Today, we will look at a position that, for the most part, is missing in the modern-day NFL. So, you can expect that most of the fullbacks listed here played in the 20th century. Legendary fullbacks were the rule before the 1990s, and today, we will look at the best ever to play the game. Check out our Top 30 Greatest Linebackers article.
Stats are still a large part of the criteria, but when you are talking about Fullbacks, blocking also plays a huge part, which is hard to quantify as not a lot of stats are out there breaking down how good of a blocker a player was.
Super Bowl champion, three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro Larry Centers was an accomplished fullback out of the backfield who helped his team notch impressive numbers by running and catching the football. Boasting 6,797 career receiving yards with 28 receiving touchdowns plus 2,188 rushing yards with 14 rushing touchdowns, Larry was almost enough of an authority on being an effective fullback on an NFL field to warrant attending his own fullback school!
Never fancy, he ran straight ahead, over and through the opposition. Though best remembered for his bull-like running style, he was also unrivaled as a blocker and tackler – making him one of the greatest all-round players ever seen in football history. At the University of Minnesota, he played four positions simultaneously and earned All-America honors at both fullback and tackle positions; with the Bears, his defensive play was equally as fantastic.
Nagurski was one of the NFL’s original stars, and that is proven because he is still remembered today; maybe it was the unique name that made him memorable. But I think it was a combination of the name and his greatness as a player.
Joe Perry earned the moniker ‘The Jet’ for good reason. With legs that could move like jet engines, Perry amassed almost 10,000 yards and 71 touchdowns during his professional football career – becoming an honorable service member before becoming one of three Pro Bowlers and two All-Pros. But beyond all this success, his story serves as motivation to anyone trying to break into the big leagues from JuCo levels up.
Joe Perry made an impactful mark at Compton Junior College by scoring 22 touchdowns during one season. However, before finishing college football, he was called up into military service; while playing for the Alameda Naval Training Station team, a player from the San Francisco 49ers of the new All-America Football Conference saw Joe playing football. Reporting their find to their hierarchy, they offered Joe a contract upon discharge in 1948 – accepting their proposal and accepting Joe Perry’s proposal!
In 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson made history by signing with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, four players broke pro football’s race barrier. Marion Motley and Bill Willis of the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference signed with Kenny Washington and Woody Strode from the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League… Paul Brown knew Motley well from coaching him during World War II at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Detroit.
Motley was as big as a lineman and fast as any running back; he was an anomaly running the ball back then. There were no other ballcarriers like Motley at the time.
John Henry succeeded during his years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, breaking through the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in both years. But his greatest moment came with Detroit Lions, where he participated in their 1957 Championship Game win against the Cleveland Browns 59-14; Johnson played an instrumental role and eventually led all runners with 621 yards rushed en route to becoming the Lions leading rusher that season and earned selection to four Pro Bowl Games: 1955, 1963, 1964 and 1965.
Any Fullback that makes it to the Hall of Fame was beyond special, and Johnson was indeed elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, sealing his legacy of greatness.
Jim Taylor may well serve as an ideal example of an NFL fullback. One of the greatest ever, Taylor won multiple championships before and during the Super Bowl era – four prior (before), one post, MVP award, five Pro Bowl selections and All-Pro recognition – along with All-Pro honors during his playing days. He had incredible success and will long be remembered in NFL circles for his outstanding contributions. Taylor was also helped out by playing behind one of the greatest Offensive Lines in NFL History.
As the Packers’ dynasty expanded, Jim Taylor emerged as a symbol of power in their incredible Green Bay attack. A throwback from an earlier era, Jim ran with fierceness few could match, caught swing passes easily and blocked relentlessly. Taylor was named NFL Player of the Year with a rushing mark of 1,474 yards in 1962; this marked five straight 1,000-yard seasons during his career and ultimately propelled Green Bay to glory.
Alstott could argue for inclusion into Canton, even though he has not made it yet. Alstott was an outstanding fullback – Super Bowl Champion, six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro. Furthermore, his career was dedicated to one team from 1996 to 2006 (Allistott played exclusively with the Bucs).
Alstott was an integral component of the Buccaneer’s offense and amassed 5,1088 rushing yards and 58 touchdowns, in addition to 2,2884 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. Alstott was one of the hardest running fullbacks ever and an excellent blocker.
Riggins made the most of his limited postseason appearances by winning both NFC championship games in 1982 and 1983 as well as winning Super Bowl XVII and coming up short in Super Bowl XVIII – garnering MVP honours with 38 carries for 166 yards en route to a historic 43-yard touchdown run that helped seal Washington’s 27-17 win against Miami. Riggins amassed over 1,000 yards five times during his career, rushing over 100 in 35 games, including six post-season contests!
Riggins started his career with the New York Jets, and he had an excellent career in New York, but the Jets were a bad team. He arrived in Washington, and many thought his best years were behind him. Instead, he went off and had his best seasons as a fullback.
Larry Csonka was an iconic fullback for the Miami Dolphins during their dominating run through the National Football League during the early 1970s… His finest performance may have come in Super Bowl VIII when he was named Most Valuable Player and carried 33 times for a then-Super Bowl record 145 yards and two touchdowns…
Csonka was the heart of the Dolphin’s offense. He was a big, bruising fullback who could run and block as well as any fullback we have ever seen. He left the Dolphins for the WFL, and, when the league folded, ended up with the New York Giants for a few years before finishing his career in Miami in 1979, helping the Dolphins win the division and making the playoffs.
Jim Brown was an extraordinary football whose primary job for the Cleveland Browns was running with the football. For nine seasons, he excelled at this task like no one before him, and at 30 – at the peak of his career – he retired; he left an indelible record book notated with Jim Brown notations. More than just a running back, Brown caught passes, returned kickoffs and even threw three touchdown passes; amassing 12,312 rushing yards and 15,459 combined net yards put him in an elite category. Brown wasn’t one of the Greatest receivers of all time, but he was damn good. You might call him one of the most underrated receivers of all-time.
Brown is among the greatest football players ever to grace an NFL field.
John L. Williams earned two Pro Bowl appearances over his 12-year career with both the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers – most notably with Seattle Seahawks, where he made himself known in their backfield as an intimidating presence. Reaching two Pro Bowls during that time.
Lorenzo Neal stands out as one of the great fullbacks to ever suit up in the NFL, boasting four Pro Bowler selections and two All-Pro honors while being honored as part of the 2000 Hall of Fame team. Over his 16-year NFL career playing for seven different teams, he managed to post impressive numbers.
Rathman was a do it all Fullback for the great 49ers team of the late 80s. He was a great blocker, could catch the ball out of the backfield and would occasionally run the ball like a battering ram.
Gilchrist earned four Pro Bowl selections, was three times All-Pro, an AFL Champion, and won both the 1962 AFL AP and UPI Player of the Year honors – all within six years! Additionally, he rushed for 37 touchdowns over 4,293 yards during his career.
Bleier was a war hero who most thought his career had ended in a rice pattie in Vietnam. Rocky overcame his injuries from the war and went on to team up with Franco Harris in a Steelers backfield that would help the Steelers win four Super Bowls in six years.
As an NFL fullback, he made three Super Bowl appearances and two Pro Bowl teams, earning 14 receiving touchdowns over 2,227 receiving yards as well as 753 rushing yards with eight rushing touchdowns for a career total of 3,4227 receiving yards and eight rushing touchdowns.
Cory, Schlesinger, as a Detroit Lion, how essential Schlesinger was in terms of offense and running game grit; his strength was a fullback role on offense. Playing his entire career with Detroit from 1995-2006, he amassed 1,445 receiving yards with nine receiving touchdowns and 473 rushing yards for five total scores. Those stats don’t appear that impressive on the surface with fullbacks, though. You have to look deeper sometimes because the stats don’t always tell the whole story.
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