Minnesota Vikings: What a Rush! Ranking the Vikings' Top Runners
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In 2010 Minnesota Vikings fans saw their team fall from a two-time NFC North Division champion, to last place, tied with the Detroit Lions at 6-10.
One of the few bright spots for the Vikings continued to be the production of running back Adrian Peterson. The 1,298 rushing yards for Peterson represented his lowest total in four seasons, though he did finish the year third in career rushing yards for the franchise.
Peterson is now only 105 yards behind Chuck Foreman, and 1,036 behind Robert Smith.
There is no reason to believe that Peterson, who has averaged 86.5 yards per game over the past two seasons, will not continue to produce, and at some point in 2011 become the Vikings' career rushing leader. At this pace he should surpass Smith on December 4th, 2011, when the Vikings host the Denver Broncos.
Looking over the history of the Minnesota Vikings, I compiled and ranked the greatest runners to ever don the purple and gold.
The criteria used to rank the Vikings' top runners in order of importance included: career rushing yards, touchdowns, average yards per carry, carries per fumble, number of games played, and their longest career run from scrimmage.
Here are the top 30 runners in Minnesota Vikings history.
No. 30: Ed Marinaro 1972-1975
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The Minnesota Vikings drafted Ed Marinaro in the second round of the 1972 NFL draft.
In his four years with Minnesota, Marinaro's highest rushing total would come in 1975, when he carried the ball 101 times for 358 yards.
His career total with the Vikings was 1,319 yards, scoring six touchdowns in 51 games.
Used mainly as a fullback, his longest run from scrimmage was only 27 yards.
No. 29: Brent McClanahan 1973-1979
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Brent McClanahan played seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and had either, depending on your view point, the honor or misfortune of playing behind Chuck Foreman in each of those seasons.
In 1973 Vikings would select four running backs in the NFL draft, taking Foreman in the first round and McClanahan in the fifth.
The tandem of number 33 and number 44 would have their best season together in 1976, when both running backs would compile the highest rushing totals of their careers.
McClanahan would rush for 383 yards on a 130 carries and score four touchdowns that season—the last time the Vikings made it to the Super Bowl. In that game he would carry the ball three times for three yards.
In his career, McClanahan finished with 1,207 yards and six touchdowns. His longest run from scrimmage would only be 22 yards—the lowest among those in this ranking.
No. 28: Hugh McElhenny 1961-1962
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Hugh McElhenny was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1952, and he played nine seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before joining the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961.
He would start 13 games that season, the most in his career, at the age of 33. McElhenny would rush for 570 yards in 1961, the third-highest total in his career.
McElhenny only played two seasons with the Vikings, and he finished with 770 yards and three touchdowns. His 4.5 yards per carry is the seventh-highest in this ranking.
No. 27: Allen Rice 1984-1990
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Allen Rice was one of two running backs the Vikings drafted out of Baylor in 1984.
Selected in the fifth round, Rice would play in 89 games over seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
During his run with the Vikings, he gained 934 yards on 307 carries.
In 89 games, Rice scored 13 touchdowns and finished with a 3.04 yard per carry average—the lowest in the ranking.
No. 26: Tony Galbreath 1981-1983
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Tony Galbreath started his career with five years in New Orleans and then finished his career with four years for the New York Giants. Sandwiched between were three years he played with the Vikings.
Along with Saints running back Chuck Muncie, the duo was known as "Thunder and Lightning." In 1976, Muncie was the Saints' first-round draft pick, and Galbreath was selected in the second round.
For the Minnesota Vikings, Galbreath rushed for 788 yards with seven touchdowns in 35 games. His average per carry was a decent 4.06 yards.
No. 25: Robert Miller 1975-1980
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Drafted by the Vikings in the fifth round of the 1975 draft, Robert Miller would play six seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Vikings.
Playing behind Chuck Foreman and Brent McClanahan, Miller would only make two starts in 89 games.
Miller finished with 951 yards on 274 carries, a 3.46 average, and seven touchdowns.
No. 24: Scottie Graham 1993-1996
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A seventh-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1992, Scottie Graham would play two games that season with the New York Jets.
In 1993 the Minnesota Vikings signed him to the roster to bolster an injury-plagued running game.
That would be Graham's best year in the NFL, as he gained 488 yards on 118 carries in seven games.
For the Vikings, he would play in 50 games over four seasons, rushing for 1,239 yards and seven touchdowns.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Graham is the only running back on this list that was never credited with a fumble.
No. 23: Rickey Young 1978-1983
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A seventh-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 1975, Rickey Young would join Minnesota in 1978.
Young's first year in Minnesota was quarterback Fran Tarkenton's last. That season, Young would lead the NFL with 88 receptions.
In his six seasons with the Vikings, Young had more receiving yards than rushing yards.
In 89 games, Young rushed for 1,744 yards on 554 carries and scored 10 touchdowns.
His 3.15 yards per carry is he second-lowest in the ranking. His longest run from scrimmage would only be 26 yards—the third-lowest in the ranking.
No. 22: Mewelde Moore 2004-2007
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Before his success with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mewelde Moore was a fourth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2004.
Moore played four years in Minnesota, starting only 11 of the 54 games he played.
In those four seasons Moore rushed for 1,285 yards on 264 carries, with only a single touchdown—the fewest of any player in the ranking.
His 4.87 yards per carry is the third-highest in the ranking.
No. 21: Oscar Reed 1968-1974
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Oscar Reed was a part of a stable of running backs that included Bill Brown and Dave Osborn.
Over In his seven-year career, Reed would also play with Ed Marinaro, Chuck Foreman and Brent McClanahan.
Reed would finish with 1,968 yards on 490 carries and eight touchdowns for the Vikings as a part of their first three Super Bowl teams.
No. 20: Rick Fenney 1987-1991
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Rick Fenney made the Vikings as an eighth-round draft choice in 1987.
His entire five-year NFL career was played with the Vikings.
Fenney was a straight-ahead runner who rushed for 1,508 yards on 358 carries, for a 4.2 average, and he scored 11 touchdowns, with only seven fumbles—the fourth-fewest of any player in this ranking.
His best season would come in 1989, when Fenney gained 588 yards on 151 carries and scored four touchdowns.
No. 19: Onterrio Smith 2003-2004
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Onterrio Smith spent only two years with the Minnesota Vikings, but he will forever be remembered for the "Whizzinator" incident in May 2005 at the St. Paul-Minneapolis International Airport.
For his possession of the Whizzinator, a device used to beat drug testing, Smith was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2005 season. In April of 2006, the Vikings would release Smith, ending his NFL career.
Smith, a fourth-round draft choice of the Vikings in 2003, shaved "SOD" in his head to indicate "steal of the draft."
In his two seasons with the Vikings, he rushed for 1,123 yards on 231 attempts and scored seven touchdowns. His 4.86 yards-per-carry average is the fourth-best in the ranking.
No. 18: Clint Jones 1967-1972
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Clint Jones would play six seasons in Minnesota, alongside Bill Brown, Dave Osborn and Oscar Reed.
A first-round draft choice, Jones was the second player selected in the 1967 NFL draft.
In his six seasons, Jones would play in 75 games, rushing for 2,008 yards on 547 carries and score 19 touchdowns—the most of any runner in the ranking thus far.
Jones' longest run from scrimmage is 80 yards—tied for the fourth-longest in franchise history.
No. 17: Leroy Hoard 1996-1999
Leroy Hoard was a second-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns in 1990. He would play six years with the Browns before playing for three different teams in 1996.
Hoard opened the season with the Baltimore Ravens and played in only two games. He followed that by playing two games for the Carolina Panthers, including a game on October 6th against the Minnesota Vikings, the team he would eventually finish the season playing with for the last six games.
Hoard finished his career with the Vikings playing in 49 games over three-plus seasons.
He rushed for 1,689 yards on 428 carries, a 3.86 yards-per-carry average. Hoard's 26 rushing touchdowns rank ninth all-time for the Vikings.
No. 16: Alfred Anderson 1984-1991
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Alfred Anderson was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Vikings in 1984 from Baylor, along with his college backfield teammate Allen Rice.
Anderson's career with the Vikings would last eight seasons, one year longer than that of Rice's.
He finished with 2,374 yards on 626 attempts, scored 22 touchdowns and had 19 fumbles.
In eight seasons, Anderson played in 108 games for the Vikings—the fourth-most by a running back in team history.
No. 15: Herschel Walker 1989-1991
Herschel Walker was acquired by the Vikings in perhaps the worst trade in professional sports history, when he joined the team during the 1989 season.
I still remember when the deal was made on October 12th, 1989. The security guard in the building where I worked made an announcement over the public address system that Walker was on a his way to the Minnesota Vikings.
What first looked like a great acquisition for the Vikings would set the team back for years, having given up their top two draft choices for 1990 and 1991.
In a little more than two-and-a-half seasons, Walker would rush for 2,264 yards on 551 attempts, a 4.11 average, and score 20 touchdowns.
His longest run of 71 yards is tied for 13th place among Vikings rushers.
Following the 1991 season, Walker would return to the NFC East, playing for the Eagles and Giants, before finishing his NFL career where it began with the Dallas Cowboys in 1997.
No. 14: Moe Williams 1996-2000 and 2002-2005
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Moe Williams played nine of his 10 NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
Williams is 10th all-time with 96 games played for the Vikings.
He finished with 1,535 yards on 370 carries, a 4.15 average, and scored 21 touchdowns.
Williams was an effective receiver out of the backfield, averaging 9.9 yards per reception.
In 2002, Williams led the Vikings with 11 rushing touchdowns, and he only four fumbles.
His 92.5 carries per fumble is the third-best in this ranking.
His best season as a rusher came in 2003, when he rushed for 745 yards on 174 carries and scored five touchdowns.
No. 13: Terry Allen 1991-1994
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The Minnesota Vikings drafted Terry Allen in the ninth round (the 241st pick) of the 1990 NFL draft. He would not make his debut with the Vikings until 1991.
That season, Allen would back up Herschel Walker at tailback. He started six games that season, rushing for 563 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
The following season, Walker would be gone and Allen would lead the team with 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns. At the time, his 1,201 yards was the fifth-best single-season total in team history, but now ranks in 10th place for the Vikings.
Allen would miss the entire 1993 season after tearing his ACL, but would return to the Vikings in 1994 and rush for 1,031 yards and eight touchdowns.
In three seasons, he compiled 2,795 yards on 641 attempts, a 4.36 average per carry, and scored 23 touchdowns.
He would go on to play for the Washington Redskins for four seasons and lead the league in touchdowns in 1996 with 21.
No. 12: Chester Taylor 2006-2009
Chester Taylor had the bad luck of playing on the same team with two of the best running backs in the NFL. Drafted by Baltimore in the sixth round of the 2002 draft Taylor would back up Jamal Lewis for four seasons.
In 2006, he joined the Vikings as the featured back. That season, he would rush for a career-high 1,216 yards and score six touchdowns. His 95-yard run that season is the longest in Minnesota Vikings history.
His reign as the number one back would last just one season, as the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson in 2007. Taylor's production would decrease each year, and in 2010 he signed with the Chicago Bears.
In four years with the Vikings, Taylor rushed for 2,797 yards on 655 attempts for a 4.27 average, and scored 18 touchdowns.
No. 11: Daunte Culpepper 1999-2005
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Quarterback Daunte Culpepper is the first non-running back to make the list. A first-round draft choice in 1999, Culpepper would play in only one game his rookie season. In 2000, he took over as the starting quarterback and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.
In seven seasons he rushed for 2,476 yards on 454 carries. His 5.45 yards-per-carry average is the second-highest in the ranking. His 29 rushing touchdowns is tied for sixth place in franchise history.
In 2002, Culpepper had his best year as a runner, as he rushed for 609 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Culpepper had a problem holding onto the ball, fumbling once every 5.6 times he tucked the ball and ran. His 81 fumbles are the most of any Viking in the history of the team.
In 2005, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Culpepper and the Vikings differed on the approach to his rehabilitation, as Culpepper wanted to stay in Florida. This rift resulted in the eventual trade of Culpepper to Miami. He never regained his form, going 3-17 as quarterback for the Dolphins, Raiders and Lions.
Now on to the top 10!
No. 10: Tommy Mason 1961-1966
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Tommy Mason was the Minnesota Vikings; very first draft pick in the history of the franchise.
Taken first overall in 1961, Mason played six seasons in Minnesota. He is currently eighth all-time in career rushing yards for Minnesota.
Mason finished his career with the Vikings rushing for 3,353 yards on 761 carries for a 4.27 average and scored 28 touchdowns. His longest run of 71 yards ties him with Herschel Walker for the 13th-longest run from scrimmage in Vikings history.
Mason averaged 14.1 carries per fumble—the third-worst in the ranking. His 54 fumbles ties him with Bill Brown for the most fumbles by a Vikings running back.
No. 9: Michael Bennett 2001-2005
Michael Bennett, a University of Wisconsin product, never lived up to his billing. A first-round draft choice in 2001 he replaced Robert Smith, the Vikings' career rushing leader.
Bennett's best season with Minnesota was 2002, when he rushed for 1,296 yards and scored five touchdowns, including an 85-yard run—the second-longest in team history.
Bennett would play in 64 games in five seasons. He would leave the Vikings with the eighth-most rushing yards of 3,174 on 713 carries for a 4.45 average. He would end up with as many fumbles as touchdowns, 12 each.
Since leaving the Vikings following the 2005 season, he has bounced around playing for Kansas City, Tampa Bay, San Diego and Oakland.
No. 8: Darrin Nelson 1982-1988, 1991-1992
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Darrin Nelson was drafted by the Vikings in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft. In 1989, his seventh with Minnesota, he would be traded to Dallas as part of the Hershel Walker trade. Refusing to report to the Cowboys, Nelson ended up in San Diego, playing in nine games. He would make his return to the Vikings in 1991.
In the strike year of 1987, when replacement players went 0-3 for the Vikings, Nelson would lead the NFL with a 4.9 yard-per-carry average. That season, the Vikings would make it to the NFC Championship game, losing at Washington. The final play for the Vikings that season was a an incomplete pass from quarterback Wade Wilson just out of the reach of Nelson in the end zone.
Nelson is currently seventh in career rushing yards for the Vikings. He finished his career with 4,231 yards on 981 carries for a 4.31 average and 18 touchdowns. His career long run of 72 yards ranks 11th all-time in Vikings history.
No. 7: Fran Tarkenton 1961-1966, 1972-1978
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Fran Tarkenton completes the quarterbacks within this ranking. A third-round draft choice by the Vikings in the 1961 NFL draft, Tarkenton would play 13 seasons with the Vikings split by five years playing for the New York Giants.
Tarkenton, known as a scrambler, leads the ranking with a 5.49 yards-per-carry average. His 2,584 yards ranks 12th among career rushing leaders in Minnesota franchise history.
Tarkenton is tied with Bill Brown for the most seasons played with the Vikings, and he played in the second-most games of any player in the ranking with 177. His longest run of 52 yards ranks ahead of 16 players on the list.
Tarkenton finished with 18 touchdowns and 64 fumbles. Only Daunte Culpepper had more fumbles than Tarkenton.
No. 6: Bill Brown 1962-1974
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Bill Brown makes it this high in the ranking mostly due to his longevity. He leads the list having played in 180 games over 13 seasons for the Vikings.
A second round draft choice of the Chicago Bears in 1961 he would be traded to the Vikings for a fourth-round draft choice in 1962.
Brown is currently tied with Chuck Foreman and Adrian Peterson for the most rushing touchdowns with 52. His 5,757 rushing yards ranks fourth all-time for the Vikings.
A tough straight-ahead runner, Brown only averaged 3.54 yards per carry, 25th among the players in this ranking.
Incredibly, over his 13 seasons with the Vikings, Brown would miss only two games in 1969 playing in 180 regular season games, and was a member of the Vikings' first three Super Bowl teams.
His 30.1 attempts per fumble places Brown 22nd among the players on the list, knocking him down a bit in the final ranking.
Bill Brown played with nine other members of this ranking throughout his career.
No. 5: Chuck Foreman 1973-1979
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Longtime Vikings fans might be surprised to find Chuck Foreman this low on the ranking.
A first-round draft choice of the Vikings in 1973, Foreman played in 12 games, rushing for 801 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, leading the Vikings to their second Super Bowl appearance.
Foreman is currently second with 5,887 yards career rushing yards for the Vikings.
Limited to only seven seasons with the Vikings, Foreman scored 52 touchdowns, tied with Bill Brown and Adrian Peterson for the team record.
Foreman ranks 20th on the list with only a 3.84 yards-per-carry average, and his 52 fumbles ranks third among running backs. Foreman finished with 29.5 carries per fumble, 23rd among those in this ranking.
Only 105 yards ahead of Peterson, Foreman should drop to third among the Vikings career rushing leaders within the first two weeks of the 2011 season.
No. 4: Dave Osborn 1965-1975
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Just as surprised as some people would be to find Chuck Foreman ranked fifth, there may be many surprised to find Dave Osborn ranked ahead of Foreman.
Osborn ranks sixth in career rushing yards with 4,320 yards on 1,173 carries—a 3.68 yards-per-carry average. He would average 43.4 carries per fumble in his career.
His 137 games in 11 seasons ranks third among those on the list.
Drafted in the 13th round of the 1965 NFL draft, Osborn would end playing more games for the Vikings than any of the 20 players selected that year by Minnesota.
His career-long run of 73 yards ranks eighth in Vikings history.
No. 3: Ted Brown 1979-1986
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Finding Ted Brown ahead of players such as Chuck Foreman, Dave Osborn and Bill Brown may be surprising.
Playing eight seasons for the Vikings, Brown ranks fifth in franchise history with 4,546 yards and fourth with 40 touchdowns. He would finish averaging 4.07 yards per carry and 55.9 carries per fumble—seventh-best among the players in this ranking.
A first round draft choice by the Vikings in 1979, Brown's best season would come in 1981 when he would rush for 1,063 yards on 274 carries.
In 1983 Brown would lead the team scoring 10 of their 17 rushing touchdowns.
During his career with the Vikings, the team would never win more than 9 games in a season, making the playoffs only twice.
No. 2: Adrian Peterson 2007-Present
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An argument could be made that Adrian Peterson is not only the best Viking running back ever, he is right now the best running back in the NFL.
There is no doubt that Peterson will finish the 2011 season as the Vikings all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns.
The Vikings first-round draft choice in 2007, Peterson is currently tied with Chuck Foreman and Bill Brown with 52 touchdowns.
While there were concerns over fumbling for Peterson, who had a total of 16 fumbles in 2008 and 2009, his 57 carries per fumble is the sixth-best in the ranking.
To show his effectiveness with the Vikings there are only four players in the ranking that played fewer seasons than Peterson.
Peterson owns the top two, and three of the top five, single-season rushing totals and his 80-yard run from scrimmage is the fourth-longest in Vikings history.
No. 1: Robert Smith 1993-2000
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Robert Smith's stay at the top of the Vikings career rushing leaders should end as the Vikings' 2011 season comes to a close.
An effective runner and pass receiver, Smith was the leading rusher for the 1998 team that would go 15-1.
Smith's best season came in his last, when he rushed for 1,521 yards and seven touchdowns.
In his career he would amass 6,818 yards on 1,411 carries for a 4.83 average—the fifth-best in the ranking.
In his eight seasons, he would only fumble nine times, 156.8 carries per fumble—the second-fewest among all players in the ranking.
Smith could have played for several more years. In 2000, taking a page out of Barry Sander's book, he would walk away from football, while still being an extremely effective running back as Sanders did two years earlier.
I suspect he was fed up with the egos of Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Daunte Culpepper and had enough following the 41-0 loss in the 2000 NFC Championship game, the last game Smith would ever play.