Cincinnati Bengals History: Top 10 Running Backs of All-Time
22 years ago a certain young running back—Elbert L. Woods A.K.A Ickey Woods—reinvigorated a Bengals backfield which had become known as a pass first team to most. Yet Ickey brought nothing new—other than the flair of a certain dance called the "Ickey Shuffle." In fact, the Bengals backfield had always been the strong reliable workhorse.
While the Bengals were mired in a 14-year drought (from 1991 to 2004)—where the team could do no better than break even (3 seasons) and more often than not, carry a losing record (11 seasons)—the Bengals amassed 25,324 rushing yards for a well-above-average of 1,809 team rushing yards per season.
As the Bengals embark on a season where hopes are high, where thoughts of the 1988 Super Bowl campaign spring to mind, consider the following: in 1988 Cincinnati—which was known for the long-bombs by Boomer to Eddie Brown—compiled 2,710 team rushing yards for 27 rushing touchdowns to give a complementary balance to the pass-attack of 3,592 passing yards for 28 passing touchdowns.
For those readers thinking that the Bengals will need to shift away from the run in order to make a run at the NFL title, consider the following top ten all-time running backs in Bengals' history.
(Author's Note: As fullback and running backs have filled the position interchangably in many instances, fullbacks are being included.)
10. Ickey Woods (1988-1991)
In 1988, the Cincinnati Bengals selected a relatively under-the-radar UNLV running back Elbert L. Woods. Known as Ickey to friends and teammates, Woods brought a smash mouth running/galloping style to the Bengals and the NFL. When Ickey scored a touchdown and did the "Ickey Shufffle"—an end-zone dance—which quickly became the pop culture craze of the NFL (and the pre-cursor to banning end-zone celebrations solidified by one Ocho Cinco).
During his rookie year, Ickey helped lead the Bengals to their fateful Super Bowl loss against the 49ers, compiling 1,066 yards and 15 touchdown for an impressive average 5.3 yards per carry. In fact, Woods' 1988 15 touchdowns in a single season still stand as a team record.
Despite an epic 1988 campaign, Woods would come up short for Offensive Rookie of the Year—coming in second (controversially) to John Stephens of the New England Patriots (1,168 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3.9 yards per carry).
Ominous signs of a promissing athlete who underachieved at UNLV for his first 3 collegiate seasons (in his fourth, he finally broke out and led the NCAA Division I in rushing) began to return after 1988. Ickey never recovered from the slight of being passed up for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, coming back in 1989 out of shape and tearing his ACL in the second game of the season against the Steelers. Returning 13 months later, Woods would be behind emerging running back Harold Green—never to regain his starting role. During the preseason in 1991, Woods would injure his right knee (the ACL tear had been in his left). After returning that season and appearing in 9 games, compiling a paltry 97 yards and four touchdowns—Ickey's career was over.
Despite the aforementioned, Woods is among the top 10 Bengals' backfield players in several career statistical categories for touchdowns (27), average yards per rushing attempt (4.6), and average yards per game played (40.7).
9. Cedric Benson (2008-Present)
Cedric Benson came to the Bengals under an ominous cloud to take over for the mistake-ridden Chris Perry (for whom Rudi Johnson was released to make Perry the primary) in 2008.
Prior to the Bengals, Benson had been mangled by the Bears going from hated for a contract holdout (by teammates and fans alike) to primary running back (after a rumored internal feud with incumbent running back Thomas Jones), then injury, and finally being released by the Bears following two alcohol-related arrests in 2008.
The Bengals would sign Benson on September 30th 2008 to help bolster a struggling running game. By week seven Benson would become the starting running back, which is the position he still holds as of the date of this publication (another off-season arrest in 2010 has created some of-season worry).
In only two seasons with the Bengals, Benson has shown the potential that should have him quickly climb to the top of this list. In 2009 in 13 game appearances, Benson set the team-record for average rushing yards per game at 96.2 while compiling 301 rushing attempts to go along with 1,251 rushing yards for the season.
Despite only being with the team for a little under two seasons, Ced is just on the outside of the top 10 in all major categories (except touchdowns) and holds the team record for career average yards per game played at 79.9.
Assuming Benson emerges unscathed from the off-season, expect him to continue to climb the Bengals' record books.
8. Harold Green (1990-1995)
Harold came to a team coming off of a total of 20 wins and 12 losses in the prior two seasons (including a Super Bowl loss in 1988). Backing up veteran James Brooks in 1990 as a rookie, Green watched the Bengals compile a nine-win and seven-loss season culminating in a wild card win over the Oilers (44 - 17) and then losing to the Raiders in Los Angeles in the divisional round.
That would be Green's only glimpse of victory with the Bengals (his final season as a third string back on the Falcons saw a Super Bowl loss), as head coach Sam Wyche would be unable to overcome owner Mike Brown's early mistakes—thus leading to the fateful David Shula era (in four full seasons Shula compiled 18 wins and 46 losses prior to a partial season).
Despite being under-supported, Green would enter the top 10 seasonal record categories for the Bengals in yards (1,170) and average yards per attempt (4.6).
For his career with the Bengals, Harold is top 10 in rushing yards (3,727) and average yards per game (40.8).
7. Charles Alexander (1979-1985)
From 1979 until 1982, the Cincinnati Bengals possessed a trinity of star backfield players. Charles Alexander came to the Bengals in 1979 via LSU—a two-time All-American— as the 12th pick of the draft.
Having Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson ahead of him, Alexander would never have the opportunity to be the designated starter. Even with the aforementioned limitations, Alexander is top 10 for Bengals' career leaders in rushing attempts (748), games played (102), and total rushing yards (2645).
LIke Griffin and Johnson, Alexander is a player which simply was on a team that had too much talent in the backfield for him to realize his full potential.
6. Archie Griffin (1976-1982)
Another member of the trifecta of the circa-1980s squad and the only collegiate football player to be awarded two-Heisman trophies.
Griffin would appear in 98 games, starting only nine as incumbent running back Pete Johnson would dominate the playing time along with Charles Alexander taking a good piece of the backfield duties.
Archie had one seasonal-record top 10 with a 4.9 average yards per carry in 1979.
Griffin is top 10 career-wise for games played (98), rushing attempts (691), and total rushing yards (2808).
As said prior (and will be said again), Griffin was the victim of a too-talented backfield where he could not shine individually.
5. Boobie Clark (1973-1978)
Many Bengals fans likely do not remember Boobie (and many will be upset when they realize I have placed him in this list and not Larry Kinnebrew nor Essex Johnson).
Ironically, the one thing he is remembered for is when he struck a Houston Oiler player after the play ended prompting the other player to sue for damages (the irony goes further as he finished his career in the NFL playing for Houston).
During the 1975 and 1976 seasons, Clark led the team in rushing during a 21 win, seven loss regular season campaign and a playoff appearance (1975).
During his six-seasons as a full back by designation, Clark amassed several top 10 Bengals' career statistical accolades in rushing attempts (779), rushing yards (2978), touchdowns (25), and average yards per game (40.8).
4. James Brooks (1984-1991)
James Brooks should be number one on this list.
To understand James' significance look at Brooks' average rushing yards per carry along with career rushing attempts versus Corey Dillion's results, factor in Ickey Woods' break-out, one-hit wonder season, David Shula's pass game emphasis (Shula imitating daddy), and James Brooks should be the No. 1 running back in Bengals history.
Consider the following where Brooks was top ten for career stats:
1. All-time franchise leader in games played (118).
2. Rushing attempts (1344)
3. Rushing yards (6447)
4. Average rushing yards per game (54.6)
5. All-time franchise leader in average rushing yards per attempt (4.8)
6. Touchdowns (37)
Had Brooks had the additonal 521 rushing attempts which Dillon benefited from—assuming that James would have continued at a 4.8 average yards per carry—his career yardage would have been 8,948 yards (886 yards more than Corey Dillon).
Brooks was the stabilizing maintstay—even in 1988 while Ickey shined. The epitome of consistency, Brooks holds the following seasonal top tens:
1. Yards (1989 with 1,239)
2. All-time franchise leader for average yards per rushing attempt (1989: 5.6)
3. Two other seasons where average yards per rushing attempt (1986: 5.6; 1985: 4.8).
4. Average yards per game (1989: 77.4)
3. Rudi Johnson (2002-2007)
Rudi Johnson came to the Bengals at the perfect time. A disgruntled Corey Dillon (as were the fans with the Brown family) was soon to depart and Johnson's career was about to take off.
Over six seasons, Rudi captured team seasonal records for rushing attempts (361 in 2004) and most yards in a season (1458 in 2005). Additionally, Johnson compiled top ten seasons in rushing attempts two additional times (341 in 2006 and 337 in 2005), rushing yards two other times as well (1454 in 2004 and 1309 in 2006), touchdowns four times (12 in 2004, 2005, 2006 and nine in 2003), and average yards per game three times (90.09 in 2004, 81.8 in 2006, and 91.1 in 2005).
Rudi's career top tens are games (79), rushing attempts (1441), rushing yards (5742), touchdowns (48), and average rushing yards per game (72.7).
Considering he played 25 less games than Corey Dillon and 15 less than Pete Johnson, Johnson's statistics are stellar.
2. Pete Johnson (1977-1983)
Pete Johnson was a veritable giant among giants, sharing the backfield with Archie Griffin and Charles Alexander much of his career. Nevertheless, from 1977 to 1983, Griffin was the teams leading rusher—playing in the playoffs twice (with one appearance in the Super Bowl).
On a seasonal level, Pete was top 10 in touchdowns three times (12 in1981, 14 in 1979, and 14 in 1983).
In career statistics, Pete holds the record for most touchdown (64), is top ten in games played (94), rushing attempts (1402), rushing yards (5421), and average rushing yards per game (57.7).
1. Corey Dillon (1997-2003)
Much can be said about Corey Dillon's time of malcontent, but one this is for certain—the public agreed with him.
Despite being a member of Bengals during the team's worst era in franchise history, Corey still set the NFL record for most yards in game (no longer held). Dillon would be selected for the Pro Bowl three times as a member of the Bengals (four times overall).
On the seasonal level—and without getting into specifics—Dillon holds top ten spots in attempts (4 seasons), rushing yards (4 seasons), touchdowns (2 seasons), average yards per carry (3 seasons), and average rushing yards per game (5 seasons).
For his Bengals' career, Dillon is the all-time franchise leader in attempts (1865), rushing yards (8061), and longest single run play from scrimmage (96 yards). Corey is top ten in games played (107), touchdowns (45), yards per rushing attempt (4.3), and average rushing yards per game (75.3).
Though many feel like Dillon abandoned Cincinnati, in truth the Bengals ownership abadoned this superstar at a time when mangement was learning to develop the team into what we see now in 2010. Dillon would go on to help lead the New England Patriots to a 2004 Super Bowl victory.
Next Big Thing....? Bernard Scott (2009-Present)
Bernard Scott could be the next big thing for the Bengals. As a rookie behind the breakout performance of Cedric Benson, Scott appeared in 13 games, starting two, rushing for 321 yards on 74 attempts for a 4.3 yards per carry in his rookie season. Very respectable rookie numbers considering having to play behind Benson.
Scott is also a premier special teams return artist and with this dynamic, all-purpose back, the sky—as they say—is the limit.