The 1990's were somewhat of a golden age for the NFL when it came to individual talent; this was no different for the running back position.
For as glamorous as the receiver and quarterback positions were in the 90's, it's completely possible that the most glamorous position was that of the running back. With future Hall of Famers such as Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, Edgerrin James, and Marcus Allen as well as legends such as Terrell Davis, Herschel Walker, Eddie George, Fred Taylor, Ricky Watters, Corey Dillon, Warrick Dunn, and Jamal Anderson all putting up significant seasons in the decade, it's hard to argue the 1990's as the "Golden Age of the Running."
To understand just how much of a golden age this truly was, I present to you the Top 10 single season running back performances of the 1990's.
10. Jamal Anderson, 1998 - In 1996 and 1997 Jamal Anderson was a very good running back; In 1998 Jamal Anderson was incredible. Anderson carried the ball a then NFL record 410 times for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns. Anderson added another 27 receptions and 319 reception yards to complement his 2 receiving touchdowns. The Falcons needed Anderson to touch the ball every time he did in '98, as they rode Anderson all the way to the Super Bowl that season.
09. Edgerrin James, 1999 - As a rookie James burst onto the NFL scene in stride, leading the league with 369 attempts and 1,553 yards in his first season with the Colts. James also picked up a league leading 17 touchdowns, to compliment his impressive 2,139 total yards from scrimmage. James' numbers not only helped him pick up the leagues Rookie of the Year award, and earn a first team All-Pro berth, it also helped the Colts flip ten games and go from a 3-13 team to a 13-3 season.
08. Emmitt Smith, 1992 - Though it wasn't his MVP season, the 1992 season may have been Emmit's most impressive. Smith rushed for a league leading 1,713 yards and 18 touchdowns that season, as well as picking up over 2,000 yards from scrimmage on the season. Smith helped the Cowboy's win their first Super Bowl since the 1970's that season as well, picking up over 100 yards in Super Bowl XXVII.
07. Barry Sanders, 1994 - 1994 was the season where people began to see just how dangerous Barry Sanders really was. In '94 Sanders carried the ball 331 times for 1,883 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 0 fumbles. That's right, zero fumbles. In total Sanders picked up a league leading 2,166 yards from scrimmage on the season, a monumental number in it's day.
06. Marshall Faulk, 1999 - As an Indianapolis Colt from 1994 to 1998 Marshall Faulk was good. In his first year as a St. Louis Ram in 1999, Marshall Faulk was out of this world. The numbers that Faulk put up in 1999 were never seen before, and will probably never be seen again. That season, Faulk carried the ball 253 times for 1,381 yards for an astounding 5.5 yards per carry average. As if that wasn't enough, Faulk added 87 receptions for 1,048 yards to his season making him only the second player in NFL history to receive and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season (Roger Craig 1985). Faulks addition to the Rams was so powerful that in 1999 the Rams went from a perennial gutter team, to Super Bowl champions in just one season; Faulks 2,429 total yards that season are usually cited as the reason for that turn around.
05. Thurman Thomas, 1991 - For four straight seasons Thurman Thomas lead the league in yards from scrimmage, but 1991 was the season where Thomas was unworldly. A true four down back, Thomas carried the ball 288 times for 1,407 yards and 7 touchdowns, including a league leading yards per carry average of 4.9. Thomas also helped Jim Kelly's numbers by adding 62 completions for 631 yards and 5 touchdowns, totaling Thomas' 1991 season to 12 touchdowns and 2,038 total yards. Smith went on to win the leagues MVP Award that season, and helped the Bills return to the Super Bowl, where for the second year in a row, they would lose.
04. Terrell Davis, 1997 - People knew how good Davis could be as a rookie when he rushed for over 1,000 yards. In 1996 people fell out of their seats as Davis tore through opposing defenses en route to winning the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award, but in 1997 Terrell Davis had, up to that point, arguable the greatest season of all time. In 1997, Davis carried the ball 369 times for 1,750 yards for a yards per carry average of 4.7. Adding fuel to Davis' impressive season were his 2,037 total yards from scrimmage, and 15 touchdowns (all rushing). In the playoffs Davis turned it up to an even bigger level, rushing for over 400 yards and adding 5 touchdowns in the AFC playoffs. In Super Bowl XXXII Davis rushed for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns, helping the underdog Broncos upset the heavily favored Packers. With a game like that, Davis crowned his impressive 1997 season with a Super Bowl MVP award.
03. Emmitt Smith, 1993 - Smith lead the league in rushing four times in the 1990's, but 1993 was the season Smith became "the greatest player in the league." All Smith did in 1993 was pick up 1,486 yards on 283 carries for a 5.3 yards per carry average. Smith added ten total touchdowns to those statistics as well as a league MVP. Smith's greatest feat of his career came in Super Bowl XXVIII that season, where Smith carried the ball 30 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns, as well as picking up four receptions for 26 yards. Smith's performance in that game helped him win the Super Bowl MVP award; the perfect ending to a perfect season for Smith.
02. Barry Sanders, 1997 - Sanders' 1997 season has become the landmark season that all running backs aspire to today. On 335 attempts, Sanders carried for 2,053 yards for a yards per carry average of 6.1. As is that wasn't enough offensive production, Sanders added 305 reception yards and 14 total touchdowns. Sanders helped the Lions get to the playoffs that season, and was also named the leagues MVP (shared with Brett Favre).
01. Terrell Davis, 1998 - The NFL Hall of Fame loves to reward consistency, but the first four years of Terrell Davis' career were better than any other in NFL history. 1998 put the exclamation point on Davis' ascension to NFL history as he ran for 2,008 yards and 392 carries for a yards per carry average of 5.1. Davis also added a remarkable 21 rushing touchdowns to his resume, along with 217 receiving yards, and 2 receptions for touchdowns. Davis helped lead the Broncos to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl victory that season, as well as picking up the NFL's league MVP award.