A panel of experts rank the best NFL running backs of all time:
STEVE YOUNG, ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback:
1. Barry Sanders: He was the most unbelievable guy ever. I just couldn't fathom the things that he did. He was the only guy I knew that, instead of going back and talking to the coaches when we were off the field, I would tell the coach, "Hold on, I've got to go watch Barry run."
2. Emmitt Smith: He was a pure workhorse. You hand him the ball, and he always fell forward. He'd be tackled for a gain of five, but it would be for eight. You could say that 30% of his yardage came after he was tackled, partly because he was so low to the ground.
3. Walter Payton: He was a man's man. He ran like Adrian Peterson, but I don't know that Adrian Peterson will be able to run that long. He ran so physical. He punished everybody, and yet didn't hurt himself. Usually, guys who run like that wind up punishing themselves.
4. Eric Dickerson: I remember watching him as a young kid when I first broke into the league. He was smooth and effortless. You almost felt like at the end of the game: Did he get dirty? Did anyone touch him? Did he fall?
5. Marcus Allen: He was just slithery. Guys couldn't get a bead on him. He was smooth like Dickerson, and he was smart, with tremendous vision.
JIM MORA, NFL Network analyst and former coach of Seahawks and Falcons:
1. Walter Payton: He rushed for 16,726 yards, the most in history until Emmitt Smith broke the record. Nine Pro Bowls, one world championship.
2. Jim Brown: Nine Pro Bowls in nine seasons, three-time league MVP, led the NFL in rushing eight of his nine seasons. Only player to average more than 100 yards rushing per game for his career.
3. Barry Sanders: Made the Pro Bowl every year of his career, averaged 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns for his career, and the only player to rush for more than 1,500 yards five times.
4. Emmitt Smith: All-time leading rusher (for now), great postseason performer who won three Super Bowls, rushed for more than 1,000 yards 11 times. In 1993, he led the league in rushing, was the league MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
5. O.J. Simpson: I just can't leave him off the list.
STEVE SABOL, president of NFL Films:
1. Jim Brown: He remains the very definition of greatness. His career is a yardstick by which all other running backs are measured.
2. Walter Payton: He had all the moves: a lowered shoulder for a defensive lineman, a slack leg for a linebacker, and a lead-pipe stiff arm for a defensive back. He would pivot, change speeds and run laterally when necessary. But he never lost sight of a great runner's first principle: When everything else fails, gut out a couple of yards.
3. Barry Sanders: He challenged the notion that football is a contact sport. Many times I saw him run 50 yards or more for touchdowns without being touched by a defender.
4. Gale Sayers: He was what coaches in the 1960s called an "anywhere, anytime runner," meaning he was a threat to score from any place on the field at any moment of the game.
5. Emmitt Smith: If I was in charge of introducing an alien being to the epitome of human potential, perseverance and will, I would introduce that alien being to Emmitt Smith.
SAM FARMER, Los Angeles Times NFL writer:
1. Barry Sanders: Some of his cuts seemed to bend the laws of physics and gravity. How could someone keep his feet while leaning at those angles?
2. Walter Payton: He might not have been the fastest guy on the field, but, from his jarring stiff-arm to his elusive stutter-step, nobody had a better blend of brutality and finesse.
3. Tony Dorsett: A testament to Dorsett's greatness: He set an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown run … and the Cowboys only had 10 players on the field because their fullback mistakenly came out.
4. Eric Dickerson: He had a fifth gear when everybody else was working with four. He ran so smoothly and effortlessly, it was like he could balance a tray of champagne glasses on his helmet.
5. John Riggins: I know so many others who belong on this list — Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Gale Sayers — but I've got to applaud Riggins. Everybody who played the Redskins knew the "counter trey" runs were coming, but seldom could anyone effectively stop them. The Diesel was too tough.