushing yards and 5000 receiving yards in NFL history. He ran for 12,243 yards and led the league in Rushing touchdowns twice and scored 11 times even on his 16th season, playing for the Chiefs. He was a six time Pro Bowl selection, won the 1985 NFL MVP and was a Super Bowl champions and MVP in 1983 with the Raiders.
Number 2 – LaDainian Tomlinson, 144 Touchdowns
The only active player on this list, Tomlinson has a shot of reaching the number one spot but I’m not sure his tired legs (10 seasons, 3099 carries, 5th all time) will get him there. Now with the Jets after nine years in San Diego, Tomlinson holds the record for most touchdowns in a season with 31, including 28 rushing touchdowns, more than anyone else. He is sixth in NFL history with 13,404 yards, a five time Pro Bowler and four time All-Pro selection.
Number 1 – Emmitt Smith – 164 Touchdowns
Emmitt Smith might not be the greatest running back of all time, I don’t know anyone who’d pick him, but he has the numbers to back him up at least. He leads the NFL in carries (4409), rushing yards (18,355) and touches (4924). He was an 8 time Pro Bowler, three time Super Bowl champions, one time Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP (1993). He is the only player with 11 consecutive 1000 yards seasons. He led the league in rushing Touchdowns three times, including 25 in 1995. Along with Jerry Rice, he is the only non-kicker to score 1000 points throughout his career.