One of the biggest signs of a running back being elite is measuring how many times they led the league in rushing yards. Running backs typically have a short shelf life when it comes to their career longevity. It is unusual for older running backs to dominate to the point where they do lead the league in rushing yards. Unusual yes, but not unheard of.
The Oldest Players To Lead The League In Rushing Yards, By Decade
1930s: At the age of 27, Cliff Battles (Washington Redskins) led the NFL in rushing yards with 874 in 1937.
1940s: In 1949, at the age of 29, Steve Van Buren (Philadelphia Eagles) would lead the league in rushing yards with 1,146.
1950s: Joe Perry (San Francisco 49ers) would lead the league in rushing at the age of 27 in 1954 with 1,049 yards.
1960s: Three different players would lead their league in rushing during the 1960s at the age of 29. Cookie Gilchrist (Buffalo Bills) would do this first in 1964 when he led the AFL with 981 yards. In 1965, Paul Lowe (San Diego Chargers) would rush for 1,121 yards to lead the AFL, and Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns) would rush for 1,544 to lead the NFL.
1970s: At the age of 29, O.J. Simpson (Buffalo Bills) would lead the NFL in rushing with 1,503 yards.
1980s: Charles White (Los Angeles Rams) would lead the league in rushing in 1987 with 1,374 yards at the age of 29.
1990s: The legendary Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions) led the league in rushing in 1997 at the age of 29 years old when he ran for an amazing 2,053 yards.
2000s: Three players have led the league in rushing yards during the 2000s at the age of 28. Priest Holmes (Kansas City Chiefs) did it first in 2001 with 1,555 yards. Shaun Alexander (Seattle Seahawks) would accomplish it next in 2005 with 1,880 yards. LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers) would be the third one to do it in the decade in 2007 when he racked up 1,474 yards.