Career rushing yards leaders in NFL history 2018

Players with the most rushing yards in NFL history (as of December 30th, 2018)*

by Christina Gough, last edited May 10, 2019
Career rushing yards leaders in NFL history 2018 Emmitt Smith is the all-time rushing leader of the National Football League (NFL) with 18,355 career rushing yards. The running back, who spent the majority of his 15-year career with the Dallas Cowboys, became the all-time leader rusher in the NFL in the 2002 season. Frank Gore (Buffalo Bills in 2019) and Adrian Peterson (Washington Redskins in 2019) are the only active players in the top 10 of the ranking.
The running backs in the NFL

Running backs are often an integral part to the offense of an NFL team. The players manning the position carry the ball from behind the line of scrimmage with the aim to gain yards and advance the offensive position of their team towards the opposing team’s end zone. The position is physically demanding as the running back is usually hit by opposing defensive players on every play that they touch the ball. Therefore, it is no surprise that the average career length of running backs is the shortest when compared to other positions on an NFL team.

Longevity as a major challenge

With the average career of a running back in the NFL lasting only roughly two and a half seasons, chances are slim for any player starting out in the league to move onto the all-time rushing leader list at some point. All players in the top 10 played at least ten seasons in the NFL and were rarely injured for more than a few games. Emmitt Smith, for example, recorded 11 consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards in rushing yards from 1991 to 2001 for the Dallas Cowboys, missing a total of only seven games during that time span.
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Players with the most rushing yards in NFL history (as of December 30th, 2018)*

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Number of yards
Emmitt Smith (1990-2004)18,355
Walter Payton (1975-1987)16,726
Barry Sanders (1989-1998)15,269
Frank Gore (2005-2018)14,748
Curtis Martin (1995-2005)14,101
LaDainian Tomlinson (2001-2011)13,684
Jerome Bettis (1993-2005)13,662
Adrian Peterson (2007-2018)13,318
Eric Dickerson (1983-1993)13,259
Tony Dorsett (1977-1988)12,739
Jim Brown (1957-1965)12,312
Marshall Faulk (1994-2005)12,279
Edgerrin James (1999-2009)12,246
Marcus Allen (1982-1997)12,243
Franco Harris (1972-1984)12,120
Thurman Thomas (1988-2000)12,074
Fred Taylor (1998-2010)11,695
Steven Jackson (2004-2015)11,438
John Riggins (1971-1985)11,352
Corey Dillon (1997-2006)11,241
Number of yards
Emmitt Smith (1990-2004)18,355
Walter Payton (1975-1987)16,726
Barry Sanders (1989-1998)15,269
Frank Gore (2005-2018)14,748
Curtis Martin (1995-2005)14,101
LaDainian Tomlinson (2001-2011)13,684
Jerome Bettis (1993-2005)13,662
Adrian Peterson (2007-2018)13,318
Eric Dickerson (1983-1993)13,259
Tony Dorsett (1977-1988)12,739
Jim Brown (1957-1965)12,312
Marshall Faulk (1994-2005)12,279
Edgerrin James (1999-2009)12,246
Marcus Allen (1982-1997)12,243
Franco Harris (1972-1984)12,120
Thurman Thomas (1988-2000)12,074
Fred Taylor (1998-2010)11,695
Steven Jackson (2004-2015)11,438
John Riggins (1971-1985)11,352
Corey Dillon (1997-2006)11,241
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by Christina Gough, last edited May 10, 2019
Emmitt Smith is the all-time rushing leader of the National Football League (NFL) with 18,355 career rushing yards. The running back, who spent the majority of his 15-year career with the Dallas Cowboys, became the all-time leader rusher in the NFL in the 2002 season. Frank Gore (Buffalo Bills in 2019) and Adrian Peterson (Washington Redskins in 2019) are the only active players in the top 10 of the ranking.
The running backs in the NFL

Running backs are often an integral part to the offense of an NFL team. The players manning the position carry the ball from behind the line of scrimmage with the aim to gain yards and advance the offensive position of their team towards the opposing team’s end zone. The position is physically demanding as the running back is usually hit by opposing defensive players on every play that they touch the ball. Therefore, it is no surprise that the average career length of running backs is the shortest when compared to other positions on an NFL team.

Longevity as a major challenge

With the average career of a running back in the NFL lasting only roughly two and a half seasons, chances are slim for any player starting out in the league to move onto the all-time rushing leader list at some point. All players in the top 10 played at least ten seasons in the NFL and were rarely injured for more than a few games. Emmitt Smith, for example, recorded 11 consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards in rushing yards from 1991 to 2001 for the Dallas Cowboys, missing a total of only seven games during that time span.
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