Pro Football Reference Blog

10 Best Fullbacks of All Time

Posted by Darren Baker on May 20, 2024

What has happened to the once celebrated fullback position in today’s NFL? You can more easily find plasma televisions than fullbacks in the modern pro game. With the emphasis on high-octane passing attacks, fullbacks have virtually been phased out in the league. Many coaches go with three tight ends or an H-back on a roster over a traditional fullback. Gone are the days of the I-formation alignment in the backfield. The once predictable fullback dive in short yardage situations is no more. There was a time when every team had a selfless battering ram who would be the lead blocker for the main running back. Fullbacks would get some carries and catch the occasional pass out of the backfield. This player would take a beating and didn’t typically get the publicity of other skilled-position guys, but they had the respect and admiration of their peers.

Let’s be nostalgic and identify some of these men. For the sake of this exercise, fullbacks won’t typically be your workhorse guy. Jim Brown, a true legend and maybe the greatest running back ever, is technically listed as a fullback, as is Larry Csonka and Franco Harris, so featured backs like that will not be included on this list. Don’t expect to see eye-popping numbers with this group…just grit, power, and determination. So in the spirit of Kyle Juszczyk, here are some of the best fullbacks in NFL history.

Bronko Nagurski

Bronislau Nagurski

Position: FB-LB-T Throws: Right

6-2226lb (188cm, 102kg)

Born: November 3, 1908 in Rainy River, Ontario

Died: January 7, 1990 (Aged 81-065d) in International Falls, MN

College: Minnesota  (College Stats)

High School: Bemidji (MN), Falls (MN)

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1963 (Full List)

SUMMARY

Career

G

97

AV

Rush

633

Yds

2778

Y/A

4.4

TD

25

FantPt

474.1

You couldn’t come up with a better name for a fullback than that. This mountain of a man played in the two-way era of football in the 1930s. Bronko would run, block, and pass on offense and then make tackles on the other side of the ball. Known as a ferocious, straight-ahead runner, Nagurski was an intimidating force and one of the biggest names in the NFL during its infancy. He never rushed for more than 586 yards in a season, but he did lead the Chicago Bears to a trio of NFL championships and was a First-Team All-Pro four times. There is no doubt that legendary Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski is one of the top fullbacks ever.


Marion Motley

Marion Motley

Position: FB-LB

6-1232lb (185cm, 105kg)

Born: June 5, 1920 in Leesburg, GA

Died: June 27, 1999 (Aged 79-022d) in Cleveland, OH

College: South Carolina St., Nevada

High School: McKinley (OH)

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1968 (Full List)

SUMMARY

Career

G

105

AV

Rush

828

Yds

4720

Y/A

5.7

TD

31

FantPt

801.7

Believe it or not, Marion Motley and some other brave men desegregated the NFL a year before Jackie Robinson did it for baseball in 1947. Under the tutelage of famous coach Paul Brown, this Cleveland Brown twice led the league in rushing and was a reliable blocker for Otto Graham’s aerial assault offense. Prior to the Super Bowl era, Motley’s Browns won four consecutive AAFC titles and then an NFL title in 1950. At 6-1 and 232 pounds, he was bigger than most of the linemen in the league at that time. In one unforgettable game during the 1950 season, Marion collected 188 yards on just 11 carries: that’s a 17.1 yards-per-carry average. He retired with 4,720 career rushing yards, which got him a bust in Canton and a spot on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team. This trailblazer was a pillar in the early days of the NFL, so Marion Motley definitely deserves to be recognized as one of the best fullbacks in NFL history.


John Henry Johnson

John Henry Johnson

Position: FB-HB

6-2210lb (188cm, 95kg)

Born: November 24, 1929 in Waterproof, LA

Died: June 3, 2011 (Aged 81-191d) in Tracy, CA

College: St. Mary’s (CA), Arizona St.

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 41 (2487th overall since 1960)

High School: Pittsburg (CA)

Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2nd round (18th overall) of the 1953 NFL Draft.

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1987 (Full List)

SUMMARY

Career

G

143

AV

45

Rush

1571

Yds

6803

Y/A

4.3

TD

48

FantPt

1117.1

This fullback is yet another Hall of Famer from the NFL of yesteryear. John Henry Johnson was actually fourth on the all-time rushing list when he retired in 1966 with 6,803 yards. He also added 55 touchdowns and 186 receptions, so he was an all-purpose fullback for sure. Johnson spent time with the San Francisco 49ers, the Detroit Lions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Houston Oilers. In Detroit, he won an NFL championship in 1957 as part of the “Million Dollar Backfield” with Y.A. Tittle and Joe Perry, but his best years came as a Steeler where he twice rushed for over 1,000 yards. After a very solid 13-year run, John Henry Johnson showed he is one of the top fullbacks the league has ever seen.


Matt Suhey

Matthew Jerome Suhey

Position: RB

5-11217lb (180cm, 98kg)

Born: July 7, 1958 in Bellefonte, PA (Age: 65-222d)

College: Penn St.  (College Stats)

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 34 (3269th overall since 1960)

High School: State College Area (PA)

Draft: Chicago Bears in the 2nd round (46th overall) of the 1980 NFL Draft.

Relatives: Father Steve Suhey; Grandfather Bob Higgins

SUMMARY

Career

G

148

AV

40

Rush

828

Yds

2946

Y/A

3.6

TD

20

FantPt

640.9

Maybe the best barometer of a fullback is the halfback that followed them. In Matt Suhey’s case, there is no questioning his resume. This Penn State Nittany Lion was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1980 and was Walter Payton’s lead blocker for eight seasons. Sweetness is second on the all-time rushing list and is considered one of the best backs ever in the NFL. In the 80s, Matt Suhey was a huge part of the Bears’ success. Although he was known as a great blocker, Suhey was a versatile back who could run and catch the ball out of the backfield; he had at least 500 yards from scrimmage six times during his career. This fullback’s pinnacle would be scoring a touchdown in Super Bowl XX, helping lead the famed ‘85 Bears to the Lombardi Trophy. The 1980s were a great decade for the Chicago Bears, and that helps solidify Matt Suhey as one of the best fullbacks in NFL history.


Tom Rathman

Thomas Dean Rathman

Position: RB

6-1230lb (185cm, 104kg)

Born: October 7, 1962 in Grand Island, NE (Age: 61-130d)

College: Nebraska  (College Stats)

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 40 (2588th overall since 1960)

High School: Grand Island (NE)

Draft: San Francisco 49ers in the 3rd round (56th overall) of the 1986 NFL Draft.

SUMMARY

Career

G

131

AV

46

Rush

544

Yds

2020

Y/A

3.7

TD

26

FantPt

667.4

Rec

320

Yds

2684

Y/R

8.4

TD

8

FantPt

667.4

Can you imagine being a Niners fan in the 1980s? They won four Super Bowl titles, they had the matinee idol quarterback, they had the record-setting wide-out, they had the innovative coach, and they had Huey Lewis on the sidelines weekly. But who could forget that corn-fed fullback out of Nebraska? Tom Rathman played eight seasons in San Francisco and became an integral part of Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense. Blocking for Roger Craig, Joe Montana, and later Steve Young, Rathman was a part of two Super Bowl champions by the bay. Those NFL Films images of this bruiser sticking a linebacker in the hole with blood and mud caked on him are indelible. Rathman was a reliable goal-line option as he totaled 26 career rushing touchdowns, but he also was a steady receiver collecting five seasons of 300 yards or more, topping out at 616 receiving yards for the 1989 Super Bowl champion team (widely recognized as one of the league’s best ever). The 49ers dynasty of the 80s wouldn’t have been the same without Tom Rathman, so he gets a spot on the list of the NFL’s top fullbacks.


Daryl Johnston

Daryl Peter Johnston  (Moose)

Position: RB

6-2238lb (188cm, 107kg)

Born: February 10, 1966 in Youngstown, NY (Age: 58-004d)

College: Syracuse  (College Stats)

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 25 (4614th overall since 1960)

High School: Lewiston-Porter (NY)

Draft: Dallas Cowboys in the 2nd round (39th overall) of the 1989 NFL Draft.

Twitter: @DarylJohnston

SUMMARY

Career

G

151

AV

29

Rec

294

Yds

2227

Y/R

7.6

TD

14

FantPt

419.0

Rush

232

Yds

753

Y/A

3.2

TD

8

FantPt

419.0

Moose is all you need to say. Football fans know that means Daryl Johnston. This revered power blocker turned color analyst may be the most famous fullback of the last forty years. A mainstay of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty in the 1990s, Johnston not only blocked for Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time rushing leader, but he caught 294 balls in eleven seasons with the star on his helmet. With a rugged reputation as an elite power blocker, his iron man streak of playing in 149 games from 1989-1997 might be his most impressive stat. Moose collected two Pro Bowl honors and was the heart and soul of three Super Bowl champions in Dallas. He even was a bit of a fashion trendsetter with his trademark neck roll called the Cowboy Collar. Perhaps some day the Pro Football Hall of Fame will beckon him, but for now Daryl Johnston will have to settle for being called one of the best fullbacks in NFL history.


Larry Centers

Larry Eugene Centers

Position: FB

6-0225lb (183cm, 102kg)

Born: June 1, 1968 in Tatum, TX (Age: 55-258d)

College: S.F. Austin

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 53 (1479th overall since 1960)

High School: Tatum (TX)

Draft: Phoenix Cardinals in the 5th round (115th overall) of the 1990 NFL Draft.

SUMMARY

Career

G

198

AV

69

Rec

827

Yds

6797

Y/R

8.2

TD

28

FantPt

1130.5

Rush

615

Yds

2188

Y/A

3.6

TD

14

FantPt

1130.5

This next fullback revolutionized pass catching for the position. Larry Centers, a 14-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowler, amazingly had 827 career receptions out of the backfield, which is 34th on the all-time receptions list. He caught 60 more balls than premiere back Marshall Faulk, and he also hauled in more passes than Steve Largent, Shannon Sharpe, and Michael Irvin. That’s not bad for a 5th round pick out of Stephen F. Austin. Centers played on poor Arizona Cardinals teams for the bulk of his career, but he amassed over 1,000 scrimmage yards in 1995 and 1996, hitting 101 and 99 receptions in those years. He was a First-Team All-Pro in 1996, and in his 14th and final season in 2003, Larry won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. Not the punishing blocker like some on this list, but changing the perception of this position gives Larry Centers a firm place with the top fullbacks ever in the NFL.


Sam Gash

Samuel Lee Gash Jr.

Position: FB

6-0242lb (183cm, 109kg)

Born: March 7, 1969 in Hendersonville, NC (Age: 54-344d)

College: Penn St.  (College Stats)

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 13 (7363rd overall since 1960)

High School: Hendersonville (NC)

Draft: New England Patriots in the 8th round (205th overall) of the 1992 NFL Draft.

SUMMARY

Career

G

177

AV

16

Rec

169

Yds

1347

Y/R

8.0

TD

13

FantPt

257.4

Rush

121

Yds

327

Y/A

2.7

TD

2

FantPt

257.4

The stats for this tough hombre epitomize the selfless work of a fullback. In twelve seasons, Sam Gash accumulated just 1,347 receiving yards and 327 rushing yards. Just to put that in perspective, Christian McCaffrey had 2,023 scrimmage yards this past season alone. Gash did the grunt work as an important cog in the machine for three fierce franchises: the New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills, and the Baltimore Ravens. As a Patriot, he blocked for future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin. With the Bills, he led Antowain Smith to 1,124 rushing yards in a season. The cherry on top was clearing holes for star rookie Jamal Lewis and helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. He also added two Pro Bowl selections along the way. You’ll probably never see him in the Hall of Fame, but Sam Gash deserves to be mentioned as one of the top fullbacks in NFL history.


Lorenzo Neal

Lorenzo LaVonne Neal

Position: FB

5-11255lb (180cm, 115kg)

Born: December 27, 1970 in Hanford, CA (Age: 53-049d)

College: Fresno St.  (College Stats)

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 14 (7048th overall since 1960)

High School: Lemoore (CA)

Draft: New Orleans Saints in the 4th round (89th overall) of the 1993 NFL Draft.

Twitter: @LorenzoNeal

Relatives: Son Lorenzo Neal

SUMMARY

Career

G

239

AV

18

Rush

226

Yds

807

Y/A

3.6

TD

6

FantPt

290.3

Rec

199

Yds

1086

Y/R

5.5

TD

12

FantPt

290.3

For 16 seasons in the NFL, Lorenzo Neal was a dude you did not want to mess with, kind of like Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day. King Kong ain’t got nuthin’ on Lorenzo! Anyway, he has the rare claim of having blocked for a 1,000-yard back in eleven straight years from 1997-2007. Of course, he blocked for Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson for several years as a San Diego Charger, but he also led for Corey Dillon, Eddie George, and Warrick Dunn. This man’s man was durable to boot; in 14 out of 16 seasons at a brutal position like fullback, he played in all 16 games. He wasn’t utilized much as a receiver or rusher, but he did amass 199 career receptions. Four Pro Bowls and two First-Team All-Pro distinctions show he was well appreciated around the league. Lorenzo Neal’s 16 years of toughness make him a strong selection as one of the best fullbacks to play in the NFL.


Mike Alstott

Michael Joseph Alstott  (A-Train)

Position: FB

6-1248lb (185cm, 112kg)

Born: December 21, 1973 in Joliet, IL (Age: 50-055d)

College: Purdue  (College Stats)

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 49 (1780th overall since 1960)

High School: Joliet Catholic Academy (IL)

Draft: Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2nd round (35th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft.

SUMMARY

Career

G

158

AV

59

Rush

1359

Yds

5088

Y/A

3.7

TD

58

FantPt

1117.2

Anybody who used to watch Chris Berman on NFL Primetime knows this guy from the sound effects. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Mike Alstott made his name as a punishing yet skillful fullback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The A-Train went to six straight Pro Bowls and was a three-time First-Team All-Pro. For a boulder of a man at 6-1, 250 pounds, he was a nimble ball carrier; he also caught 305 balls in his career, including 65 as a rookie. How about his 71 career touchdowns? Tampa Bay utilized him as a rusher and receiver as evidenced by his 7,372 career scrimmage yards. He helped a talented and overdue Bucs team claim their first Lombardi Trophy in 2002, excelling with 13 rushing first downs and four touchdowns during their playoff run. If you want some entertainment, watch some highlights of him bowling over and bouncing off of defenders. Unquestionably, this fearsome force, Mike Alstott, belongs on a list of the NFL’s best fullbacks ever.


Who is the best fullback in NFL history?

This question is hard to answer and centers on how you define the position of fullback. Several players listed as fullbacks are in the Hall of Fame. Jim Brown would headline that list, accompanied by Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, John Riggins, and Jim Taylor. If you classify those great players as fullbacks, you could make arguments for them all. Check out pro-football-reference.com to analyze their careers and draw your own conclusion.

Who is the best fullback in the NFL right now?

Although fullbacks have been largely phased out of the modern NFL, Kyle Juszczyk has been to the last eight Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2023, so he would be the leading candidate if you were to name the best fullback in the NFL presently.

Who was the last true fullback in the NFL?

Since the position is largely not utilized in today’s game, Mike Alstott might be categorized as the last true fullback in the NFL; he retired after the 2006 season.


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