San Francisco 49ers: Top 10 Running Backs of All Time

Dan MoriCorrespondent IMay 29, 2013

San Francisco 49ers: Top 10 Running Backs of All Time

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    The San Francisco 49ers were founded in 1946. Over their illustrious history, the 49ers have won five world championships and the fans of San Francisco have been treated to several Hall of Fame players.

    The 49ers have also been blessed with numerous star running backs. Let's take a closer look at the 10 best in the history of the 49ers.

    All stats are courtesy of

Honorable Mention: Wilbur Jackson, Tom Rathman, Charlie Garner, Ricky Watters

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    Narrowing down our list of San Francisco 49ers' all-time great running backs to only 10 is a difficult task. Several outstanding running backs did not make our list. These fine players are included in the honorable mention category.

    Wilbur Jackson is our first honorable mention. He played for the 49ers from 1974-79, alongside Delvin Williams, Jackson came out of college at Alabama as a halfback, but because the 49ers also had Williams, he shifted to the fullback position.

    Jackson did get plenty of opportunities to carry the ball, however. He had 745 rushing attempts for 2,955 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jackson also developed into a decent blocker for Williams.

    Tom Rathman was a bruising fullback whose main claim to fame was as a blocker for Roger Craig. Rathman carried the ball 516 times for 1,902 yards and 26 touchdowns.

    Rathman was also very productive as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught 294 passes for 2,490 yards and eight touchdowns. 

    Charlie Garner played only two seasons for the 49ers from 1999-2000. Garner had 499 carries for 2,371 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Ricky Watters played for the 49ers from 1992-94. Watters was a very flashy player, but he also wore out his welcome with his brash attitude. Nevertheless, he was very productive in a 49er uniform. Watters carried the football 653 times for 2,840 yards and 25 touchdowns.

    Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson also deserves mention. Although he had his greatest success with Pittsburgh, he began his career in San Francisco.

    Johnson played three seasons with the 49ers, from 1954-56. He was a tough, punishing runner who had 228 carries for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    Johnson was a member of the famed "Million Dollar Backfield," along with Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry. All four of these players are in the Hall of Fame.

No. 10: Delvin Williams

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    Delvin Williams was one of the smoothest runners you would ever want to see. Much like Tony Dorsett, Williams had the style and look of a classy running back.

    Williams played for the 49ers from 1974-77. He had 669 rushing attempts for 2,966 yards and 20 touchdowns.

No. 9: Wendell Tyler

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    Wendell Tyler was a quick, elusive runner. He was hard to bring down, as he utilized his quickness to avoid tacklers.

    Tyler played for the 49ers from 1983-86, carrying the ball 624 times for 3,112 yards and 17 touchdowns. His 5.0 yards-per-carry average was outstanding. The one knock on Tyler was his 27 fumbles.

No. 8: Ken Willard

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    Ken Willard was a sturdy, hard-nosed running back. He did not have much speed and his 3.7 yards-per-carry average is the lowest of anyone on our list.

    Willard carried the ball 1,582 times for 5,930 yards and 45 touchdowns. He played for nine seasons with the 49ers, from 1965-73. He is the fourth all-time rusher in the history of the franchise.

No. 7: Johnny Strzykalski

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    Johnny Strzykalski was the first great running back of the 49ers. He broke in with the team in their inaugural season of 1946 and played through 1952.

    In his seven seasons with the 49ers, Strzykalski had 662 rushing attempts for 3,415 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 5.2 yards-per-carry average is tied with Joe Perry for the best in 49er history. Amazingly, Strzykalski only fumbled two times in those 662 carries.

No. 6: J.D. Smith

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    J.D. Smith played for the 49ers from 1957-64. He had 1,007 carries for 4,370 yards and 37 touchdowns.

No. 5: Garrison Hearst

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    Garrison Hearst played for the 49ers from 1997-2003. He was an outstanding running back, but battled injuries throughout his career.

    Hearst carried the ball 1,189 times for 5,535 yards and 26 touchdowns. A severe knee injury cost Hearst the 1999 and 2000 seasons. He returned in 2001 to rush for over 1,200 yards and was named the Comeback Player of the Year.

No. 4: Roger Craig

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    Roger Craig played eight seasons for the 49ers, from 1983-90. Craig was one of the best all-around backs in the game for several years.

    Craig had 1,686 rushing attempts for 7,064 yards and 50 touchdowns. He also was an outstanding receiver, with 508 catches for 4,442 yards. Craig was selected to four Pro Bowls as a 49er.

No. 3: Joe Perry

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    Joe "The Jet" Perry is a member of the 49ers' famed "Million Dollar Backfield." This group consisted of four Hall of Fame players, Perry, Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson.

    Perry is the 49ers' second all-time leading rusher with 1,667 carries for 8,689 yards and 68 touchdowns. His 5.2 yards-per-carry average leads the all-time list, along with Johnny Strzykalski.

    Perry combined excellent speed with strength and played for the 49ers from 1948-1960. He returned for one final season in 1963. Perry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.

No. 2: Hugh McElhenny

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    Hugh "The King" McElhenny was one of the most exciting runners in the history of the NFL. His gait was awkward with legs and arms flailing all over the place. However, McElhenny could run like the wind and was extremely elusive.

    McElhenny played for the 49ers from 1952-60. He carried the ball 877 times for 4,288 yards and 35 touchdowns. McElhenny was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.

No. 1: Frank Gore

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    Frank Gore is the San Francisco 49ers' all-time leading rusher. He began his career with the 49ers in 2005 and is still going strong.

    In his eight seasons thus far, Gore has rushed for over 1,000 yards on six occasions. Gore has 1,911 carries for 8,839 yards and 51 touchdowns. He is a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

    Gore deserves this recognition for his dedication to the 49ers and his outstanding play.