Just like the key to a complete offense is an effective ground game, no greatest all-time running back collection is complete without these legendary athletes. These rookie issues will hit the ground running.
Of course the list contains greats like Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Gale Sayers, but their predecessors and contemporaries are just as important to the hobby, and the sport.
Here's a look at the rookie cards of 12 remarkable running backs.
The picture of gridiron longevity, Emmitt Smith played well into his 30s, amassing multiple records along the way. His most popular rookie card faces possible chipping along the colored borders. Poor packaging has also been known to affect the grade.
Compiling a list of top running back cards would be incomplete without the most dominant runner of the '90s, Barry Sanders. Sanders possessed tremendous agility and an unparalleled ability to make defenders miss. The card's green borders are susceptible to chipping, which can impact its grade.
Eric Dickerson's rookie card also happens to be the first in a set that also contains greats like Dan Marino, John Elway and Howie Long. Dickerson was unstoppable at running back and still holds the record for single-season rushing yards, with 2,105. Like many cards in the 1984 Topps set, Dickerson’s rookie card must contend with print defects.
Whether by way of evading tacklers or simply bulldozing them, Earl Campbell used his tremendous power and elusiveness to baffle defenders over the course of his career. Sadly, his violent running style led to nagging injuries years after his retirement. Centering issues and print quality can impact this card.
It was only a matter of time before Walter Payton graced the list. Payton was a rare combination of grace and power, with a knack for catching the ball. His only recognized rookie card isn’t overly difficult to find in high-grade, but tricky centering makes PSA Gem Mint 10 a tough grade.
An absolute force with the football, Tony Dorsett's contribution to the game cannot be understated, nor can the importance of his rookie card. Issues like centering make for a tough grade with Dorsett’s rookie card.
Though including Simpson on such a list is a difficult choice for obvious reasons, his gridiron accolades are hard to ignore. Simpson was among the game's best at running back, and his only recognized rookie card is an important card in the hobby. Poor centering and print defects along the card’s face can hinder its grade.
Before Walter Payton evaded defenders in a Bears uniform, there was legendary Gale Sayers. The only recognized rookie card of this gifted runner is subject to the typical issues of this set. Chipping, print defects and poor centering often mar this card.
What can be said that hasn’t been about an iconic card of, arguably, the best football player of all-time? Jim Brown made a habit of shedding would-be tacklers and posting record numbers before unexpectedly retiring in 1966. The only recognized rookie card of the NFL’s most feared running back is often found with print defects, making high-grade examples scarce, to say the least.
Though considered a "fullback," that position functioned as a running back in the game's early days. And few players were as feared as Bronko Nagurski, who would either evade or simply run over defenders. This card, considered the “Honus Wagner of football cards,” is part of the tough high-number run in a notoriously difficult set. Its short print makes it a difficult find in any grade.
One of the most striking cards in an iconic set belongs to one of the greatest athletes in sports history. This card is subject to the same condition obstacles that plague the 1933 Goudey Sports Kings set: ink bleeding and toning along the edges.
Red Grange's rookie card stands among the best looking cards in an iconic set. With his incredible running ability, complete with blinding speed and deceptive moves, Grange helped propel football to a new level. This card must contend with two major condition obstacles: edge toning and ink bleeding.
As we mentioned, the game's history is full of incredible running backs, their names adorning the ranks of the Hall of Fame. So what running back rookie cards would you include?