All-Time Los Angeles Rams Running Backs vs. All-Time Dallas Cowboys Running Backs

Eric Dickerson

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It’s the offseason which means it’s the perfect time for a fun article here and there. Earlier this week the NFL Network’s Dave Dameshek put out a list of the all-time best position groups in sports.

This list is as follows:

1. Los Angeles Lakers Centers: Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neil, Anthony Davis

2. Pittsburgh Penguins Centers: Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin

3. Green Bay Packers Quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Bart Starr, Aaron Rodgers

4. Chicago Bears Middle Linebackers: Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher

5. Los Angeles Dodgers Starting Pitchers: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Clayton Kershaw

6. Montreal Canadians Goalies: Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Carey Price

7. Dallas Cowboys Running Backs: Tony Dorsett, Emmit Smith, Ezekiel Elliott

8. Boston Red Sox Left Fielders: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Manny Machado

9. Chicago Bears Running Backs: Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton

10. Edmonton Oilers Centers: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Connor McDavid

11. Boston Celtics Small Forwards: John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce

12. Indianapolis Colts Quarterbacks: Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck

13. Atlanta Braves Starting Pitchers: Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz

14. New York Yankees Right Fielders: Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Aaron Judge

15. Boston Bruins Defensemen: Eddie Shore, Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Ray Bourque, Zdeno Chara

16. San Francisco 49ers Quarterbacks: Y.A. Tittle, Joe Montana, Steve Young,

17. Houston Rockets Centers: Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Yao Ming

18. Los Angeles Rams Running Backs: Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Jerome Bettis, Todd Gurley

19. Montreal Canadian Defensemen: Doug Harvey, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, Chris Chelios, P.K. Subban

20. New York Yankees Center Fielders: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Rickey Henderson

….and we’ll stop with the top-20. If you want to take a look at the rest of the list, feel free.

It’s a good list and an interesting list. However, one thing that immediately stands out is the all-time Cowboys running backs are TWELVE spots above the all-time Rams running backs.

It’s undoubtedly debatable to have the Cowboys ahead of the Rams, but even that much of a gap seems far-fetched. Both teams have had a history of legendary running backs from Tony Dorsett to Eric Dickerson to Emmit Smith and Marshall Faulk. Let’s settle the debate, shall we? I am only taking into account the stats and awards these player accumulated with the Rams and Cowboys.

Note: This is just Hall of Famers or potential Hall of Famers, leaving out the like of Lawrence McCutcheon, Steven Jackson, DeMarco Murray, and others.

Los Angeles Rams

Starting with the Los Angeles Rams, they have had one of the more impressive histories when it comes to the running back position. The team went from Eric Dickerson in the ’80s to Jerome Bettis in the early-’90’s to Marshall Faulk in the ’00s, to Steven Jackson in the 2010s, and now Todd Gurley.

Dameshek doesn’t include Steven Jackson because he doesn’t consider him a Hall of Famer. That’s a debate for another day, however, Jackson is one of six running backs in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons, and no player from 2005-2012 rushed for more yards than Jackson.

Jackson ranks in the top-20 in all-time career rushing yards and the only players not in the Hall of Fame and inside the top-20 are Frank Gore, Fred Taylor, and Corey Dillon.

He won’t get the credit because he played on bad St. Louis Rams teams, but it’s difficult not to include him as he’s without question one of the greatest Rams of all-time.

Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch

2x First-Team All-Pro
1x NFL Champion
1x NFL Champion
1951 NFL Receiving Yards Leader
1950’s All-Decade Team
NFL all-time All-Pro Team

Elroy Hirsch dominated the NFL in the 1950s. In his first game for the Rams, a 27–24 victory over the Detroit Lions, Hirsch scored two touchdowns, including a 19-yard touchdown reception from Norm Van Brocklin.

However, it was 1951 that was by far the best year of his career as he tied or broke multiple NFL receiving records in 1951. He set a new NFL record with 1,495 receiving yards – a record that stood for nearly 20 years. His  124.6 receiving yards also set an NFL record. His 17 touchdown receptions in a season record lasted until the 1980s. What’s even more incredible is that he averaged 51.2 yards per reception on those touchdowns.

Eric Dickerson

4x First-Team All-Pro
3x NFL Rushing Leader
Most Rushing Yards in a season (2,105)
1983 NFL Offensive Player of the Year
1983 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
1980’s All-Decade Team

Dick Bass and Lawrence McCutcheon handled the running back duties in the ’60s and ’70s, but It wasn’t until 1983 in which another great Rams running back came through.  The Los Angeles Rams selected Eric Dickerson with the second overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, and the selection would turn out to be franchise changing.

Dickerson burst onto the scene as a rookie has he set rookie records for most rushing attempts (390), most rushing yards (1,808) and most rushing touchdowns (18) on his way to rookie of the year.

While his rookie year was great, it would be the 1984 season that everybody remembers. The second-year player rushed for an NFL record 2,105 yards. Twelve times in 1984 he gained more than 100 yards rushing, breaking the record of 100-yard games in a season held by O. J. Simpson.

In 1985, Dickerson missed the Pro Bowl and was not named All-Pro for the first time in his career, but he still managed to rush for 248 yards to lead the Rams to a playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Dickerson left the Rams after the 1987 season due to a contract dispute, but the team retired his No. 29, solidifying him as one of the franchise’s all-time greats.

The Rams never won or made a Super Bowl with Dickerson. The closest they got was the NFC Championship game in 1985 in which they ran into the greatest defense of all-time.

In 1984, the Rams were unable to overcome an early 10-point deficit in the first quarter as they lost, 16-13, to the New York Giants in the NFC Wildcard. Then, in 1986, it was six turnovers that doomed them against the Washington Redskins.

Jerome Bettis

1x First-Team All-Pro
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

After Dickerson left in 1987, it took the Rams just six years to find a great running back to take his place. With the 10th overall pick, the Rams selected Jerome Bettis. As a rookie, he flourished under Chuck Knox’s ground-oriented offense. Nicknamed “Battering Ram,” he rushed for 1,429 yards and tied the league lead with seven 100-yard rushing games, despite not becoming the full-time starter until the sixth game of the season. He was the only rookie to be named First-Team All-Pro.

When the team moved to St. Louis in 1995, Bettis was no longer a fit under new head coach Rich Brooks and traded to Pittsburgh.

Marshall Faulk

3x First-Team All-Pro
1x NFL MVP
3x NFL Offensive Player of the Year
2 Super Bowl Appearances
1x Super Bowl Champion
2000 Rushing Touchdowns Leader
Most Touchdowns in a season (26)
Most Yards from Scrimmage in a season (2,429)

In 1987 it was Eric Dickerson who went from the Rams to the Colts. Twelve years later in 1999, it was Marshall Faulk who went from the Colts to the Rams.

While Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt will get a lot of attention for the Greatest Show on Turf, Marshall Faulk may have been The Show’s X-factor. The offense ran with Faulk.

With the Rams, Faulk became one of the best dual-purpose running backs in NFL history. He totaled an NFL record 2,429 yards from scrimmage in 1999 – which was broken in 2009 by Chris Johnson – besting Barry Sanders‘ record.

With 1,381 yards rushing and 1,048 receiving yards, Faulk joined Roger Craig as the only players to total 1,000 or more yards in each category in a season. He also broke the NFL season record for most receiving yards by a running back, previously held by Lionel James.

Faulk was shut down in the Super Bowl to just 17 yards, but he still had an impact as he recorded 90-yards on five receptions.

In 2001, Faulk helped the Rams return to the Super Bowl once again as he carried the ball 260 times for a career-high 1,382 yards and caught 83 passes for 765 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. The Rams fell to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but Faulks 32 rushing yards and 29 receiving yards in the second half helped lead a second-half comeback that fell just short.

Like Dickerson, the Rams commemorated Faulk by retiring his number.

Todd Gurley

2x First-Team All-Pro
1x NFL Offensive Player of the Year
2x NFL Rushing Touchdowns Leader
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
1x Super Bowl Appearance

After Steven Jackson went to Atlanta to play with the Falcons, the Rams struggled to find his replacement. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead were drafted as potential replacements and then Zac Stacy and Tre Mason each had solid one-year stints.

The Rams put that to rest when they drafted Todd Gurley in 2015 with the 10th overall pick. Jeff Fisher eased the rookie in, but after just two yards in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals, be burst onto the scene with 144 yards in the second half as the Rams edged the Cardinals, 24–22.

After a sophomore slump in 2016, Gurley exploded under new head coach Sean McVay. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards in 2017 and had the Rams not sat him in Week 17; he could have won the NFL’s rushing title. Gurley also added 788 yards receiving with 19 touchdowns.

Last season, Gurley built on his 2017 season. He was on pace to best LaDainian Tomlinson‘s touchdown record early in the year and would have surpassed his previous career-high in rushing yards had he not injured his knee against the Philadelphia Eagles. Still, he scored 21 touchdowns as the Rams locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Gurley went on to rush for 115 yards against the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs to help lead the Rams to the Super Bowl. His knee injury limited him to just ten carries in the Super Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys

Moving on to the Cowboys, it all started with Tony Dorsett in the ’70s and ’80s. While he’s not mentioned, Herschel Walker was one of the NFL’s best running backs in 1988 when he rushed for over 1,500 yards. Walker was then the centerpiece of one of the largest trades in NFL History.

The Cowboys drafted Emmitt Smith in 1990 who ended up being arguably the greatest running back of all-time as he led the franchise to three Super Bowl titles. The team kept it going in the early 2010s with DeMarco Murray who won the league’s rushing title in 2014. That brings us to 2016 when the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott who has already won two rushing titles in his young career.

Tony Dorsett

1x First-Team All-Pro
1x Super Bowl Champion
2 Super Bowl Appearances
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

Dorsett was drafted second overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 1977 and made his presence felt right away, rushing for 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns. He led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl where he rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

Due to a strike-shortened season, Dorsett’s streak of five-straight 1,000-yard seasons came to an end. He would rush for nine 1,000-yard seasons in his career.

With Dorsett, the Cowboys made the playoffs in eight of his ten years with the team. He’s still the team’s second-highest leading rusher with a career 12,036 yards.

Emmit Smith

4x First-team All-Pro
NFL MVP
3x Super Bowl Champion
1x Super Bowl MVP
4x NFL Rushing Leader
4x NFL Rushing Touchdowns Leader
1980’s NFL All-Decade Team
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

The Dallas Cowboy hadn’t made the playoffs in four straight years before the 1990 season. When the team drafted Emmit Smith, the trajectory of the franchise shifted. The Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls in four years with Smith and would take their place back as “America’s Team.”

Despite a holdout, Smith rushed for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie.

In 1991 is when everything changed. Smith ran for 1,563 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to his first NFL rushing title. The Cowboys made their first playoff appearance in five years, but Smith was out-dueled by Barry Sanders as the Detroit Lions got the win.

The Cowboys went on to win their first of three Super Bowls with Smith in 1992. Behind Smith’s MVP season in 1993, the Cowboys won their second title as Smith won Super Bowl MVP after rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.

A third Super Bowl in 1995 secured the dynasty, but the Cowboys would advance past the wild card round just once afterward.

With 1,021 rushing yards in 2001, Smith became the first player in NFL history with 11 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and the first to post eleven 1,000-yard rushing seasons in a career.

Ezekiel Elliott

1x First-Team All-Pro
2x NFL Rushing Leader

Elliott proved right away that he was the most complete running back to come out of the draft in a decade after a stellar rookie season in which he led the NFL in rushing and was named First-Team All-Pro. With Elliott, the Cowboys won 13 games in 2016, their most since 2007. In his first career playoff game, he ran 22 times for 125 yards in a loss to the Green Bay Packers.

He missed much of 2017 due to a suspension but picked up where he left off in 2018. With another 300+ carries, Elliott led the league in rushing with 1,434 yards. He then helped the Cowboys to a playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks as he ran the ball 26 times for 137 yards and a touchdown in the 24–22 victory.

Conclusion

Totals

Rams

12x First-Team All-Pro
1x NFL Champion
1x Super Bowl Champion
3 Super Bowl Appearances
1x NFL Receiving Yards Leader
3x NFL Rushing Leader
3x Rushing Touchdowns Leader
1x NFL MVP
5x Offensive Player of the Year
3x Offensive Rookie of the Year
1950’s All-Decade Team
1980’s All-Decade Team
NFL all-time All-Pro Team
Most Rushing Yards in a season (2,105)
Most Touchdowns in a season (26)
Most Yards from Scrimmage in a season (2,429)

Cowboys

6x First-Team All-Pro
4x Super Bowl Champion
5 Super Bowl Appearances
1x Super Bowl MVP
1x NFL MVP
2x NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
6x NFL Rushing Leader
4x NFL Rushing Touchdowns Leader
1980’s NFL All-Decade Team

When it comes to the Rams and Cowboys running backs, the biggest thing that the Cowboys have going for them is championships. In total, the Cowboys running backs have five Super Bowl appearances, and four Super Bowl wins compared to the Rams’ two appearances and one championship.

However, outside of that, the debate is mostly one-sided. The Cowboys have Emmit Smith who is without question the greatest running back to play the game. But he has four of the team’s six First-Team All-Pro awards, three of their Super Bowls, their MVP, and four of their rushing titles.

If you take Faulk and Smith and put them head-to-head, the edge undoubtedly goes to Smith. However, if you put Dickerson against Dorsett, Dickerson probably gets the edge and the same with Gurley against Elliott given Gurley’s Super Bowl appearance and head-to-head win in the playoffs.

Another edge that goes to Dallas is that they have two-10,000 yard rushers in their history while the Rams have one – Steven Jackson who wasn’t mentioned on this list. However, Dickerson totaled 13,000 rushing yards in his career and Faulk 12,000. Dickerson played just five years with the Rams before being traded while Faulk played seven with the Rams after being traded from the Colts.

There is without a question that these are two of the more storied franchises when it comes to the running back position. However, it is the Rams, not the Cowboys, who have the better all-time group.

 

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