50 Best Running Back Duos in NFL History
From Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell tearing up opposing defenders to Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott putting Tampa Bay Buccaneers football on the map for the first time, NFL running back duos have cemented themselves into the history of this great sport.
From the dominance of a three-headed Miami Dolphins backfield to a sad story that ended one of the most promising careers in NFL history, running backs have continued to remain an integral part of what football is all about.
Today, I am going to focus on the best running back tandems in NFL history. This was a difficult process considering that some of the best running backs ever, such as Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, did it all on their own.
Still, I found it extremely interesting to discover that some of the greatest backfield players in the history of the game played aside one another. There will be some "fullbacks" on this list because they added much more than just pure blocking to their respective teams. On that note, you will also see players from each era in the history of the game.
You will read stories of amazing triumph, tragic endings and pure drama. After all, isn't this what football is all about?
50. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Stats as a tandem (2007-current)
Brandon Jacobs: 3,872 rush yards and 39 touchdowns
Ahmad Bradshaw: 2,786 rush yards and 21 touchdowns
You might think I am crazy for having them on the list, but statistics don't lie. In just over four seasons together, the modern-day "thunder and lightning" have combined for over 6,600 rushing yards and 60 touchdowns.
We will have to see how this plays out in the future in order to gauge where they truly belong, but for now they will be at No. 50.
49. Ollie Matson and Johnny Olszewski . Chicago Cardinals
Stats as a tandem (1954-1957)
Ollie Matson: 2,382 rushing yards, 1,498 receiving yards, 26 touchdowns
Johnny Olszewski: 1,933 rushing yards, seven touchdowns
Ollie Matson began his football career at the City College of San Francisco but was better known for being an Olympic medal-winning sprinter before joining the Chicago Cardinals in 1952. When Matson retired in 1966 he was second to only Jim Brown on the NFL all-time list for all-purpose yards.
Johnny Olszewski would join Matson in the Cardinals backfield after being drafted fourth overall in 1954 from Cal. He would go on to to play for Chicago for five seasons alongside Matson.
The Chicago Cardinals did not have much success during their time with the team, losing twice as many games as they won. However, these two players had eight Pro Bowl selections between them, making it there together in 1955.
48. Curtis Martin and LaMont Jordan, New York Jets
Stats as a tandem (2001-2004)
Curtis Martin: 5,612 rush yards, 1,697 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns
LaMont Jordan: 1,474 rush yards, 417 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns
Curtis Martin shouldered most of the load during the four years that these players were teammates, and if it wasn't for him Jordan wouldn't be anywhere on this list. However, I remember watching the two play for the Jets, and they complemented one another a great deal. Jordan actually averaged over 5.6 yards per rush when he came in to spell Martin.
New York made the playoffs in three of the four seasons that these two were in the backfield—its best run since the days of "Broadway Joe."
I know it's surprising, but they do belong on the list.
By the way, why hasn't Curtis Martin been mentioned as a Hall of Fame player? Just look at his numbers.
47. Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett, Dallas Cowboys
Stats as a tandem (1986-1987)
Herschel Walker: 1,628 rush yards, 1,552 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns
Tony Dorsett: 1,204 rush yards and eight touchdowns
This has more to do with the obvious transition the Dallas Cowboys were making at the time. Tom Landry was a couple years away from being replaced by Jimmy Johnson, and Jerry Jones would soon become their owner. It was pretty much out with the old and in with the new.
Still, to have two players of this caliber in the same backfield had to be something for the fans of this mediocre team. Dallas didn't finish above .500 in either of the seasons Dorsett and Walker were together, but their union signaled something far greater. Tony Dorsett was the last man standing for a franchise that had built itself up to being "America's Team."
46. Fred Taylor and James Stewart, Jacksonville Jaguars
Stats as a tandem (1998-1999)
Fred Taylor: 1,954 rush yards, 504 receiving yards, 23 touchdowns
James Stewart: 1,148 rush yards, 17 touchdowns
I understand that Fred Taylor and James Stewart only played together for two seasons, but those were two of the greatest rushing seasons in modern NFL history by a tandem. Both were first-round picks of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Stewart in 1995 and Taylor in 1998.
In their two seasons together this duo wouldn't play together for every game due to various injuries, but when they did it was nothing short of amazing. In 13 games together, they averaged over 140 rushing yards. The combined 40 rushing touchdowns in these two seasons also accounted for nearly 40 percent of all the Jaguars' touchdowns.
Jacksonville would win the AFC Central both seasons, going a combined 25-7. In the Jaguars' 62-7 defeat of the Miami Dolphins in a 1999 divisional playoff game, Stewart and Taylor would combine for over 200 total yards and three touchdowns.
45. Neil Anderson and Brad Muster, Chicago Bears
Stats as a tandem (1988-1992)
Neil Anderson: 4,788 rush yards, 2,055 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns
Brad Muster: 2,004 rush yards, 1,520 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns
This is probably one of the most unheralded duos on the history of the game. Neil Anderson and Brad Muster were really good in a five-year stretch for the Chicago Bears. They combined for more than 10,000 total yards and helped Chicago make the playoffs three times.
I am assuming that they don't get the respect they deserve because of a couple names: Gale Sayers and Walter Payton.
44. Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, New York Giants
Stats as a tandem (2000-2004)
Tiki Barber: 5,992 rush yards, 2,932 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns
Ron Dayne: 1,888 rush yards and 16 touchdowns
It wasn't exactly what the New York Giants had envisioned when they selected Ron Dayne 11th overall in the 2000 draft. The Giants thought they were going to get a perennial Pro Bowl performer, While that didn't happen, this tandem still had a lot of success.
The 2000 New York Giants went to the Super Bowl, only to get killed by Baltimore 34-7. That season Dayne and Barber combined for 1,800 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Tiki Barber is currently New York's all-time leading rusher.
43. Ricky Watters and Charlie Garner, Philadelphia Eagles
Stats as a tandem (1995-1997)
Ricky Watters: 3,794 rush yards, 1,398 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns
Charlie Garner: 1,484 rush yards and 11 touchdowns
To be honest, a lot of the reason Watters and Garner are on this list could have to do with what they did at other times in their careers. After all, they combined for over 25,000 yards in their illustrious careers.
That said, they did do some really nice things for the Philadelphia Eagles in this three-year span. The two gained nearly 6,700 yards and combined for 43 touchdowns before free agency chipped into the backfield.
Philadelphia made the playoffs in two of the three seasons this duo played together. Still, some may wonder how it would have turned out if they had played longer with one another.
42. Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor, Baltimore Ravens
Stats as a tandem (2002-2005)
Jamal Lewis: 5,305 rush yards and 32 touchdowns
Chester Taylor: 1,702 rush yards and seven touchdowns
How lucky or unlucky is Chester Taylor to be on this list twice? You will know what I am talking about later. Hint: It has something to do with a guy named Adrian Peterson.
Still, when you look at how Lewis and Taylor complemented one another in Baltimore, they have to be among the 50 best tandems in NFL history. They combined for over 1,750 rushing yards per season, the majority from Lewis, and enabled Baltimore to boast one of the best rushing teams of that era.
41. Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, Chicago Bears
Stats as a tandem (1966-1969)
Gale Sayers: 4,004 rush yards and 28 touchdowns
Brian Piccolo: 927 rush yards, 527 receiving yards and five touchdowns
It would be a shame if I decided to omit Sayers and Piccolo from this list. Of course, they didn't have the greatest stats on this list, but that isn't really the point. First, Piccolo's life and career were cut short when he died of cancer at the young age of 26, while still in the prime of his career. Second, it was this tragic death that left many wondering what could have been.
Finally, the relationship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo was the reason behind one of the greatest sports movies ever made, Brian's Song. To this day, it is the only movie that grown men will admit to crying over.
More than all of this, it showed how undying respect and humanity can play a major part in the successes, failures, up, downs and lives of every single human.
If you have never watched the movie, I recommend clicking on this link to view an amazing scene.
40. Sam Cunningham and Don Calhoun, New England Patriots
Stats as a tandem (1976-1981)
Sam Cunningham: 3,433 rush yards, 1,293 receiving yards, 25 touchdowns
Don Calhoun: 3,287 rush yards, 23 touchdowns
One was a high first-round pick (Cunningham), the other (Calhoun) a 10th-round selection, but they came together for the New England Patriots to make up one of the best running back tandems of the 1970s. They didn't get much national press because of the lack of success with the Patriots during this time, but make no mistake about it: The two were exceptional together.
Over the course of their six seasons as teammates, Cunningham and Calhoun would combine to average over 105 rushing yards per game.
Surprisingly, the Patriots would win two division titles in these players' six years together.
39. Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats as tandem (1977-1982)
Archie Griffin: 2,197 rush yards, 1,467 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns
Pete Johnson: 4,658 rush yards, 1,697 receiving yards and 50 touchdowns
Archie Griffin finished his Ohio State career as one of the greatest running backs to ever play college football; the statistics were just mind-boggling. He is still one of only two players—Brian Cushing being the other—to start in four Rose Bowls. Additionally, Griffin remains the only player in Big Ten history to lead the conference in rushing for three consecutive seasons.
So what happened? As you can see from the statistics above, Griffin's pro numbers do not reflect this college success. He just couldn't fully translate that success to the NFL.
That said, Griffin did make up one part of one of the best backfields of the era. In 1977, he was joined by former Ohio State teammate Pete Johnson in Cincinnati's backfield.
The two would lead one of the best overall backfield tandems of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In six seasons together they combined for over 10,000 total yards and 60 touchdowns.
This also translated into the overall success of a struggling Cincinnati Bengals franchise. Cincinnati would earn its first AFC championship in the 1981 season, losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Despite having them on this list, some Ohioans still wonder what could have been for Griffin.
38. Ickey Woods and James Brooks, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats as a tandem (1988-1991)
Ickey Woods: 1,525 rush yards and 27 touchdowns
James Brooks: 3,745 rush yards, 1,210 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns
Ickey Woods and James Brooks are on this list because of one season together, but it was a magical season for the Cincinnati Bengals. The year was 1988, and the AFC had become the junior circuit of the NFL, not winning a Super Bowl since the Raiders in 1983.
Ickey Woods, a rookie second-round pick from UNLV, was called upon to be the lead blocker for an already established runner, James Brooks. Yet it turned out to be much more than what the Bengals had expected. The two combined for well over 2,000 total yards and scored 29 touchdowns en route to a 12-4 regular season record.
However, it was the playoffs that made them icons in Cincinnati. This tandem combed for 450 total yards in the Bengals' three postseason games. It wasn't enough for Cincinnati to upset the heavily favored San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, as it lost 20-16 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Joe Montana to John Taylor.
Woods saw his career come to a premature end after a series of tragic knee injuries; he only ended up playing parts of four seasons. On the other hand, Brooks finished his career with three Pro Bowl appearances and three 1,000-yard seasons.
37. Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints
Stats as a tandem (2006-2008)
Deuce McAllister: 1,578 rush yards and 16 touchdowns
Reggie Bush: 1,545 rush yards, 1,602 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns
Some may disagree with me having these two on this list, but let me explain. Prior to the 2006 season, New Orleans had finished above .500 just once in its previous 13 seasons. For all intents and purposes, it was a dormant franchise. Remember the fan slogan "Aint's?"
It isn't a coincidence when Drew Brees came to New Orleans in 2006, they started winning; however, none of this would have been possible if they didn't have a solid running game behind him at the time. With the No. 2 pick of the 2006 draft the Saints drafted Heisman winner Reggie Bush. This teamed him up with their current all-time leading rusher, Deuce McAllister.
The statistics will not overwhelm you, but their importance to the franchise cannot be overstated. Since 2006, the Saints have won double-digit games three times, earning their first Super Bowl title in franchise history just two years ago.
36. Don Perkins and Dan Reeves, Dallas Cowboys
Statistics as a tandem (1965-1968)
Don Perkins: 3,085 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns
Dan Reeves: 1,640 rushing yards, 1,341 receiving yards, 35 touchdowns
Many of us remember Dan Reeves manning the sidelines for the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. However, long before that he was part of a great backfield for Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys.
Throughout his NFL career, Reeves would compile nearly 4,000 total yards and a whopping 84 touchdowns. Not staggering statistics, because he would join a Dallas running game led by Don Perkins, who had already made three Pro Bowl appearances prior to the 1965 season.
In just four seasons together the two would combine for nearly 7,000 total yards and help Dallas make the playoffs three separate times. The most historic of their games together would be the infamous "Ice Bowl," in which the Green Bay Packers defeated Dallas 21-17 on New Year's Eve 1967. Perkins and Reeves would combine for over half of the Cowboys' yards in the defeat.
35. Abner Haynes and Curtis McClinton, Dallas Texans
Stats as a tandem (1962-1964)
Abner Haynes: 2,098 rush yards, 1,065 receiving yards, 32 touchdowns
Curtis McClinton: 1,424 rush yards, 854 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns
These two took the field for the Kansas City Chiefs before they were the Kansas City Chiefs. Many of you probably didn't even know that this franchise had existed as the Dallas Texans prior to moving to the Midwest, but it did—and this tandem enabled that team to have enormous success.
In 1962, the Texans' final season before moving to Kansas City, they won the AFL championship over the Houston Oilers in the "Battle of Texas." Abner Haynes and Curtis McClinton would combine for 145 of the Texans' 237 total yards and both touchdowns in the win.
The Texans moved to Kansas City the following season and had no success in 1963-1964, Haynes and McClinton's final two seasons together. Still, that championship game and their success reverberates within Kansas City's proud and heralded history even though it occurred hundreds of miles away.
34. Freeman McNeil and Johnny Hector, New York Jets
Stats as a tandem (1983-1992)
Freeman McNeil: 6,665 rush yards, 2,603 receiving yards and 40 touchdowns
Johnny Hector: 4,280 rush yards, 1,661 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns
There is something to say about longevity, and these two had it. McNeil and Hector played alongside one another for 10 seasons and were extremely good in the backfield.
However, this was a lost era for the New York Jets; they made the playoffs just three times in the 10 seasons and only won one playoff game.
33. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins
Stats as a tandem (2005, 2007-2010)
Ricky Williams: 3,196 rush yards, 717 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns
Ronnie Brown: 3,807 rush yards, 1,215 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns
No matter how you feel about either player, these two belong somewhere on the list. They were an enigmatic but talented duo in South Beach. Over parts of five seasons Williams and Brown combined for over 9,000 total yards and 61 touchdowns.
However, it could have been a lot greater of a duo if it weren't for injuries and off-field issues. After all, both were picked in the top five of the draft six years apart.
Currently, Ricky Williams is playing well for Baltimore, while Ronnie Brown is attempting some interesting passes for the Philadelphia Eagles.
32. Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor
Stats as a tandem (2007-2009)
Adrian Peterson: 4,484 rush yards, 819 receiving yards, 41 touchdowns
Chester Taylor: 1,581 rush yards, 1,069 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns
Chester Taylor left the Baltimore Ravens for Minnesota following the 2005 season in order to get a chance to start. After signing a lucrative contract with the Vikings, Taylor racked up 1,500 total yards in 2006. Little did he know that Minnesota had AP on its mind—Adrian Peterson, that is.
What turned out to be a bad break for Taylor worked out great for the Vikings.
In a three-year span, from 2007 to 2009, Taylor and Peterson would combine for 156 total yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. They were, in every sense of the word, the best one-two tandem in the NFL at that time. Despite success, Minnesota would falter in the 2009 NFC Championship Game against New Orleans and not fully live up to expectations.
Peterson is well on his way to becoming one of the top five running backs to ever play the game. Following a down season in Chicago last year, Chester Taylor is currently a backup for the Arizona Cardinals.
31. Floyd Little and Bobby Anderson, Denver Broncos
Stats as a tandem (1970-1973)
Floyd Little: 4,851 rush yards, 1,206 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns
Bobby Anderson: 1,218 rush yards, 1,041 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns
This wasn't the most successful era in the history of the Denver Broncos franchise, but they sure did have one heck of a backfield. Despite finishing above .500 just once, Little and Anderson complemented one another well.
Floyd Little would make the Pro Bowl three of the four seasons that the two played alongside one another. He would lead the league in attempts, rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage in 1971. That same year saw Anderson go for over 900 total yards, while leading the way for Little.
30. Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs
Stats as a tandem (2003-2007)
Larry Johnson: 4,764 rush yards, 1,219 receiving yards and 56 touchdowns
Priest Holmes: 2,900 rush yards, 1,101 receiving yards and 59 touchdowns
Talk about putting up silly statistics—this is exactly what Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson did during their time together with the Kansas City Chiefs. But it wasn't all at the same time.
When Holmes shattered record books with over 2,000 total yards and 27 touchdowns in 2003, it was Larry Johnson's rookie season; he ran the ball just 20 times. When Holmes started to decline, Johnson would pick up the slack. In 2007, Johnson had over 2,100 total yards and 19 touchdowns.
Still, they were in the backfield together for five seasons and have to be considered one of the most talented tandems in the history of the league.
Although Kansas City made the playoffs just twice in the five years that these two were together, Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson rank first and second, respectively, on the franchise's all-time rushing list.
29. Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler, San Francisco 49ers
Stats as a tandem (1983-1986)
Roger Craig: 3,254 rush yards, 2,742 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns
Wendell Tyler: 3,122 rush yards and 24 touchdowns
We all know about Roger Craig and the all-around success he had as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, but not many know how well Wendell Tyler played for this elite team. The two players combined for over 9,000 yards from 1983 to 1986 and helped the 49ers offense stay on top.
It also must be noted that Craig was playing fullback during the time prior to the arrival of Tom Rathman, which helped Tyler gain those great numbers.
This was a truly dynamic backfield.
28. Jim Nance and Larry Garron, Boston Patriots
Stats as a tandem (1965-1968)
Jim Nance: 3,588 rush yards and 27 touchdowns
Larry Garron: 838 rush yards, 1,322 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns
Stats don't tell the entire story here—Nance and Garron were one of the best backfield duos of their time. They just got overshadowed because they were playing for a pretty bad Boston Patriots squad.
The two combined for six Pro Bowl appearances, and Nance led the league in rushing two consecutive seasons, 1966 and 1967.
27. Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack
Stats as a tandem (1985-1988)
Earnest Byner: 2,287 rush yards, 1,916 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns
Kevin Mack: 2,789 rush yards, 902 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns
As teammates with the Cleveland Browns from 1985 to 1988, both Byner and Mack would average 1,000 total yards per season. In 1985 they became one of the first combos to both run for 1,000 yards in a season in the modern era.
Cleveland ended up winning double-digit games the final three seasons that these two dynamic players were together.
However, Byner will always be remembered for a costly fumble towards the end of the 1987 AFC Championship Game. There was just over a minute remaining in the game when it looked like the Browns running back was on his way to a game-tying touchdown before being stripped by a Denver Broncos defender at the 1-yard line.
Cleveland fans still blame Byner for costing them their greatest shot at a Super Bowl appearance, but there is one thing lost in all this: Up until that point he had gained 190 total yards and two touchdowns.
Still, this backfield tandem has to be on this list for what it did over the course of just four seasons.
26. Doak Walker and Bob Hoernschemeyer, Detroit Lions
Stats as a tandem (1950-1955)
Doak Walker: 1,520 rush yards, 2,539 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns
Bob Hoernschemeyer: 2,439 rush yards, 1,021 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns
Doak Walker is now famous due to a college football award being named after him for the best collegiate running back, but he wasn't that bad of a pro either.
The Detroit Lions won back-to-back NFL championships in 1952 and 1953, seasons that saw these two players star in the backfield with Bobby Layne at quarterback.
25. Terry Metcalf and Jim Otis, St. Louis Cardinals
Stats as a tandem (1973-1977)
Terry Metcalf: 3,438 rush yards, 1,862 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns
Jim Otis: 3,199 rush yards and 22 touchdowns
The Cardinals franchise had not sniffed anything of significance since its 1960 move from Chicago to St. Louis up until the 1974 season, when it made the playoffs. This feat was repeated one year later in 1975.
Metcalf and Otis were two primary reasons for that. Running behind Hall of Fame offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf, they compiled great seasons.
In 1974, the two combined for over 2,000 total yards—in 1975, over 2,400 yards. Despite losing both playoff games in those two seasons, this success put St. Louis on the map as a football city.
The Cardinals would relocate to Arizona some 14 years later.
24. LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner, San Diego Chargers
Stats as a tandem (2004-2007)
LaDainian Tomlinson: 6,086 rush yards, 1,794 receiving yards and 87 touchdowns
Michael Turner: 1,257 rush yards and six touchdowns
What would have been if free agency didn't tear that backfield apart? What if they played in the 1960s? It is something for all of us to consider. Michael Turner left San Diego following the 2007 season and only went on to rush for nearly 1,700 yards the following season in Atlanta.
Additionally, Drew Brees left the Chargers following the 2005 season and has only thrown for nearly 25,000 yards since.
Still, you have to consider LT and Michael Turner one of the most talented backfield tandems in NFL history, although the latter really didn't get his shot until moving on to Atlanta.
23. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Stats as a tandem (2008-current)
DeAngelo Williams: 3,054 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns
Jonathan Stewart: 2,829 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns
This is one of only two active tandems that I have on this list. Sure, I will get some slack for not having more on here, but that is the way it goes. Both were first-round picks of the Carolina Panthers just a couple years apart, both starred for their respective colleges and both have succeeded in the pros—and they have done so as members of just one team.
Prior to the start of the offseason, it was widely believed that Williams would go to a team that would showcase his talents and not have him as a part of a one-two punch. Instead, he decided to re-sign with the Panthers in order to continue teaming up with Stewart.
In just over three seasons together DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have combined for nearly 6,000 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns. Just imagine what awaits this talented twosome as we move forward.
22. William Andrews and Lynn Cain, Atlanta Falcons
Stats as a tandem (1979-1984)
William Andrews: 5,986 rush yards, 2,647 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns
Lynn Cain: 2,309 rush yards, 1,061 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns
The Atlanta Falcons had made the playoffs just once in their 14 years as a franchise prior to Andrews and Cain teaming up in the backfield. From 1979 to 1984, they doubled that output by going twice. It wasn't a greatly successful run for Atlanta, but it did put this franchise on the map.
Over six seasons, Andrews and Cain combined for over 12,000 yards and 67 touchdowns. Andrews made the Pro Bowl four times during this span.
21. Roger Craig and Tom Rathman, San Francisco 49ers
Stats as a tandem (1986-1990)
Roger Craig: 4,640 rush yards, 2,324 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns
Tom Rathman: 1,445 rush yards, 1,775 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns
To think they weren't even the focal point of the San Francisco offense during their five seasons together. Still, Craig and Rathman have to rank among the best backfield tandems in NFL history. Numbers just don't lie.
They combined for over 6,000 rushing yards, over 4,000 receiving yards and a remarkable 503 receptions in five seasons together. For all you math novices out there, that averages to about 2,000 total yards and 100 receptions per season out of the backfield.
I understand that Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Brent Jones will get most of the attention, but these two were really good at what they did.
20. Christian Okoye and Barry Word, Kansas City Chiefs
Stats as a tandem (1990-1992)
Christian Okoye: 2,284 rush yards and 22 touchdowns
Barry Word: 2,306 rush yards and 12 touchdowns
What would a list be without the "Nigerian Nightmare?" Dude was just off his rocker. For a three-year span this duo scared the living crap out of opposing defenders on the way to becoming the best running back tandem of the time.
Over the course of just three seasons they combined for nearly 6,000 yards and 34 touchdowns. I am sure that retired defensive players still have flashbacks about going up against this pair of men. After all, you were talking about over 500 pounds of pure muscle.
Kansas City would win 10 games or more all three seasons that Okoye and Word teamed up in the backfield.
19. Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison, Dallas Cowboys
Statistics as a tandem (1969-1974)
Calvin Hill: 5,015 rush yards, 1,349 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns
Walt Garrison: 3,427 rush yards, 1,648 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns
Roger Staubach may have been the "star" of the Dallas Cowboys during this time, but he did get a lot of help from these two Pro Bowl backs.
Walt Garrison would join Dallas after being drafted in the fifth round of the 1966 draft, but he would only put up a total of 500 total yards in the three seasons prior to Hill's arrival. Once Calvin Hill was drafted in the first round of the 1969 draft, the rest was history.
The Dallas Cowboys would finish with a winning record in each of the six seasons that these two played together, winning double-digit games five consecutive times. During this span Hill and Garrison rewrote Cowboy history books. They combined for a remarkable 78 touchdowns, while compiling over 11,000 total yards.
Dallas would make four playoff appearances and two Super Bowl appearances and finally win the diamond ring in 1971 against the Miami Dolphins. Still, these two individuals remain a couple of the most unheralded in Cowboys history. That 1971 season saw Duane Thomas, an average back, lead Dallas in rushing, not Hill or Garrison.
18. Mark van Eeghen and Clarence Davis, Oakland Raiders
Stats as a tandem (1974-1978)
Mark van Eeghen: 4,101 rush yards and 23 touchdowns
Clarence Davis: 2,343 rush yards and 16 touchdowns
This was an unheralded duo for the good Oakland Raiders teams of the 1970s. The Raiders won three consecutive AFC West titles from 1974 to 1976, earning the Super Bowl championship in 1976 in a win against the Minnesota Vikings. Davis and van Eeghen combined for 34 rushes and 210 yards in that game.
Overall, the two would combine for over 1,000 career postseason rushing yards, which helped Kenny Stabler lead the way on offense.
When talking about the great Raiders teams of the 1970s, you just cannot forget about this unheralded twosome.
17. Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln, Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers
Stats as a tandem (1961-1966)
Paul Lowe: 4,892 rush yards, 1,020 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns
Keith Lincoln: 2,703 rush yards, 1,698 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns
Long before there was LT, San Diego had two Pro Bowl running backs on the roster at the same time. Lowe and Lincoln combined for seven Pro Bowl trips in six seasons together, first with the Los Angeles Chargers and then when they moved to San Diego.
The Chargers played in three AFL championships during this span, winning the title in 1963 against the Boston Patriots. Lowe and Lincoln combined for 300 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the 51-10 defeat of Boston.
This remains the only championship that San Diego has ever won.
16. Lenny Moore and Alan Ameche, Baltimore Colts
Stats as a tandem (1956-1960)
Lenny Moore: 2,531 rushing yards, 4,196 receiving yards and 54 touchdowns
Alan Ameche: 3,084 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns
Lenny Moore split time between running back and wide receiver throughout his career, but his impact on the Baltimore Colts backfield was felt a great deal, so I decided to include this duo on the list.
It was Johnny Unitas that got all the headlines for the Baltimore Colts during their championship seasons, but I doubt that he could have done it without the help of the running game. From 1956 to 1960, the Colts averaged well over 100 yards rushing per game, the majority coming from Lenny Moore and Alan Ameche. With Unitas, they created one of the best all-around backfields in NFL history.
Baltimore would defeat the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL championship 23-17 in overtime. Ameche scored from one yard out in that extra stanza to win the title. Overall, the Colts ran for 142 yards on 38 attempts en route to putting up a total of 452 yards.
Baltimore defeated the Giants once more the next season in the NFL championship, this time by a 31-16 score.
15. Fred Taylor and Maurice-Jones Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Stats as a tandem (2006-2008)
Fred Taylor: 2,904 rush yards and 12 touchdowns
Maurice Jones-Drew: 2,533 rush yards, 1,408 rush yards and 41 touchdowns
Fred Taylor was finishing up a career that had put him No. 1 on the Jaguars' all-time rushing list; Maurice-Jones Drew was starting a career that will eventually see him break that mark.
It was perfect timing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. These two superstars combined for nearly 7,000 total yards in just three seasons together. In case, you are wondering that is over 2,300 yards per season.
14. Larry Brown and Charley Harraway, Washington Redskins
Statistics as a tandem (1969-1973)
Larry Brown: 5,035 rush yards, 1,774 receiving yards and 43 touchdowns
Charley Harraway: 2,659 rush yards, 1,159 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns
The Washington Redskins won a total of 40 games from 1971 to 1974, making the playoffs each season. This run represented the first time that Washington had won double-digit games in a season since 1941. For all intents and purposes, it was the beginning of greatness for the now heralded franchise.
Larry Brown and Charley Harraway were a major reason for this. The unheralded Harraway joined Washington after three subpar years with the Cleveland Browns. Larry Brown, on the other hand, was drafted by Washington in the eighth round of the 1969 draft.
In five seasons together they would help lead four playoff appearances, going to the Super Bowl in 1972 before losing to the undefeated Miami Dolphins. Despite the loss, Harraway and Brown combined for 140 total yards in that game. Overall, the two would combine for 2,361 yards that year.
13. Eric Dickerson and Barry Redden, Los Angeles Rams
Stats as a tandem (1983-1986)
Eric Dickerson: 7,245 rush yards and 58 touchdowns
Barry Redden: 1,466 rush yards and seven touchdowns
It is pretty obvious that the main reason these two are on the list is because of Eric Dickerson, who absolutely destroyed previously set records as a member of the Los Angeles Rams.
However, Barry Redden had a lot to do with this. Besides being Dickerson's lead blocker, he was able to pick up the tough yardage and keep the future Hall of Fame running back fresh for when it counted.
It is too bad this team was stuck behind the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West because it had a lot of talent. Los Angeles would make the playoffs in each of their four seasons together, only to lose in the playoffs each season.
12. Jim Brown and Ernie Green, Cleveland Browns
Stats as a tandem (1962-1965)
Jim Brown: 5,849 rush yards, 1,482 receiving yards and 63 touchdowns
Ernie Green: 1,592 rush yards, 1,080 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns
No offense to Ernie Green, but anyone in the backfield with Jim Brown would make this list if he had any type of success. Green would actually go on to make to Pro Bowl appearances with the Browns the years immediately following Jim Brown's retirement.
These two performed extremely well in the backfield with one another. Despite all this, you can find Brown much further along on this list later.
11. Tony Dorsett and Robert Newhouse, Dallas Cowboys
Stats as a tandem (1977-1983)
Tony Dorsett: 8,336 rush yards, 2,080 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns
Robert Newhouse: 2,351 rush yards and 25 touchdowns
Tony Dorsett can thank Robert Newhouse for a lot of his success in the NFL. The latter acted as a lead blocker for Dorsett for the better part of a decade and was able to actually touch the ball a few times himself.
Dorsett was the Cowboys' all-time leading rusher until Emmitt Smith later shattered that record. Newhouse still holds the record for most rushing yards by a Dallas Cowboys fullback.
Dallas would win four division titles and go to the Super Bowl twice, winning it in 1977. The two combined for over 120 rushing yards in the victory against Denver, a team that Dorsett would end up finishing his career with.
10. O.J. Simpson and Jim Braxton, Buffalo Bills
Stats as a tandem (1971-1977)
O.J. Simpson: 9,006 rush yards and 62 touchdowns
Jim Braxton: 2,769 rush yards, 1,388 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns
A lot of us only remember O.J. Simpson from his post-NFL legal issues, such as "murdering" his ex-wife. However, we have probably been told stories about how great of a running back he was back in the day, and that couldn't be more on point.
Simpson was the league's first 2,000-yard rusher (1973) and led the NFL in rushing four separate times. The one commonality that existed throughout this run was Jim Braxton, his lead blocker. The two of them made up a bruising—no pun intended—backfield for the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s.
Despite this, Buffalo would only make the playoffs one time in their tenure with the team. That was during the 1974 season that saw them combine for more than 2,000 total yards.
9. Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott
Stats as a tandem (1997-2001)
Warrick Dunn: 4,200 rush yards, 2,374 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns
Mike Alstott: 3,605 rush yards and 43 touchdowns
This was the first real thunder and lightning backfield of the new millennium. Talk about two different players existing together and dominating the trenches. This is what you got when you added Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Alstott, Purdue's all-time leading rusher, was selected by a struggling Tampa Bay franchise that had not had a winning season since 1981 in the second round of the 1996 draft. One year later, it would find lightning in the form of Warrick Dunn in the first round.
Well, the rest was history.
In five seasons together Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn would help put the Buccaneers on the NFL's map for the first time in franchise history. The two would combine for over 10,000 total yards and nearly 80 touchdowns in five seasons in Tampa Bay. The fullback would make the Pro Bowl each season, earning first-team All-Pro honors three times. Dunn would compile for 1,000 yards each season that Alstott was his lead blocker.
Even more amazing than this is the fact that Tampa Bay would make the playoffs in four of the five seasons they played together, winning the division once and going to the NFC championship game in 1999. Alstott would go on to help Tampa Bay win its first and only Super Bowl in 2002 against the Oakland Raiders.
8. Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry, San Francisco 49ers
Stats as a tandem (1952-1960)
Hugh McElhenny: 4,212 rush yards, 2,700 receiving yards and 50 touchdowns
Joe Perry: 5,922 rush yards, 1,042 receiving yards and 47 touchdowns
Hugh McElhenny joined one of the greatest backfields in NFL history after being selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1952 draft following an All-American career with Washington in college. McElhenny would go on to gain nearly 9,000 yards from scrimmage and score 58 touchdowns during his 13-year NFL career. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1970.
Joe Perry was actually a teammate of McElhenny's for Compton Community college in 1948 before they were reunited in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers when the latter was drafted in 1952. Perry would go on to lead the NFL in rushing three separate times and earn Pro Bowl honors three times. Perry would get Hall of Fame honors in 1969.
This backfield was so great that it included a third Hall of Fame member, John Henry Johnson, from 1954 to 1956. The group was coined "The Million Dollar Backfield."
Despite the success of the 49ers backfield, they would only make the championship game once in the nine years that these two greats were together.
7. Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen, Los Angeles Raiders
Stats as a tandem (1987-1990)
Bo Jackson: 2,782 rush yards, 352 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns
Marcus Allen: 2,560 rush yards, 1,093 receiving yards, 28 touchdowns
One of the most tragic personal stories in NFL history has to be the injury that cost Bo Jackson a Hall of Fame career with the Raiders. He was one of the most physically talented running backs to ever play the game. Still, in just four NFL seasons, Jackson made his mark on the history of the league.
One of Jackson's seminal moments as a member of the Raiders came in a 1987 Monday Night Football game that saw him run past the Seattle Seahawks for 221 yards. Bo Jackson would make the Pro Bowl just once in his four-year career but averaged a whopping 120 yards from scrimmage during his career.
On the other hand, Marcus Allen had already cemented himself as one of the best all-around running backs in the game before Jackson joined the team. He had made the Pro Bowl five times prior to the 1987 season, also earning three first-team All-Pro honors and leading the league in rushing in 1985. Allen was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, his first year of eligibility.
The Los Angeles Raiders would win the AFC West in 1990 before getting destroyed by the Buffalo Bills 51-3 in the AFC championship game.
6. Bill Brown and Dave Osborn, Minnesota Vikings
Statistics as a tandem (1965-1974)
Bill Brown: 4,483 rush yards, 2,241 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns
Dave Osborn: 4,226 rush yards, 1,408 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns
Frank was the man for the Minnesota Vikings of this era. After all, he did lead them to their Super Bowl appearances. Still, these two players were more of a part of their success of the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1969, the Vikings finished 14-2 as the "Purple People Eaters" romped through the NFL. That season, Brown and Osborn combined for over 1,500 total yards and double-digit touchdowns. Overall, the two would combine for over 13,000 total yards and 85 touchdowns in 10 seasons together.
5. Steve Van Buren and Bosh Pritchard, Philadelphia Eagles
Stats as a tandem (1946-1949)
Steve Van Buren: 3,628 rush yards and 40 touchdowns
Bosh Pritchard: 1,535 rush yards, 1,061 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns
The Philadelphia Eagles have never won a Super Bowl, but they were among the NFL's best teams towards the end of the first half of the 20th century. From 1946 to 1949 they went a combined 36-12, making it to the NFL championship game three times.
The Eagles would win back-back NFL titles in 1948 and 1949 with Steve Van Buren and Bosh Pritchard leading the way in the running game.
In 1948 the two combined for 1,400 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. That season saw the Eagles defeat the Chicago Cardinals in the title game. This duo ran the ball 42 times for 165 yards and the only score in the 7-0 victory. A year later they would defeat the Los Angeles Rams 14-0 in the championship with Van Buren running for nearly 200 yards.
Overall, it is Steve Van Buren that is the better known of the two, but he did have a lot of help from Bosh Pritchard.
4. Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, Green Bay Packers
Stats as a tandem (1958-1966)
Jim Taylor: 8,207 rush yards, 1,505 receiving yards and 91 touchdowns
Paul Hornung: 3,392 rush yards, 1,446 receiving yards and 59 touchdowns
How is this for success? Paul Hornung was taken with the first overall pick of the 1957 draft by Green Bay, Jim Taylor in the second round of the 1958 draft—both ended up being Hall of Fame players.
This success wasn't limited to the draft; it translated right onto the football field. After losing the 1960 NFL championship to the New York Giants, Green Bay would come back and win consecutive titles in 1961 and 1962, Three years later, the Packers won the final NFL championship game against the Cleveland Browns.
If that wasn't enough, Green Bay actually won the first two Super Bowl titles against the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders of the AFL.
There you have it: five championships in a matter of seven seasons.
Oh, I almost forgot—Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung combined for 14,550 total yards and 150 touchdowns in their nine seasons together.
3. Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick, Miami Dolphins
Stats as a threesome (1969-1974)
Larry Csonka: 5,360 rush yards and 37 touchdowns
Mercury Morris: 3,002 rush yards and 26 touchdowns
Jim Kiick: 3,023 rush yards, 1,788 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns
I tried to go with just two of the three, but it wasn't possible, so I decided to make an exception for this trio and place it on the list of all-time great running back tandems.
From 1970 to 1974 the Miami Dolphins went 57-12 and dominated the landscape of the entire NFL. They did this with a dominating running game. The trio of Csonka, Morris and Kiick combined for over 13,000 yards and a whopping 90 touchdowns.
In the Dolphins' undefeated season of 1972, the three ran for over 2,600 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. More impressively, they ran all over Washington in the Super Bowl for nearly 200 yards, leading Miami to the championship.
It wasn't that they were the greatest athletes that we had seen play football. It was more about the fact that these three complemented one another greatly in the backfield for those dominating teams.
2. Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats as a tandem (1972-1980)
Franco Harris: 9,352 rush yards, 1,507 receiving yards and 82 touchdowns
Rocky Bleier: 3,809 rush yards, 1,126 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns
Let's get this straight right now: The "Steel Curtain" and Pittsburgh's backfield were the primary reasons they won four Super Bowls in a six-year span. Terry Bradshaw wasn't the greatest quarterback to ever play. In fact, he finished his career with just two more touchdowns than interceptions.
Harris and Bleier were teammates for seven division titles, nine playoff appearances and four Super Bowl titles. They were and always will be winners.
In the four Super Bowls, these two greats combined for 500 total rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Now, I understand that Bradshaw saved his best performances for the "big game," but these two were just as integral to the success of the Steelers as anyone else on the offense.
1. Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell, Cleveland Browns
Stats as a tandem (1958-1961)
Jim Brown: 5,521 rush yards and 63 touchdowns
Bobby Mitchell: 2,297 rush yards, 1,462 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns
The success that Brown and Mitchell had as members of the Cleveland Browns was just plain out of this world. You are looking at the greatest running back of all time, Jim Brown, teaming up with a player that would eventually switch to receiver and have a Hall of Fame career himself.
Prior to Bobby Mitchell becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL, he played second fiddle to Brown in Cleveland's backfield. Just look at the numbers and success these two had.
Over the course of their four seasons as teammates, this tandem combined for 9,280 total yards and 95 touchdowns. That's right—95!
Let me try to put it into a single-game perspective for a second. Brown and Mitchell averaged 186 yards and nearly two touchdowns per game over four years, one of the most astonishing stats I have come across through my research in this article.
The only blip on their achievements is the fact that Cleveland only made the playoffs once in their four seasons together.
Jim Brown was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971, Mitchell in 1983.