Before stepping away from the game in 2004, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith added a prestigious mark to his resume. Smith surpassed former Chicago Bears great Walter Payton to become the all-time leading rushing in NFL history. It’s a mark that he has held firmly for over the last decade with a sizable gap ahead at the top of the list. It’s also one that may too be high for any player to ever pass for years to come.
Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record
It didn’t take long for Smith to make his presence felt in the NFL has he quickly made an impact from the get-go for the Dallas Cowboys.
He became the workhorse running back that the franchise leaned on for over a decade as he put forth tremendous production before finishing his last two years with the Arizona Cardinals. It saw him earn numerous honors such as three Super Bowl championships, a Super Bowl XXVIII MVP award, eight Pro Bowl selections, four First-Team All-Pro nods, two Second-Team All-Pro nominations, an MVP award, and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Smith also led the league in rushing four times, along with rushing touchdowns on four occasions. That helped him set the all-marks with 18,355 rushing yards, 164 rushing touchdowns, and 4,409 rushing attempts. Smith was the epitome of his nickname “Mr. Consistent” as he tallied north of 900 rushing yards in each year of his 15-year campaign. That included 11 straight years with north of 1,000 rushing yards.
Smith has many impressive feats to his name, but it’s his rushing yard record that may never be surpassed by another player.
LaDainian Tomlinson perfect lays out why Emmitt Smith won’t be passed
Beyond being the model for consistency at the position, Smith brought elite-level production well into his 30s.
That helped push him to hold the all-time rushing yard record with a considerable gap ahead of Payton. With all that in mind, fellow Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson has keenly explained recently on NFL Network why Smith’s record may never be touched. (H/T Pro Football Talk)
“No one will ever break this record,” Tomlinson said. “There’s not enough opportunities that running backs will get. We know the shelf life is a lot shorter for running backs. I just don’t see guys getting a lot of opportunities. That’s a lot of yards for a guy to amass and I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”
It’s not due to a lack of talent, but more so the changes in the game and how the NFL at large views the running back position. There is a shelf life on the spot that is seemingly capped at age 30 due to typical drop off production.
That has now shifted toward teams being more precautious with their handling of running back’s workload not to wear them down. It has impacted the number of carries a player will have, which could foreseeably lead to a drop in overall production over a long span. These are all factors out of the players’ hands and make passing that mark more daunting than it already is.
Too many factors at play to challenge Emmitt Smith’s record
There are plenty of extremely talented running backs in the league, such as Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley that could have long, highly productive careers.
However, the concern about their age and durability becomes more significant with the more seasons under their belt. There is a strong chance many of them will put forth careers that see them move well past 10,000 career rushing yards, but it’s once that mileage adds up on their bodies in their 30s that things begin to slow down.
Frank Gore has continued to prove that he’s an ageless wonder, but the 37-year-old is heading into his 16th year at third all-time with 15,347 rushing yards, which is still roughly 3,000 behind Smith. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson recently moved up to fifth holding 14,216, but he’s still quite a way aways.
It all comes down to durability and opportunity for these running backs aspiring to hit that mark one day, and it’s hard to believe that trend will buck back toward what Smith had during his heyday.