Cleveland Browns History: Top 10 All-Time Running Backs
When people think of the Cleveland Browns, they think running backs.
There have been greats at other positions. In the 1940s and '50s, there were greats at almost every position.
There has been Paul Brown, the genius and innovator who founded the team and revolutionized pro football during that era.
There have been some outstanding quarterbacks, from Otto Graham and Frank Ryan to Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar.
There have been Hall of Fame linemen, on both sides of the ball...gutsy linebackers...speedy receivers and defensive backs.
Running backs, however, have been the bread and butter of the franchise going back to another guy named Brown, and even before.
Here, then, is one man's ranking of the Top 10 running backs in Cleveland Browns history.
10. (tie) Jamal Lewis
It wasn't always pretty, and in his final year Lewis limped to the end of his career. Nonetheless, the bruising back averaged more than 900 yards a season during his three years in Cleveland.
The only other running back in team history to do that was Jim Brown.
Lewis scored 13 touchdowns in the orange and brown, and added two more through the air. Remarkably, in three seasons Lewis fumbled only six times. He average 3.9 yards per attempt and at times carried the Browns during some lean quarterbacking years.
His time in Cleveland was brief but effective. Had he played longer in the orange and brown, he would have ranked higher, but it's appropriate to include him here.
10. (tie) Eric Metcalf
A first-round pick out of Texas in the 1989 draft, Metcalf went on to electrify the Browns offense, and Cleveland's fans, for the next six seasons.
He totaled 2,229 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, and another 2,732 yards and 15 TDs on 297 receptions. It was his versatility as a runner or receiver out of the backfield that cemented his standing as one of the Browns' best all-time backs.
Metcalf carved out a solid reputation as an elusive and efficient kick returner as well.
9. Bobby Mitchell
Drafted by the Browns in the eighth round of the 1958 NFL draft, the University of Illinois product teamed with Jim Brown to give Cleveland a fearsome backfield.
Mitchell amassed 2,297 yards rushing during his four years with the Browns, averaging a remarkable 5.4 yards per carry while adding 16 touchdowns. He also caught 128 passes for 1,462 yards and another 16 TDs.
That's more than 3,700 yards to go with 32 touchdowns over four seasons. Not bad for the No. 2 guy in the backfield.
Mitchell was moved to receiver after joining Washington in 1962, and went on to round out a Hall-of-Fame career. He later served more than 30 years in the Redskins' front office.
Like Lewis, Mitchell would have ranked higher had he played longer in Cleveland, but his appearance on this list is indicative of the talent he displayed during his four seasons with the Browns.
8. Ernie Green
Running for 3,000 yards over six seasons might not sound like much.
However, Green was the principal blocker for two Hall-of-Famers and still averaged nearly five yards per carry during his career.
Such was the unheralded, but never unappreciated, career of Ernie Green.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Green was an integral part of the powerful Browns teams of the 1960s.
He matched his 3,204 rushing yards with 2,036 receiving—an important weapon for Frank Ryan and Bill Nelsen—who piloted the Browns during Green's tenure.
Green scored 15 touchdowns on the ground and 20 more in the air. That's 35 in all, compared to just 11 fumbles over seven seasons. The guy was money in the bank, yet was overshadowed by the greatness of Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly.
In Cleveland, they remember Ernie Green.
7. Earnest Byner
Sadly, Byner is best remembered nationally for "The Fumble" in the 1987 AFC Championship Game against Denver.
It's unfair, because fans in Cleveland know better. He was a solid and versatile pro who was a major part of the team's success during that era.
In seven years spread over two tours of duty with the Browns, Byner had 3,364 yards and 27 TDs on the ground, to go along with 276 receptions for 2,630 yards and 10 TDs through the air.
Teamed with Kevin Mack in the mid-1980s, he was Cleveland's go-to guy on offense. In fact, the irony of "The Fumble" is that Byner had churned out most of the yardage on the potentially game-tying drive that preceded it. That's why the final play was so gut-wrenching; Byner, of all people.
Byner will always hold a special place in the hearts of Browns fans, one fumble notwithstanding.
6. Greg Pruitt
Talk about lighting a spark; that's exactly what Pruitt did when he arrived in Cleveland in 1973.
Pruitt had been a college sensation at Oklahoma, and he proceeded to breathe new life into Cleveland's attack. Over nine seasons in the orange and brown, he would produce more than 8,000 yards rushing and receiving, including 42 touchdowns—25 of them on the ground.
Pruitt was also an exciting return specialist. The main knock: 57 fumbles running the ball, and 83 overall.
He ranks fifth all-time on the team's rushing list, with 5,496 yards and a superb 4.7 average per carry.
5. Kevin Mack
At 6'0", 225 pounds, Mack was a bulldog and a real load, which made him perfect for Cleveland's blue-collar football mentality.
Coming out of Clemson University, Mack opted to sign with the USFL's Los Angeles Express in 1984. Later that year, he joined the Browns via the supplemental draft, and he would remain a fixture with the team for nine seasons.
During that time Mack would compile 5,123 yards at a 4.0 per-carry clip, with 46 touchdowns. He scored eight more touchdowns on pass receptions; he had 197 of those for another 1,602 yards, more than respectable numbers for a fullback.
Mack teamed with Earnest Byner in the mid-1980s, forming a powerful backfield that propelled the Browns to the AFC Championship Game three out of four years late in the decade. He earned two Pro Bowl trips along the way.
4. Mike Pruitt
Perhaps one of the most unsung stars in Browns history, the "other" Pruitt stands third on the team's all-time rushing list, behind only Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly.
Pretty heady company, and well-deserved. When the dust had settled, Mike had distinguished himself as "the" Pruitt in Cleveland.
Had he played 20 years earlier and compiled the totals he did (7,378 career rushing yards with three teams), he would have been a candidate for the Hall of Fame. As it is, he's been recognized as one of the Browns legends.
With Cleveland Pruitt amassed 6,540 yards over nine seasons with 47 touchdowns. He also caught 255 passes for 1,761 yards and five more scores.
The first round draft choice out of Purdue made two Pro Bowl appearances as a Brown, before finishing his career with Buffalo and Kansas City.
This guy was good.
3. Leroy Kelly
What a superb football player Leroy Kelly was.
Selected in the eighth round of the 1964 NFL Draft out of Morgan State, Kelly served as Jim Brown's understudy and Cleveland's premier kick returner for two seasons.
When Brown abruptly retired prior to the 1966 season, Kelly took over as the Browns' featured back. He promptly ran for 1,141 yards and 15 touchdowns—the first of three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.
A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Kelly rushed for 7,274 yards and 74 touchdowns during his career, most of it during a phenomenal seven-year stretch from 1966 to 1972.
He compiled more than 12,000 all-purpose yards and 90 touchdowns in all, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
2. Marion Motley
Why would a guy who rushed for only 4,700 yards in eight seasons rank so high on this list?
Because to hear eyewitnesses tell it, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to put him at No. 1. He was that good.
When Paul Brown assembled the talent that would become pro football's dominant team in the 1940s and 1950s, the cornerstone of his backfield was Marion Motley.
Motley led the All-America Football Conference in rushing all four years of the league's existence. The Browns, not coincidentally, won all four AAFC titles.
The Browns joined the NFL in 1950 and promptly won the championship there, too. Motley led that league in rushing, too.
Mind you, this was occurring while Motley was playing in an offense that was revolutionizing the game. Paul Brown utilized the passing game like no one had before him. Even so, Motley's greatness as a runner was crucial to Cleveland's unmatched run of 10 straight title game appearances, seven of which ended in championships.
At 6'1" and 232 pounds, he was also a bruising pass blocker and played linebacker on defense, a throwback to the days when star athletes were used on both sides of the ball.
Motley rushed for 4,712 yards in eight seasons with Cleveland, but his 5.7 yards-per-carry average is an indication of how difficult he was to bring down.
He was named to the NFL's 75-year anniversary team, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.
Even higher praise came when former Sports Illustrated scribe Paul Zimmerman called Motley, quite simply, the best player in the history of football.
1. Jim Brown
Nine Pro Bowls.
A ridiculous 5.2 yards per carry.
120 touchdowns, 106 of them on the ground.
Eight rushing titles.
Eight first-team All-Pro selections.
An NFL title in 1964.
Never missed a game.
Still the standard by which running backs are measured.
(When people think of the Browns' uniform, this is the guy, and this is the photo. For Cleveland fans, it's pure artistry.)