Football positions have evolved over time and these three NFL running backs changed the game with the ways they played.
Throughout NFL history, the running back position has featured some of the most iconic players in the league. From John Henry Johnson to Emmitt Smith to Adrian Peterson, every era has featured elite talented at the position.
Over time, the position has evolved. Due to their styles of play, off-the-field endeavors, and lasting legacies, these three running backs were instrumental in that evolution.
NFL running backs who changed the position: Jim Brown
Brown’s career remains one of the most unique in league history. In nine seasons, he led the league in rushing yards eight times and rushing touchdowns five times. He was a three-time MVP and nine-time Pro Bowl selection.
In 1965, he rushed for 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns, en route to winning his third MVP award. Following the season, he made the shocking choice to retire. He told Tex Maule of Sports Illustrated the following:
“I want more mental stimulation than I would have playing football. I want to have a hand in the struggle that is taking place in our country, and I have the opportunity to do that now. I might not a year from now.”
At the time, “going out on top” was unprecedented for a player of Brown’s stature. In the nearly six decades since, sports superstars Barry Sanders, Michael Jordan (briefly), and Calvin Johnson have followed in his footsteps.
Brown went on to enjoy plenty of success after football. As an actor, he has 58 credits, including The Dirty Dozen and Any Given Sunday.