Top running backs in playoff history

Print

Being a Clutch Performer means coming through for your team in key moments and throughout your career. That can mean you either come up with a big play when the game is on the line, or you're the foundation on which your team builds success.

In honor of the Castrol EDGE Clutch Performers of the Year, we take a weekly look at some players that have been instrumental to their team's success in the Super Bowl era, through the postseason and beyond. Here, we focus on running backs.

5. John Riggins


There are plenty of big name running backs that deserve credit for their team's success. But when you look at his numbers and how he ran, you simply can't have this list without mentioning John Riggins.

If you take Rob Gronkowski, make him a running back and turn his party dial up to 11, you have John Riggins. To say he's a character is putting it mildly. Regardless of his personality, Riggins was a pure power back. He would single-handedly wear defenses down.

Riggins' running prowess was on full display in the 1982 season. Once in the playoffs, Washington fed Riggins often and he couldn't be stopped. Riggins ran for 610 yards , a single postseason record, and four rushing touchdowns. 166 of those yards came from Super Bowl XVII. He literally carried his team to a championship with 38 carries. His remarkable playoff performance was capped with Super Bowl MVP honors. Oh, and he was 33 that season.

That postseason from Riggins might be one of the best performances we'll ever see from any NFL player. The reason "the Diesel" isn't higher on this list? Well, it's tough to beat the talent ahead of him.


4. Marcus Allen


It seems only fitting to follow up the Super Bowl XVII MVP with the MVP from the following Super Bowl. Marcus Allen wasn't just a great running back, he was one of the most unselfish players in the NFL, agreeing to step down to fullback when Bo Jackson came to town. Running or blocking, the Hall-of-Famer could do it all.

Allen was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1982. He was also Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP in 1985 after running for 1,759 yards and 11 TDs that season. The six-time Pro Bowler was also named Comeback Player of the Year in 1993 his first season as a Kansas City Chief.

The postseason is when Allen went to work. He's fifth all-time in postseason yards with 1,347 and sixth in postseason rushing TDs. Allen's performance in Super Bowl XVIII was nothing short of spectacular. He earned Super Bowl MVP honors after rushing for 191 yards and two TDs.


3. Franco Harris


During his career, Franco Harris faced criticism for running out of bounds to avoid unnecessary hits. While it might've been the opposite of the Pittsburgh Steelers' image of that era, it has become common practice today's NFL and it might be why he always had enough gas for the playoffs.

Harris was the perfect compliment to a tough Steelers' defense. Harris totaled 1,556 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in the postseason. Those totals are second to only one other running back in NFL history (more on that that guy later). Harris was a key component to the Steelers' dynasty, helping the team to four Super Bowl championships.

In Super Bowl IX, Harris rushed for 158 yards and a TD. He was named Super Bowl MVP. Harris also ran for 343 yards in that playoff stretch. That was a Steelers' record for rushing yards in a single postseason, until it was broken just this year by Le'Veon Bell. It's clear that regardless of what is thought about his running style, Harris was a monster in the playoffs.


2. Terrell Davis


John Elway's retirement is a great ending to a fantastic career. He went out a back-to-back Super Bowl champion. But the player the Denver Broncos rode to victory wasn't Elway, but Terrell Davis.

The Broncos took a chance on Davis in the sixth round of the 1995 draft and didn't look back. In his seven-year career, Davis helped carry Denver to the Lombardi trophy two consecutive seasons. He's one of just seven players to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. He won Super Bowl XXXII MVP, NFL MVP, is a three-time Pro Bowler and won NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors twice.

But the playoffs were his bread and butter. Guiding the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory, Davis scored eight rushing touchdowns in a single postseason, an NFL record. In Super Bowl XXXII, Davis missed some of the game due to vision problems caused by migraines. He finished that game with 157 yards and a Super Bowl record three TDs. That was also the game he won Super Bowl MVP.

Davis is also just the sixth player in NFL history to total 1,000 career postseason yards. He did this in just eight games, at least half the amount of the other six players in that category. Davis' career yards per game average in the playoffs is 142.5, also an NFL record. When it playoff time, Davis just couldn't be stopped. 


1. Emmitt Smith


Much like Jerry Rice for receivers, this one shouldn't be a surprise. Emmitt Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher in yards (18,355), touchdowns (164) and carries (4,409). He's an eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time Super Bowl champ, 1990 Offensive Rookie of the Year, 1993 MVP and a Hall-of-Famer.

Smith's playoff prowess is what puts him at the top. He is the all-time leader with 1,586 yards and 19 touchdowns in the post season. Smith has five rushing TDs in Super Bowls alone, that's an NFL record too.

On top of that, Smith led the league in rushing four times, including three consecutive seasons and has 11-straight 1,000 yard seasons.

Smith is on top of the Clutch Performers list for his determination when the game was on the line. This was on full display in the final game of the 1993 season. With home field advantage on the line, Smith separated his shoulder in the first quarter. Battling through the pain, Smith totaled 229 yards and a touchdown on the day. That same season, Smith won Super Bowl XXVIII MVP after rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns a few short weeks later.


Honorable Mentions


No list of running backs are complete without at least mentioning Barry Sanders and the great Walter Payton. It's worth stating that these two, along with Emmitt Smith, are the only players to surpass 15,000 career rushing yards. Sanders was a special runner with next-level elusiveness, but the focus here is playoffs, and he just doesn't have the postseasons to match the others mentioned above. Payton is the best back of the Super Bowl era. It's tough to forget the time Payton rushed for 275 yards in a game against the Minnesota Vikings despite battling the flu. But John Riggins' insane postseason just edged him out.

Jim Brown is probably the best running back the league will ever see, but the focus here is Super Bowl era players.

Another player worth mentioning is Buffalo Bills great, Thurman Thomas. Thomas is third all-time in postseason rushing yards (1,442) and is only behind Smith in postseason TDs (16). He was the workhorse that helped the Bills appear in four consecutive Super Bowls. The lack of a ring might've kept him out of the top five, but his 190 total yard and one touchdown effort in a Super Bowl XXV loss should've given him Super Bowl MVP, even in a loss.

The last player I'll mention here is Marshawn Lynch. Throughout his career, Lynch was a punishing runner that got better as the season went on. His "Beast Quake" runs are amazing. When he retired, he was 63 yards shy of being just the seventh player with 1,000 career postseason yards. While Seattle Seahawks fans might be sick of hearing it, Lynch was possibly just a play call away from a second ring and Super Bowl MVP honors.

Follow Daniel Williams on Twitter @_danielwilliams.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop