What is a Running Back In American Football?  

The obligations and responsibilities associated with each position in the sport of American football are distinct. Among the key roles in the game is the running back.

A player that carries and runs with the ball during offensive plays is known as a running back.

They are often powerful, quick, and fast, with the main objective of moving the ball as far down the pitch as they can toward the end zone of the opposing side.  

This article explains what a running back is in American football, what their responsibilities are, and some of the most well-known players to hold the position throughout history.

What is a Running Back?  

Running back or tailback refers to a player who carries the ball on offensive plays. They take the ball from the quarterback and sprint for the opposing team’s end zone. Running backs mostly stand in the quarterback’s backfield.

They can block and catch passes, making them a flexible position in the game.

There are several different kinds of running backs. While some of them are bigger and more powerful, others are smaller and more agile.

Smaller running backs are frequently quicker and better at taking shortcuts and jukes to dodge defenders whereas taller running backs can smash past opponents and break tackles to gain more yards.

Types of running backs

The halfback and the fullback are the primary kinds of running backs in American football.  


The halfback, sometimes known as the tailback, is the primary ball carrier in the backfield. Because they are usually smaller and speedier than the fullback, they are better suited for running plays.

The halfback is usually employed in stretch plays, sweeps, and tosses because of their speed and agility, which may allow them to get around the edge of the defense.

When taking part in the passing game, the halfback might line up in the slot or run routes out of the backfield.

Good hands and the capacity to catch passes are characteristics of an effective halfback, which makes them a crucial offensive weapon.


In comparison to the halfback, the fullback is a bigger and more powerful player. They frequently serve as the quarterback’s or the halfback’s lead blocker.  

To create openings in the defense for the halfback to run through, the fullback will position up in front of the halfback and lead the way.  

Although fullbacks are rarely employed in the passing game, some of them are adept pass catchers who the quarterback can use as a check-down option.  

Skills of a Running Back

Running Back Skills

Speed and agility:  

Speed and agility are two of a running back’s most important attributes. Running backs must be able to maneuver swiftly through the defense, avoiding tackles with sharp cuts and jukes.  

A good running back should be able to shift direction swiftly to dodge defenders and have a quick first step.  


RBs require outstanding vision to read the defense and identify the openings in the defensive line.

A powerful running back will have excellent field vision, be able to anticipate where the defense will be and be able to move fast and gain ground.


Running backs need to have a certain amount of strength despite the fact that they are often smaller than other players on the pitch.  

To gain yards after contact, running backs need to be able to break tackles and push past the opposition. A good running back will have powerful legs and the ability to run over opponents.  

Roles and Responsibilities of a Running Back  

Roles of Running Backs

RBs play an important role in offensive plays and are responsible for several tasks. Some of the tasks and responsibilities that an American football running back might have included the following:

Carrying the Ball: The task of moving the ball down the field rests with running backs. They must possess the ability to read the defensive line and identify openings for running.

In order to get around defenders and earn extra yards, they must also be able to perform rapid cuts and jukes.  

Blocking: During pass plays, running backs are also in charge of blocking. To protect the quarterback, they must be able to spot defenders who are blitzing and pick them up.

When carrying the ball, they must also be able to block for other running backs or receivers.  

Pass-catching: Running backs are essential in the passing game because they can catch passes. They must be able to receive QB passes and gain more yards afterward.

To change their course and free up space for a pass, they must also be able to identify and pick up defenders who are blitzing them.  

Special Teams: RBs frequently participate in special teams’ plays like kickoff and punt returns. They must have the ability to catch the ball and return it as far as they can, frequently taking hard knocks from defenders.  

Top Running Backs in American Football  

Top NFL Running Backs

Over the history of American football, there have been many exceptional RBs who have had an influence. The following are some of the most well-known running backs in history:

  1. Walter Payton – Payton was a renowned running back for the Chicago Bears. During his career, which spanned 1975 to 1987, he broke multiple records, including those for most rushing yards and touchdowns in a single season.  
  1. Jim Brown – Brown is regarded by many as the best running back of all time. He played for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 through 1965. In his career, he played in nine Pro Bowls and eight times set the league record for rushing yards.  
  1. Emmitt SmithSmith, the all-time leading rusher in the NFL, was a member of the Dallas Cowboys from 1990 to 2002. He won the Super Bowl three times, and in 1993 he was awarded the league’s Most Valuable Player.  
  1. Barry Sanders – Sanders, from 1989 to 1998, Barry Sanders was a member of the Detroit Lions and was renowned for his extraordinary quickness and agility on the pitch. He finished his career as the third-leading rusher in NFL history after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons.  
  1. Eric Dickerson – Dickerson, from 1983 to 1993, played for the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, and Los Angeles Rams. He amassed more than 1,800 running yards in three different seasons, and his 2,105-yard effort in 1984 still stands as the record.  

Top 10 Running Backs With the Most Rushing Yards in NFL History

RankPlayerCareer Rushing Yards
1Emmitt Smith18,355
2Walter Payton16,726
3Frank Gore16,000
4Barry Sanders15,269
5Adrian Peterson14,820
6Curtis Martin14,101
7LaDainian Tomlinson13,684
8Jerome Bettis13,662
9Eric Dickerson13,259
10Tony Dorsett12,739
Data sourced from nfl.com


Running backs are the players who outrun defenders, score touchdowns, and sprint really rapidly. But let’s be honest, they accomplish much more than that. 

They carry the ball and make plays that can change the outcome of the game. They are the workhorses of the offence. 

If you ever find yourself watching an American football game, keep an eye out for those speedy, elusive RBs because they could mean the difference between winning and losing. 

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