Seen on:
as known from New York Timesas known from USA Todayas known from yahoo!

The 10 Most Elusive Open-Field Runners in NFL History

Moves galore here
Publish Date: 05/25/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

Return men are not included on this list. This list is from the line of scrimmage who were the most elusive QBs, RBs, of all-time. Current players are not eligible for this list. You will notice that the Chicago Bears have three men on this list at the running back position, which is impressive for a team that can never seem to find an elite quarterback.


The eye test is the biggest criterion here, as when you see a great open-field runner, you know it immediately when watching one. Check out our list of the best running backs of all time!

10) Willie Galimore, Chicago Bears  

Galimore possessed incredible speed and lateral movement; many of the opposing players of the time stated that they believed Galimore could run side-to-side down the field just as fast as most men could in a straight line. Galimore tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 1964 at the young age of 29.

  • NFL Pro Bowl
  • World Champion
  • 100 Greatest Bears of All Time
Video: NFL - Special - Willie The Wisp - The Story Of Chicago Bears RB Willie Gallmore imasportsphile .com

NFL – Special – Willie The Wisp – The Story Of Chicago Bears RB Willie Gallmore imasportsphile .com

9) Tony Dorsett, Dallas Cowboys 

A lot of people forget how great of a running back Dorsett was because, being a Cowboy, other players seemed to garner more attention. But if Dorsett got to linebacker level, he would be almost unstoppable.

The addition of Dorsett in 1977 was the reason that the Cowboys were dominant and won the Super Bowl. The Cowboys kept coming up short because of a lack of a running game, which Dorsett solved.

  • Super Bowl Champion
  • NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year 1977
  • 4 Time Pro Bowl
  • Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor
Video: The prettiest running back ever - Tony Dorsett.flv

The prettiest running back ever – Tony Dorsett.flv

8) Walter Payton, Chicago Bears 

Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs of all time and the reason he ranks towards the bottom of this list could be because a lot of times, instead of making a move, he would just try to run over a guy.

Payton was not just an all-around great player. He was also a leader and a great teammate. To this day, when somebody says Chicago Bears, Payton is the first person you think of. See where Payton ranks among the best running backs of the 1970s!

  • Super Bowl Champion
  • NFL MVP 1977
  • NFL Offensive Player of the Year 1977
  • NFL Man of the Year
  • Bert Bell Award
  • 9 Time Pro Bowler
Video: Walter Payton Highlights

Walter Payton Highlights

7) Joe Washington, Colts, Redskins 

His most memorable performance was on September 18, 1978, in Baltimore’s 34–27 victory over the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. He had a hand in three of the four touchdowns scored by the Colts in a fourth-quarter in which both teams combined for 41 points.

He helped lead off the scoring by throwing a 54-yard option pass to Roger Carr. Washington followed that up with a 23-yard touchdown catch from Bill Troup. Washington broke a 27–27 deadlock by scoring the game-winner on a 90-yard kickoff return in a driving rainstorm. It was scored in the final seconds of the game after the Patriots came back from 27–13. Washington had many other memorable games but when you watch the 4th quarter of this game you realize what a great player he was.

  • Super Bowl Champion
  • Pro Bowl 1979
  • NFL Receptions Leader 1979
Video: Joe Washington highlights 9-18-1978 Monday night football

Joe Washington highlights 9-18-1978 Monday night football

6) Red Grange, Chicago Bears 

When Grange joined the NFL in 1925, the NFL was, at best, struggling. Grange’s playing changed perceptions about the NFL. His presence at a Bears road game could put a struggling host team in the black for the season.

Fans came to see the most dynamic, elusive all-purpose weapon of that primitive era. Grange ran, passed and returned punts in an era when punt returns were much more integral to the game than they are now. I guess you could say that Halas and Grange may have had more to do with the eventual success of the NFL then maybe anybody else in the history of the game.

  • 2 Time World Champion
  • 1920s NFL All-Decade Team
  • 100 Greatest Bears
Video: Classic Tailback - Red Grange Illinois Highlights

Classic Tailback – Red Grange Illinois Highlights

5) Hugh McElhenny, San Francisco 49ers 

McElhenny was all jukes, weaves-on-the-freeway chaos. “The King” averaged 7.0 yards per carry on 98 carries as a rookie in 1952, and 8.0 yards per carry on 64 carries when the Million Dollar Backfield officially came together in 1954. Joe Perry was the other running back in the Million Dollar Backfield but McElhenny was the do-everything man in the Niners backfield.

  • 6 Time Pro Bowler
  • 1950s NFL All-Decade Team
  • 49ers Hall of Fame
Video: Hugh McElhenny Highlight Segment | NFL Highlights HD

Hugh McElhenny Highlight Segment | NFL Highlights HD

4) O.J. Simpson, Bills, 49ers

Simpson was a six-time Pro Bowler as a Buffalo Bill and ran for a career of 11,236 yards on the ground. His best season came in when he ran for 2,003 yards—one of a few backs to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark. 1974, he was dominant, leading the Bills to the playoffs for the only time during his career. The Bills had a big-time Offensive line but nothing else during Simpson’s year.

Simpson’s life after football has turned into a villain, where he used to be an American hero.

  • First Running back to rush for over 2k yards in a season
  • NFL MVP 1973
  • Offensive Player of the Year 1973
  • 5 Time Pro-Bowler
Video: OJ Simpson Highlights (Final Version)

OJ Simpson Highlights (Final Version)

3) Marshall Faulk, Colts, Rams 

There have been a handful of better open-field runners in history than Marshall Faulk. But no runner reached the open field as often or as consistently as Faulk. Faulk started out with the Indianapolis Colts and finished as part of the Greatest Show on Turf in St.Louis, where he helped lead the Rams to a Super Bowl Title.

  • Super Bowl Champion
  • NFL MVP 2000
  • 3 Time NFL Offensive Player of the Year
  • 7 Time Pro Bowler
  • 2 Time NFL Scoring Leader
Video: Marshall Faulk Highlights - High Quality from 'A Football Life'

Marshall Faulk Highlights – High Quality from ‘A Football Life’

2) Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions  

Sanders was stuck in Detroit with the run and shoot offense, which left a running back without a fullback or tight end. To see what might have been, look at the 1997 season when the Lions switched to a more conventional offense. That year, Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards and 6.1 yards per carry with 14 total touchdowns.

With a better team around him, it is hard to imagine the yards and records Sanders would have broken. Then again, that’s why he retired, as the Lions failed to put the required talent around him to win a Super Bowl. Sanders was apart of the legendary 1989 NFL Draft!

  • NFL MVP 1997
  • NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year 1989
  • 2 Time NFL Offensive Player of the Year
  • 10 Time Pro Bowler
  • 4 Time NFL Rushing Leader
  • 1990s All-Decade Team
Video: Barry Sanders - Untouchable

Barry Sanders – Untouchable

1) Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears 

 “Just give me 18 inches of daylight. That’s all I need.” — Gale Sayers

He jump-cut, head-faked, hurdled and juked early ’60s defenders who had never seen the likes of the Kansas Comet before. It might be cheating to point to a highlight reel and say “watch this,” but of course we have included one.

  • NFL Comeback Player of the Year 1969
  • NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year 1965
  • 5 Time Pro Bowler
  • 2 Time NFL Rushing Yards Leader
Video: Gale Sayers - Classic

Gale Sayers – Classic

Honorable mentions

Floyd Little, Denver Broncos 

 During a 6-year period, 1968–1973, Little rushed for more yards and more yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving) than any RB in the NFL.

Dickie Post, Chargers

Dickie Post was a little-known running back during a brief career with the Chargers, but he was an amazing open-field runner that was damn near impossible to tackle one on one in the open field.

Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles

Cunningham was the greatest running quarterback of all-time. He went later in his career to Minnesota and proved he was a prolific passer also but his running ability is what most people will remember.

Bobby Mitchell, Browns, Redskins 

Mitchell’s pure speed allowed him to both burn cornerbacks deep and beat defenders to the edge on sweeps. He was also nifty in the open field, with a devastating mix of dart-like quickness and vision. He was paired for a few years in the same backfield as the great Jim Brown and was used as a motion man. Brown and him were one of the deadliest backfields in NFL history.

Read Also
Esteban de Jesus, Roberto Duran y AIDS (1972-89)
Many of us dream of celebrity sports fame, but only cruel individuals ...
The Greatest College Basketball Team of All Time
Rating the greatest college basketball teams ever has been done many times ...
Bet365 Promo
Come Fly with me: How the 1988-89 Chicago Bulls pushed forward to an NBA dynasty.
Find the best sportsbook to bet on the NBA Playoffs! Prologue: By ...
What is the Best Decade of Basketball in NBA History?
15Every NBA player and fan thinks that their generation of basketball was ...
Grading every NFL team’s picks from the 2021 NFL Draft
Quickly, click away if you’re going to get upset by reading draft ...
Sam Teets 2021 NFL three-round predictive mock draft 6.0
This is a predictive NFL mock draft and my final of the ...
Every NFL team’s best player not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame- NFC East
The Pro Football Hall of Fame houses the greatest players in NFL ...
Predicting the next five Pro Football Hall of Fame classes
Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio is ...
Ranking the top 200 players in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season
This list isn’t based solely on performances from the 2020 NFL season. ...
Latest News
Does Howard Cosell Belong in the NFL Hall of Fame
Howard Cosell is the most influential sports journalist ...
Gentleman Jim conquers the great John L
The conqueror of the "Great John L" was ...
Top 10 College Football Song Traditions
Every team has a song played at some ...
Formula 1, Round 13: The 2024 Hungarian Grand Prix
We’ve hit the halfway mark in the 2024 ...
Our Latest YouTube Videos
Video: How To Claim The Sign Up Bonus at Bet365 Casino & Sportsbook (US)
How To Claim The Sign Up Bonus at Bet365 Casino & Sportsbook (US)
Video: ESPN is Trying to steal WNBA Rookie of the Year from Caitlin Clark
ESPN is Trying to steal WNBA Rookie of the Year from Caitlin Clark
Video: Get Free $60 At The Best Sportsbook in Michigan: SI CASINO #sportsgambling #casino #freebonus
Get Free $60 At The Best Sportsbook in Michigan: SI CASINO #sportsgambling #casino #freebonus
Top Betting Sites
Top Betting Bonuses
Bet365 Review
BetMGM Review
FanDuel Review
Caesars Review
4.5/5 Review
Bet365 Bonus
First Bet Safety Net up to $1000 OR Bet $5 and Get $150
T&Cs apply
At bet365 we don't do ordinary, that's why if you sign up now you'll get the choice of two great New Customer Offers, the First Bet Safety Net up to $1000 or Bet $5 and Get $150 in Bonus Bets. Deposit required. Bonus Bets wager excluded from returns. T&Cs, time limits and exclusions apply. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gambler 21+
BetMGM Bonus
Up To $1500 in Bonus Bets Paid Back if your First Bet Does Not Win
T&Cs apply
FanDuel Bonus
Bet $5 Get $200 in Bonus Bets if your bet wins
T&Cs apply
Caesars Bonus
100% up to $1000
T&Cs apply
4.5/5 Bonus
Second chance bet: Get up to $500 in Bonus Bets
T&Cs apply
Our Team
Mike GoodpasterJosh SchwartzSimon BriffaMark LewisSamuel Teets
Mike Goodpaster
Mike Goodpaster
Chief Editor
Josh Schwartz
Josh Schwartz
Simon Briffa
Simon Briffa
Sports Editor
Mark Lewis
Mark Lewis
Samuel Teets
Samuel Teets
US Sports Veteran
Author Icon
Find out what the legends have to say about sports this week....
Find out what the legends have to say about sports this week....

21+ and present in VA. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

This site is using Cloudflare and adheres to the Google Safe Browsing Program. We adapted Google's Privacy Guidelines to keep your data safe at all times.
Virginia Town HallCloudflareSSL
Your Promo Code:
The bonus offer of was already opened in an additional window. If not, you can open it also by clicking the following link:
Play now