Top Five Running Backs in Dallas Cowboys History
A couple of weeks ago, I published my list of the five best quarterbacks in the history of the Dallas Cowboys. Many of you were surprised to see Tony Romo at No. 3 on that list, but he’s earned it.
Like Cowboys quarterbacks, the list of the top running backs in team history is dominated by two players: Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett. I list them here because it’s really no spoiler. When you think Cowboys running backs, you think Smith and TD. Actually, I think those two players have done so much for the position that people forget how mediocre some of the other backs in team history have been. . .
5. Don Perkins
Perkins played eight seasons in Dallas and totaled 6,217 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns. He averaged only 4.1 yards-per-carry during his time in Big D, but he certainly played in a different era (1961-1967). Some forget that Perkins also transitioned from tailback to fullback in the second half of his career.
4. Marion Barber
Barber at No.4!? Well, take a look at some of the other running backs the Cowboys have put on the field over the years and tell me who should surpass Barber. He has 4,109 rushing yards to date and has already totaled 50 touchdowns. His career may be on the down, but he was certainly exciting to watch for a few years.
3. Calvin Hill
Hill played just six seasons in Dallas but ran for 5,009 yards and 39 touchdowns. His 4.3 yards-per-attempt is second-best of anyone on this list (behind only Tony Dorsett).
2. Tony Dorsett
The Heisman Trophy winner averaged just shy of 1,100 yards rushing and eight total touchdowns per season over his 11-year Cowboys career. He averaged an impressive 4.4 yards-per-rush over that time, and he reached 1,000 yards in every season except the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. He’s ranked No. 53 on The Sporting News’ list of the top 100 players of all-time.
Then there’s this. . .
1. Emmitt Smith
The numbers are insane. 18,355 career rushing yards. 164 career rushing touchdowns. 3,224 career receiving yards.
Here are highlights from Smith’s career and what I had to say about Emmitt in a segment of out “22 in 22” Tribute Series to Smith.
Emmitt Smith is one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, yet I can envision that, 50 years down the line, people will not consider him as such. He rarely cracks people’s lists of the top three running backs of all-time (or even the top five, for that matter). I don’t even know of a person who considers the NFL’s all-time leading rusher to be the league’s best ever running back.
The problem (for others, not for Emmitt) is that Smith wasn’t flashy. He wasn’t big. He wasn’t tremendously fast. He wasn’t even very charismatic off of the field.
Instead, Emmitt possessed the “boring” qualities of running backs (but ones that are just as vital as those above, if not more so): great vision, incredible balance, and remarkable short area quickness. Of course, there’s also the off-field characteristics, such as determination, but I want to focus on why Emmitt’s on-field play was truly under-appreciated.
Fast forward to the nine second mark in the above video. See the move Emmitt made? You may have actually missed it. That quick juke isn’t the flashy, in-your-face Barry Sanders-esque sort of move, but it was probably even more effective. That’s a move that can’t be taught. It was instinctual.
Now forward to 35 seconds. That play, more than any other I can remember, perfectly exemplifies Smith’s incredible sense of balance. To this day, I have not seen a running back that could have stayed on his feet after absorbing that hit. Except Emmitt.
Now move to 2:58 into the video. I don’t have much to say about that juke, other than it is one of the best I have ever witnessed.
Finally, forward to 3:27 for a series of astounding plays. Emmitt had one of the most devastatingly effective stiff arms I’ve seen. It wasn’t a reckless punch, but rather a controlled, precise jab straight to his target.
Two stiff arms are followed by a play, at the 3:42 mark, where Emmitt again displayed his out-of-this-world balance. If it doesn’t appear that difficult, that’s because he was that good. The best make it look easy. Emmitt made it appear as child’s play.