The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 will be revealed next Thursday during NFL Honors (airs live at 9 p.m. ET on ABC), and when looking at this year's finalists list, I noticed there wasn't a single running back up for induction. Not one.
Look, all 15 finalists are absolutely deserving of the honor. Not hating on any of those guys. My issue is that there are several running backs who also deserve a spot in Canton, but continue to get overlooked.
I have five benchmarks that I use -- and I've written about them before -- to decide whether a running back is worthy of a gold jacket:
- Was the running back the best player at his position for a multi-year span?
- Did he rush for 2,000 yards in a season?
- Did he reach 10,000 rush yards in his career?
- Did he win (or compete for) a league MVP award?
- Did the player and his team have postseason success?
Each of the players discussed below check a number (if not all) of these boxes and, in my opinion, deserve Hall of Fame recognition.
Players eligible for Hall of Fame
Jacksonville Jaguars (1998-2008), New England Patriots (2009-2010)
Taylor has been eligible for seven years now. He's been a semifinalist for three straight years but has yet to be named a finalist. He's been snubbed often, and it's a real shame that he's not a finalist this year. Taylor ranks 17th all-time in rushing yards (11,695), and every non-active running back above him in that list is already in the Hall. He had seven seasons with at least 1,100 rushing yards (T-sixth in NFL history) and led the league in rush yards per game (107.6) in 2000. He was an absolute force out of the backfield, and I witnessed Taylor's greatness firsthand in Jacksonville over my first three seasons in the league (2006-08). Taylor was an extraordinary teammate who exemplified everything it meant to be a professional. On the field, he had speed, vision and the ability to shred through defenses. His relentless work ethic -- both physically and in the film room -- allowed him to be one of the best of his era.
Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans (1996-2003), Dallas Cowboys (2004)
HOF-eligible for a decade-plus, George was named a semifinalist back in November for the first time. More than deserving of a gold jacket, George holds many Titans/Oilers franchise records, including for career rushing yards (10,441). He rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of his first five seasons -- joining Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only other two players to do so in NFL history. George had the individual production, including seven seasons with 300-plus carries and 1,000-plus rush yards, but he also helped the Tennessee Titans reach the franchise's first Super Bowl in the modern era. The Titans came within 1 yard(!) of winning the Lombardi Trophy, and if they had beaten the Rams in that game, I'm confident George would've been named game MVP after having 28 carries for 95 rush yards and two rush TDs. The four-time Pro Bowler even finished third in the MVP vote for his 2000 campaign, when he rushed for 1,509 yards and 14 scores. The physical, bruising back was consistently great and a player defenses had to plan for throughout his career.
San Francisco 49ers (1992-94), Philadelphia Eagles (1995-97), Seattle Seahawks (1998-2001)
Watters was a dual-threat playmaker who consistently produced. The five-time Pro Bowl running back was a scoring machine in the San Francisco 49ers' Super Bowl XXIX win, with three TDs and 108 scrimmage yards on 18 touches. In fact, that 1994 season kicked off a seven-season stretch in which Watters had at least 1,500 scrimmage yards per year -- the second-longest streak in NFL history. He's also one of eight players in league history with 10,000-plus career rush yards and 4,000-plus career receiving yards. Being available allowed Watters to put up these kind of numbers year over year, and he should be rewarded for it.
Cincinnati Bengals (1997-2003), New England Patriots (2004-06)
Dillon had the size (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) and physical style similar to Eddie George. A second-round pick by Cincinnati in 1997, Dillon was one of the few bright spots for a Bengals team that managed just 34 wins during his seven seasons with the franchise. He rushed for at least 1,100 yards in each of his first six NFL seasons, scoring 10 TDs as a rookie. He bolstered his résumé after being traded to the Patriots in 2004, racking up a career-high 1,635 rush yards and 12 TDs in his first season in New England. He was instrumental in helping the Pats win their third Super Bowl in four seasons. Dillon scored 37 of his 82 rushing touchdowns during his three years in New England, which ultimately is the push his Hall of Fame case needed. Dillon was one of the best of his era and checks most of the boxes, but it'll likely be a waiting game for him because guys who become eligible in the coming years will get in before him.
Players not yet eligible
San Francisco 49ers (2005-2014), Indianapolis Colts (2015-17), Miami Dolphins (2018), Buffalo Bills (2019), New York Jets (2020)
Though Gore's been seen in the boxing ring of late, he hasn't officially closed the door on an NFL return. But if the 38-year-old doesn't play another snap in the NFL, he'll be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2026. Gore's career production alone merits a gold jacket. In 16 seasons, he's third on the all-time rushing list with 16,000 yards, third in carries (3,735), third in touches (4,219) and fourth in scrimmage yards (19,985). But he also made an impact on every team he played for -- on the field and in the locker room.
Minnesota Vikings (2007-2016), Arizona Cardinals (2017), New Orleans (2017), Washington Commanders (2018-19), Detroit Lions (2020), Tennessee Titans (2021), Seattle Seahawks (2021)
Ranked fifth in NFL history with 14,918 career rushing yards, Peterson wants to play in 2022 and perhaps beyond. But he's already done more than enough to land himself among the game's immortal. He was a freak of nature coming out of Oklahoma and didn't disappoint at the pro level. Peterson was a three-time league rushing champion with Minnesota, including in his 2012 MVP season when he rushed for 2,097 yards, and helped the team to four playoff appearances. He was the last running back to win MVP, and there's a chance we may not see it happen again for a very long time with how pass-happy the league has become. The seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro has 120 career rushing TDs to his name, and the 36-year-old (turns 37 in March) is determined to keep climbing the stat sheet. There is no quit in this guy.
Buffalo Bills (2007-2010), Seattle Seahawks (2010-15, 2019), Oakland Raiders (2017-18)
Eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2025, Lynch's impact was felt everywhere he went. In 12 seasons, he rushed for 10,413 yards and 85 rushing touchdowns (16th all time), and his 12 postseason rushing TDs are tied for fourth-most in NFL history alongside Hall of Famers Terrell Davis and John Riggins. Lynch's greatest stretch was with the Seattle Seahawks. From 2011 to '14, he had at least 1,200 rush yards and 11 rush TDs per season -- leading the league in rush TDs in both 2013 (12) and 2014 (13). It wasn't just what he did, but how he did it. Lynch ran through his opponents (See: Beast Quake vs. Saints) and made the Seahawks one of the scariest rushing attacks during their heyday. The postseason success is obviously there, helping Seattle win its first-ever Super Bowl. And the fact that the city was thisclose to a second consecutive Lombardi -- a debate that never ends well for Pete Carroll -- helps his case.
Philadelphia Eagles (2009-2014), Buffalo Bills (2015-18), Kansas City Chiefs (2019), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020)
McCoy gets in based on sheer production. In 12 seasons, he amassed 11,102 rush yards, 73 rush TDs and averaged a respectable 4.5 yards per carry. His best season came with the Eagles in 2013, when he led the league in attempts (314), rush yards (1,607), rush yards per game (100.4), touches (366) and scrimmage yards (2,164). He helped the Eagles reach the postseasons three times, but had to wait until Year 11 to win his first ring, when he reunited with Andy Reid in Kansas City. (He won his second in Tampa last season). Shady will be remembered as one of the toughest players to tackle in the open field and one of the best at the position in his prime. He'll have to wait his turn, but should get a gold jacket one day.