Chris Johnson and the Top 10 Tennessee Titans Running Backs
Chris Johnson wants to be paid, not just as an elite running back, but as an elite player, and his holdout continues even after Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt openly said that the Titans were willing to make him the highest paid running back in the NFL. I'll keep my opinion on that to myself—that's another article.
Johnson is certainly a premier running back in the NFL today, but how does he stack up to the rest of the running backs in Titans/Oilers history?
Read on to find out:
This list is pretty subjective, as is any list ranking the best of anything all time.
That said, I tried to be pretty objective, and considered things like the length of a player's tenure with the Titans (or Oilers), the number of seasons over 1000 yards, their career yards and the number of touchdowns scored with the franchise.
I also looked to things like Pro Bowl/All Pro selections, awards and any records that they might have held (or in a few cases, records they still hold).
I know not everyone will agree with this list, so feel free to tell me what I got right and wrong in the comments section.
10. Travis Henry (2005-2006)
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Travis Henry had a very short tenure with the Titans, but it was a successful one nonetheless.
Henry played better than his numbers, which were still pretty good. In two years (only 14 starts), Henry rushed for 1546 yards and added another 195 yards in receiving. He also scored seven touchdowns.
Henry was a local product, playing at Tennessee before being drafted by the Bills. The Titans went through turbulent times while Henry ran the ball, but he was pretty consistent and a solid No. 10 running back.
9. LenDale White (2006-2009)
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The smash part of the original smash and dash duo, White was another back with a short but successful career with the Titans.
LenDale White almost ate himself out of a job before even being drafted; he showed up to the combine overweight and out of shape. Luckily for him, he had a good enough college career to go in the second round to the Titans.
His best year came in 2008 with Chris Johnson. The two made up the deadliest duo of running backs in the NFL, and helped the Titans to a 13-3 season. As half the attack, he put up 773 yards and 15 touchdowns.
He also stomped a terrible towel on national television after the Titans upset the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers. That makes him OK in my book.
8. Lorenzo White (1988-1994)
Lorenzo White was one of the last Oilers running backs before the team moved to Tennessee and became the Titans.
In his long tenure with the Oilers, he rushed for 4079 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also had a pretty healthy receiving career, adding 1674 yards through the air.
His best year came in 1992, where he rushed for 1226 yards, caught 641 yards and scored eight touchdowns with no lost fumbles. He was a Pro Bowl selection that year.
While he was not the best running back in the country, he still had a long healthy career with the Oilers, and deserves to be on the list.
7. Billy Cannon (1960-1963)
Cannon was only with the Oilers for four years, but what a three-year stretch it was. The former Heisman winner was one of he first big-name players to sign with the AFL, and he ended up with the Oilers.
He was an integral part of the AFL Champion Oilers teams in both 1961 and 1962. He amassed 2043 total yards in 1961, leading the league in rushing. The same year, he was also a Sporting News and AFL All Star.
He still holds the Titans/Oilers record for touchdowns scored in a single game with five.
However, he had a short tenure with the Oilers before moving on to the Raiders and the Chiefs. He had a great career after he left the Oilers, but was a flash in the pan with the franchise, and so he gets a low spot for that.
6. Mike Rozier (1985-1990)
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Another Oiler Heisman winner, Mike Rozier is one of the more decorated players in Titans/Oilers history. He won the Heisman, along with the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. As a Pro, he was a second-team All-AFC player in 1987, and a Pro Bowler in 1987 and 1988.
1998 was his best year. He rushed for 1002 yards on only 251 carries and scored 10 touchdowns. He also added 99 receiving yards and a touchdown to that in his second Pro Bowl year.
His career with the Oilers saw him rush for 3,171 yards, add 641 receiving yards and score 28 touchdowns in six seasons. A respectable enough career to get him to No. 6.
5. Chris Brown (2003-2007)
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No, not the musician that may or may not have beat Rihanna. The running back.
Chris Brown followed in the footsteps of all-time great Eddie George, but he held his own. He led the NFL in rushing yards in 2004 (his best year). That season, he rushed only 220 times, but amassed 1067 yards (an average of 4.9 yards per carry) and scored six touchdowns.
After surgery on both ankles, Brown rushed for 851 yards and five touchdowns, but his average dropped by more than a yard.
Unfortunately, his success was short lived. His running style made him take too much damage, and the Titans replaced him with LenDale White in 2006.
4. Charlie Tolar (1960-1966)
I'm probably gonna get in trouble ranking Charlie Tolar this low, since he was named to the Oilers 30th Anniversary dream team, but I think this is as high as he gets because, as good as he was, he wouldn't be seen as that great if he played at the same time as the next three.
Tolar was a phenomenal runner, rushing for 3,277 yards in his career with the Oilers and 21 touchdowns. His best year statistically came in 1962 when he rushed for 1,012 yards on 244 carries (then a league record), scored seven touchdowns and was named the team's offensive MVP. Not bad for a guy who only stood 5'6" tall.
"The Human Bowling Ball" was also an AFL All-Star in 1961 and 1962.
3. Chris Johnson (2008-Present)
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Yes, this is as high as CJ2K gets. He's been phenomenal and, in my opinion, is the best running back in the NFL today. He has made the Pro Bowl every year that he has played professional football so far.
That said, his career as a Titan might be over if his holdout doesn't end soon, so by evaluating his current body of work, he falls to the third slot.
Everyone knows that Chris Johnson put up 2,509 total yards in 2009, breaking Marshall Faulk's record for most total yards by a running back. Despite Johnson's impressive season, the Titans finished up 8-8, which wasn't that bad considering that they started the season with a six-game losing streak.
Johnson was also the dash part of the smash and dash team that helped the Titans to a 13-3 season in 2008. Johnson rushed for 1228 yards that season and scored nine touchdowns.
For his career as a Titan, he has gathered 4,598 rushing yards, and while that's impressive, it doesn't measure up against the two guys that beat him out.
2. Eddie George (1996-2003)
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I'll be the first to admit that I'm a little partial to Eddie George. He was the Titans running back when the Titans moved to Tennessee, which is when I became a fan, but I don't think putting him in the No. 2 slot is objectively wrong.
George was the running back of the Oilers when they became the Titans, so he is the first true Titans running back. George went to the Pro Bowl four times, was an All Pro once on the first team and once on the second, a Heisman Trophy winner, College Football Hall of Famer and a member of the 10,000 yard club.
With the Titans, George rushed for less than 1,000 yards only one time (939 in 2001), and amassed a total of 10,009 rushing yards, 2134 receiving yards and 74 touchdowns.
He also had a much longer career than most running backs, showing his durability. If you want more proof, only Walter Payton has started more consecutive regular season games (170) than Eddie George has (128) at running back.
George is still my favorite Titans running back, and if Johnson doesn't end his holdout soon, then he'll never surpass him in my book.
1. Earl Campbell (1978-1984)
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The Titans retired his number for a reason.
Earl Campbell is up there with Jim Brown, Walter Payton and OJ Simpson as one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL, so I have to give him the top spot.
Now for some awards to back it up: Campbell was a five-time Pro Bowler, three time All-Pro, Offensive Rookie of the Year, a league MVP in 1979, three-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and a Heisman winner.
He rushed for 8,764 yards as an Oiler, and added 718 receiving yards for good measure. To put how good Campbell was in perspective, he rushed for 5,081 yards in his first three seasons; Chris Johnson only rushed for 4,598.
Campbell also did this back in the late 70s, when running backs didn't put up the numbers they do today.
His accomplishments have earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame at both the College and the Professional level, and to put it simply, he is the greatest running back in Titans/Oilers franchise history.