Auburn Football: Top 10 NFL Running Backs from the Plains


Here we take a look at former Auburn running backs in the NFL and rank them from a top 10. 

Breakout rushing seasons in 2016 from Auburn running backs Kamryn Pettway — 1224 yards and seven touchdowns — and Kerryon Johnson — 895 yards and 11 touchdowns — bode well for the tradition of the Tigers providing running backs to the National Football League.

There are currently three NFL running backs from Auburn — Peyton Barber of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cameron Artis-Payne of the Carolina Panthers and Corey Grant of the Jacksonville Jaguars. While none of them were the primary runners for the teams this past season, Grant raised eyebrows with his 18 carries for 122 yards and a score in the last game of the season.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Auburn
All of this has us thinking about the best NFL careers for Auburn running backs in the past. Here is our list of the top 10, based on total yards rushing, with a few exceptions. And the list is based solely on their NFL careers, not their performance on the Plains. The teams listed are the ones the running back primarily played for: /

"Cam Newton would rank in the Top 10 of Auburn running back careers in the NFL — if he was a running back."

10. Lionel James, San Diego Chargers, 1984-1988: Drafted in the fifth round in 1984, James had a record-breaking year in 1985, which garners him a spot on the list.  Lionel “Train” James rushed for 516 yards on 105 careers, but he also caught 86 passes for 1027 yards — then an NFL record — and set an NFL all-purpose yardage record with another 779 yards in kick returns and 213 yards in punt returns. All total, that was more than 2500 yards from scrimmage for James. For his career, he rushed for 1062 yards.

9. Joe Childress, St. Louis Cardinals, 1956-1965: Childress was a starter on some of Shug Jordan’s early teams, and he had a productive 10-year career in the NFL. His past year came in 1963 for the Cardinals, when he rushed for 701 yards on 174 carries and had an additional 354 yards in receiving. Childress finished his NFL career with 2210 rushing yards and 1710 receiving yards.

8. Bo Jackson, Oakland Raiders, 1987-1990: Based on average yards per carry, Bo would be No. 1 on this list. But his career was cut short by his hip injury in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and his stats were also hurt by missing the first month of the NFL season every year to finish playing baseball with the Kansas City Royals. His best year was in 1989, when he had 950 yards on 173 carries. For his career, he finished with 2782 rushing yards.

7. Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2005-2011: A member of the undefeated 2004 Tigers team, Cadillac’s best year in the NFL was his first. In 2005, he rushed for 1178 yards on 290 carries. Injuries cut short his career, but he did finish with 4048 total rushing yards in the NFL.

6. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins, 2005-2014: Brown was Cadillac’s backfield partner on the undefeated 2004 team, and like Cadillac was drafted in the first round. His best year was in 2006 when he rushed for 1008 yards on 241 carries, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2008 when he rushed for 916 yards. Brown finished his career with 5391 total rushing yards.

5. Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals, 2001-2008: Johnson played just one year for Auburn, and he primarily rode the bench his first two years in the NFL. But when he got his chance, he put together three seasons with more than 1300 rushing yards. His best year came in 2005 when he had 337 carries for 1458 yards and 12 TDs. Johnson finished his career with 5979 total rushing yards.

4. William Andrews, Atlanta Falcons, 1979-1986: Andrews shared the 1978 backfield at Auburn with Joe Cribbs and James Brooks. He got his chance to shine in the NFL. A four-time Pro Bowler, Andrews had his best year in 1983 when he has 331 carries for 1567 yards and seven TDs. That same year, he also caught 59 passes for 609 yards and another four TDs. Injuries cut short what would have been a Hall of Fame career for the Thomasville, Georgia, product. Nevertheless, he finished with 5986 total rushing yards.

3. James Brooks, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals, 1981-1992: Brooks exploded once he left San Diego for Cincinnati, putting up three 1000-yard seasons and four appearances in the Pro Bowl. He’s also the only Auburn running back to appear in a Super Bowl. His best rushing year was in 1989 when he ran 221 times for 1239 yards and seven TDs. He finished his career with 7962 total rushing yards.

2. Joe Cribbs, Buffalo Bills, 1980-1988: We’re putting Cribbs ahead of Brooks because we’re including his monster stats from his two years in the USFL with the Birmingham Stallions. Cribbs rushed for more than 1000 yards in three of his first four NFL seasons, but his best year was in 1984 for the Stallions when he led the USFL in rushing with 1467 yards. Cribbs finished his career with 5356 total rushing yards in the NFL and 2514 total yards in the USFL.

1. Stephen Davis, Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers, 1996-2006: Davis had more than 1300 yards rushing in four different NFL seasons, including 1405 yards rushing and a whopping 17 TDs in 1999 He finished his career with 8052 total rushing yards.

Next: Where Are They Now: Former Forward Kenny Gabriel

Just missing out on making this list were Ben Tate, who primarily played with the Houston Texans, and Brent Fullwood, who primarily played with the Green Bay Packers.

And if you were wondering, Cam Newton’s 3566 total rushing yards in his fist six NFL seasons would rank him ahead of Bo and just behind Cadillac.