Best Running Backs in Arizona Cardinals History

Updated on April 25, 2020
The Arizona Cardinals franchise has seen its fair share of standout running backs on the sidelines throughout its 100-year history. Included in the top 10 of all-time are several versatile and dynamic runners.
The Arizona Cardinals franchise has seen its fair share of standout running backs on the sidelines throughout its 100-year history. Included in the top 10 of all-time are several versatile and dynamic runners. | Source

Who Are the Greatest Arizona Cardinals Running Backs of All-Time?

The Arizona Cardinals have had a strong helping of superior running backs throughout their 100-year history. While the cities have changed (Chicago from 1920–1959; St. Louis from 1960–1987; Phoenix from 1988–1993; and Arizona from 1996–present), more often than not, the Cardinals have had an above-average running back in the starting lineup. While they've never employed a runner so esteemed that he is remembered in the upper echelon of the National Football League history, a handful of Hall of Famers have passed through the franchise and several others showed flashes of brilliance in short careers.

Selection Criteria for This List

With so many running backs who finished with similar career accomplishments, creating this list became fairly difficult—but nevertheless, what follows is a list of the 10 greatest Cardinals running backs of all-time. Also included is a handful of honorable-mention candidates and statistics from every 1,000-yard rushing season in team history. The criteria used to develop this list includes:

  • Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor, retired number, etc.)
  • Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Pro, Pro Bowl, etc.)
  • On-Field Success (league leader, playoff appearances, records, etc.)
  • Longevity (years with the Cardinals, percentage of career with the Cardinals, etc.)
  • Versatility (rushing ability, receiving ability, returning ability, etc.)

Only games played with the Cardinals are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith would be a great player to include on a list about the Dallas Cowboys, his 2 seasons in Arizona with 1,193 yards won't place him in the top 10 here. Now, without further ado, let's count down the top 10 running backs in Arizona Cardinals history! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these selections in the comments.

Former Chicago and St. Louis Cardinals running back, John David Crow, is seen in 2012, when he was honored by his alma mater, Texas A&M University.
Former Chicago and St. Louis Cardinals running back, John David Crow, is seen in 2012, when he was honored by his alma mater, Texas A&M University. | Source

10. John David Crow

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1958–64
  • All-Pro: 1959–60, '62
  • Pro Bowl: 1959–60, '62
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1960s All-Decade Team

John David Crow came to the Chicago Cardinals as a decorated college player with high expectations for success in the NFL. After winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M, the Cardinals made him the second pick in the 1958 NFL Draft, and he rewarded their confidence with seven strong seasons. By his third season in the league, he became the first running back in franchise history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season. His 1,071 yards in 1960 still ranks 10th all-time in Cardinals history, and Crow led the league that season by averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

In 1962, Crow recorded a career-high 14 touchdowns. Not only did he finish second in the league, he also became the first player in team history to record at least 10 touchdowns in a season, and his mark remained the team record until 2016. Crow missed most of the 1963 season, but bounced back nicely in 1964, his final season with the franchise. Over his seven seasons, Crow carried the ball 787 times for 3,489 yards and 33 touchdowns, while adding 138 receptions for 1,961 yards and 17 touchdowns. He closed out his career with four seasons in San Francisco.

John David Crow's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1958
7
6
52
221
2
20
362
3
1959
12
11
140
666
3
27
328
4
1960
12
12
183
1071
6
25
462
3
1961
8
7
48
192
1
20
306
3
1962
14
14
192
751
14
23
246
3
1963
3
0
9
34
0
0
0
0
1964
13
11
163
554
7
23
257
1
Arizona Cardinals running back, David Johnson (31), celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of a 2019 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at State Farm Stadium.
Arizona Cardinals running back, David Johnson (31), celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of a 2019 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at State Farm Stadium. | Source

9. David Johnson

  • Years With the Cardinals: 2015–19
  • Playoff Appearances: 2015
  • All-Pro: 2016
  • Pro Bowl: 2016

When David Johnson has been healthy, he proved to be one of the best running backs in football while with the Arizona Cardinals. Multiple health setbacks during his brief career, however, prevented him from showing his true greatness. Johnson came running out of the gates after being taken as a third-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, picking up 1,038 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. He then broke out in a big way during his second season, setting a new franchise record by rushing for 16 touchdowns, and leading the NFL with 2,118 offensive yards. Johnson gained at least 100 yards in 15 straight games, tying an NFL record first set by Detroit Lions Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.

Johnson was beset by a fractured wrist in the opening game of the 2017 season, but even after missing that entire year, he returned to form in 2018, with 1,396 yards from scrimmage. In 2019, he was unable to play the entire season, and was traded to the Houston Texans in March 2020. In five seasons, Johnson gained 3,128 yards and 33 touchdowns on 781 carries, while adding 208 receptions for 2,219 yards and 15 touchdowns. Johnson fell just 14 rushing touchdowns short of becoming the all-time franchise career leader.

David Johnson's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
2015
16
5
125
581
8
36
457
4
2016
16
16
293
1239
16
80
879
4
2017
1
1
11
23
0
6
67
0
2018
16
16
258
940
7
50
446
3
2019
13
9
94
345
2
36
370
4

8. Terry Metcalf

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1973–77
  • Playoff Appearances: 1974–75
  • All-Pro: 1975
  • Pro Bowl: 1974–75, '77

Terrance "Terry" Metcalf was a threat all over the football field during his brief, but wildly successful career. He only spent five seasons with the Cardinals, but in that time he proved to be a worthy running back, receiver, and return specialist. In 1975, Metcalf established a new NFL record for single-season all-purpose yardage (2,462), which included 960 yards on kick returns and 816 rushing yards. His record stood until 1985, but remains the high mark for a 14-game season. Metcalf also gained more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in 1974 and '77 to become the first player to do so in three seasons.

Metcalf had the rare ability to run with force inside the tackles and run with grace outside of the tackles. What caught up with him, however, was his troubles with fumbles—he twice led the league and dropped the ball at least 10 times in 3 seasons. Those fumbles were a sticking point in a contract dispute between Metcalf and the Cardinals, which left him signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Because the field is wider in the CFL, it was thought that Metcalf would become one of that league's best players, but he never gained more than 700 rushing yards in a season. Throughout his Cardinals career, Metcalf gained 3,438 yards and 24 touchdowns on 748 carries, while adding 245 receptions for 2,457 yards and 9 touchdowns. In the return game, he added another 3,725 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Terry Metcalf's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1973
12
10
148
628
2
37
316
0
1974
14
13
152
718
6
50
377
1
1975
13
13
165
816
9
43
378
2
1976
12
12
134
537
3
33
388
4
1977
14
11
149
739
4
34
403
2

7. Larry Centers

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1990–98
  • Playoff Appearances: 1998
  • All-Pro: 1996
  • Pro Bowl: 1995–96

Larry Centers (1990–98) redefined the fullback position during his time with the Arizona Cardinals. Most of his damage, however, came in the receiving game. After being selected in the fifth round of the 1990 NFL Draft, Centers saw sparse playing time over his first three seasons, but his role did increase each season. It wasn't until 1994 that he found his niche under a new head coach, and had his first of three straight seasons with at least 980 offensive yards. In 1995, Centers became the first running back to catch 100 passes in a season and held that record (101) until 2014.

When he left the Cardinals after the 1998 season, he had run the ball 517 times for 1,736 yards and 10 touchdowns, while hauling in 535 passes for 4,539 yards and 19 touchdowns. At the time, he held the franchise record for receptions, and he still has the most career receptions in NFL history among running backs.

Larry Center's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1990
6
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1991
9
2
14
44
0
19
176
0
1992
16
1
37
139
0
50
417
2
1993
16
9
25
152
0
66
603
3
1994
16
5
115
336
5
77
647
2
1995
16
10
78
254
2
101
962
2
1996
16
14
116
425
2
99
766
7
1997
15
14
101
276
1
54
409
1
1998
16
12
31
110
0
69
559
2
Former Chicago Cardinals running back, Elmer Angsman, is pictured on his 1951 Bowman football card.
Former Chicago Cardinals running back, Elmer Angsman, is pictured on his 1951 Bowman football card. | Source

6. Elmer Angsman

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1946–52
  • Playoff Appearances: 1947–48
  • Pro Bowl: 1950

The 1947 Chicago Cardinals were built to be a championship contender, and Elmer Angsman made sure that became reality when he laced up his spikes for that year's NFL Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Angsman dashed down the field for a pair of 70-yard touchdowns, and had 159 yards in the game—a 28–21 victory that still stands as the last championship in Cardinals history. Angsman gained those yards on just 10 carries, and his average of 15.9 yards per attempt still stands as a single-game postseason record among rushers with at least 10 carries. When he was selected in the third round of the 1946 NFL Draft at 20 years old, Angsman was the youngest player to be drafted into the league, and starting with his second season, he rushed at least 100 times for 5 straight seasons in a crowded backfield.

He ran for more than 600 yards in both 1948 and '49, but then saw his production drop the next two seasons. Angsman was replaced as a primary rusher in 1952 by rookie Ollie Matson, who was beginning his Hall of Fame career, and Angsman retired after the season. Throughout his 7 seasons, Angsman carried the ball 683 times for 2,908 yards and 27 touchdowns, while adding 41 catches for 654 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was known as a fearless runner, and according to his obituary, he once finished a game after having eight teeth knocked out.

Elmer Angsman's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1946
11
5
48
328
2
2
44
0
1947
12
1
110
412
7
5
138
1
1948
12
8
131
638
8
9
142
1
1949
12
12
125
674
6
5
57
0
1950*
12
12
102
362
1
7
56
1
1951
12
12
121
380
3
9
195
1
1952
12
2
46
114
0
4
22
1
Former St. Louis Cardinals running back and New York Jets running backs coach, Stump Mitchell, watches his team in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos in 2017 game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
Former St. Louis Cardinals running back and New York Jets running backs coach, Stump Mitchell, watches his team in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos in 2017 game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. | Source

5. "Stump" Mitchell

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1981–89
  • Playoff Appearances: 1982

The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Lyvonia "Stump" Mitchell as a ninth-round selection in the 1981 NFL Draft, and got much more out of that investment than they could have expected. Mitchell developed into a well-rounded football player, who left the Cardinals as the franchise's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage. Out of the gates as a rookie, Mitchell was an electrifying kick returner. He later developed into a fierce straight-line runner and eventually embodied the heart and soul of the franchise. Then, in one violent collision with the New York Giants defense—everything was over. In Week 3 of the 1989 season, Mitchell took a vicious blow to his left knee that ended his season, and the Cardinals elected to released him before the 1990 campaign began.

As a rookie, Mitchell led the NFL with 1,292 kick return yards, and his primary role continued to be as a punt and kick returner through the 1984 season, though he did have a career-high 11 offensive touchdowns in '84. A year later, he broke out as a rusher, gaining more than 1,000 yards for the only time in his career. He'd have at least 900 yards from scrimmage each of the next three seasons, and was on pace for another strong year in 1989. By the end of his career, he had carried the ball 986 times for 4,649 yards and 32 touchdowns, and also had 209 receptions for 1,955 yards and 9 touchdowns. In the return game, he gained 5,384 yards and had another touchdown.

"Stump" Mitchell's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1981
16
0
31
175
0
6
35
1
1982
9
1
39
189
1
11
149
0
1983
15
1
68
373
3
7
54
0
1984
16
1
81
434
9
26
318
2
1985
16
8
183
1006
7
47
502
3
1986
15
13
174
800
5
41
276
0
1987
12
12
203
781
3
45
397
2
1988
14
14
164
726
4
25
214
1
1989
3
3
43
165
0
1
10
0
Former St. Louis Cardinals running back, Ottis Anderson, is pictured on the red carpet prior to the 2016 NFL Honors award ceremony at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.
Former St. Louis Cardinals running back, Ottis Anderson, is pictured on the red carpet prior to the 2016 NFL Honors award ceremony at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. | Source

4. Ottis Anderson

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1979–86
  • Playoff Appearances: 1982
  • All-Pro: 1979–80
  • Pro Bowl: 1979–80
  • Major Awards: Offensive Rookie of the Year (1979)

Statistically, Ottis Anderson owns multiple records for the Arizona Cardinals, and deserves mention among the greatest running backs in franchise history. The team's all-time leading career rusher (7,999 yards and 46 touchdowns), as well as the owner of Arizona's top 4 single-season rushing efforts, Anderson carved out a place in Cardinals history before making plays in the Super Bowl for the New York Giants. He burst onto the scene with one of the finest rookie seasons ever from a running back, obliterating the franchise record for single-season rushing (Anderson's 1,605 easily bested Jim Otis' 1,076 yards from 1976) with a mark that's yet to be broken. Anderson ran for 193 yards in his debut, falling 2 yards shy of breaking an NFL record and setting a career-high that he'd never surpass. It was also the first of 34 games with the Cardinals in which he'd run for at least 100 yards.

Anderson rushed for more than 1,000 yards and had more than 1,600 yards of offense in 5 of his first 6 seasons—the lone exception came during the strike-shortened 1982 season, when he was on pace to easily do so again had the league played 16 games. He missed half of the 1985 season, however, opening the door for Stump Mitchell to snatch the role of primary ball carrier. In the middle of the 1986 season, Anderson was traded to the New York Giants, where he would eventually be rejuvenated and win a Super Bowl MVP trophy. And while that is what most fans generally remember him for, it was his years with the Cardinals that were his best. He racked up those 7,999 yards and 46 touchdowns on a franchise career record 1,858 carries, while also adding 299 receptions for 2,150 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Ottis Anderson's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1979
16
16
331
1605
8
41
308
2
1980
16
16
301
1352
9
36
308
0
1981
16
16
328
1376
9
51
387
0
1982
8
8
145
587
3
14
106
0
1983
15
15
296
1270
5
54
459
1
1984
15
15
289
1174
6
70
611
2
1985
9
8
117
479
4
23
225
0
1986
4
3
51
156
2
10
91
0
Ernie Nevers was a dominating force in three seasons with the Chicago Cardinals, and was selected as a first-team All-Pro each season from 1929–31.
Ernie Nevers was a dominating force in three seasons with the Chicago Cardinals, and was selected as a first-team All-Pro each season from 1929–31. | Source

3. Ernie Nevers

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1929–31
  • All-Pro: 1929–31
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (1963), Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor, NFL 1920s All-Decade Team

Ernest "Ernie" Nevers played in a different era of the NFL, and as such, he was much more than a running back. That versatility placed him among the greatest football players of his time, but he had three seasons with the Chicago Cardinals that brought plenty of excitement to the budding franchise. After playing with the Duluth Eskimos in 1926 and '27, Nevers took a shot at a career in Major League Baseball with the St. Louis Browns. He'd ultimately return to the NFL in 1929 with Cardinals, and throughout the season, he often scored all of Chicago's points since he doubled as the kicker. That included the legendary game on November 28, when he scored all 40 of the Cardinals' points against the Chicago Bears—setting an NFL record that likely will never be broken.

Nevers was selected as the consensus first-team All-Pro at fullback each season with the Cardinals, and also doubled as head coach in 1930 and '31. In each of the last two games of his career, Nevers had two rushing touchdowns in a pair of victories, helping finish his Cardinals career with 199 points. In 1931, Nevers was tied for second in a vote of the greatest football player of all-time. He was injured during a charity game in January 1932 and retired before the NFL season began. In 1963, he was inducted as a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ernie Nevers' Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush TD
XPM
FGM
Pts
1929
11
10
12
10
1
85
1930
11
8
6
9
1
48
1931
9
9
8
15
1
66

2. Ollie Matson

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1952, 1954–58
  • All-Pro: 1952, 1954–58
  • Pro Bowl: 1952, 1954–58
  • Awards: Co-Rookie of the Year (1952)
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (1972), Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor, NFL 1950s All-Decade Team

No one was questioning the speed of Oliver "Ollie" Matson when he was taken with the third selection in the 1952 NFL Draft. After leading the nation in yards as a senior in college, no one was questioning his football skills either. Matson came to the Chicago Cardinals the same year he won a pair of track and field Olympic medals in Helsinki, and that blazing speed was on full display his first season when he shared Rookie of the Year honors with Hugh Elhenney of the San Francisco 49ers. Just four years removed from back-to-back appearances in the NFL Championship game, the Cardinals were looking to Matson to bring them back to relevance after a 3–9 finish in 1951.

Matson—who did not play in 1953 as served in the Army—did his part every season for the Cardinals, but the collective unit had just one winning season during his tenure (a 7–5 finish in 1956). Matson never rushed for 1,000 yards in any season, but because he was so adept at catching passes, he was able to surpass 1,000 yards of offense in half of his 6 seasons. His 924 yards in 1956 briefly stood as a single-season franchise record. Then, in a famed trade before the 1959 season, Matson was sent to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for eight players and one draft pick. That left Matson with 761 rushing attempts for 3,331 yards and 24 touchdowns, as well as 130 catches for 2,150 yards and another 16 touchdowns in his time with the Cardinals.

Ollie Matson's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1952
12
7
96
344
3
11
187
3
1954
12
8
101
506
4
34
611
3
1955
12
12
109
475
1
17
237
2
1956
12
12
192
924
5
15
199
2
1957
12
11
134
577
6
20
451
3
1958
12
12
129
505
5
33
465
3
Former Chicago Cardinals running back, Charley Trippi, is pictured on his 1954 Bowman football card.
Former Chicago Cardinals running back, Charley Trippi, is pictured on his 1954 Bowman football card. | Source

1. Charley Trippi

  • Years With the Cardinals: 1947–55
  • Playoff Appearances: 1947–48
  • All-Pro: 1947–48, '52
  • Pro Bowl: 1952–53
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (1968), Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor, NFL 1940s All-Decade Team

Not only was Charles "Charley" Trippi the greatest running back ever to suit up for the Cardinals, he also was a solid receiver, quarterback, punter, returner, and defender. Trippi was the final piece of the "Million-Dollar Backfield" that helped the Chicago Cardinals claim the 1947 NFL championship and make another appearance in the 1948 title game. He is also the only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with at least 1,000 career rushing, receiving, and passing yards. That versatility helped him retire as the NFL's all-time leader in offensive yardage (6,053) through 1955.

Trippi was courted by numerous teams—both in football and Major League Baseball—and he nearly signed a dual-sport contract with the New York Yanks of the budding All-America Football Conference and the New York Yankees of MLB. But long-time Cardinals owner Charles Bidwell presented a four-year offer worth $100,000 that lured Trippi to the NFL and paid dividends for the franchise. Trippi had 206 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns as the Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles for the 1947 NFL championship, and he then led the NFL in all-purpose yards the next 2 seasons.

By 1951, Trippi began to show just how versatile he was. In 1951 and '52, he served as the Cardinals quarterback, but still ran the ball with regularly—gaining a combined 851 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground those seasons. He returned to running back in 1953, when he oddly did not score a rushing touchdown, and then became a defensive back for the 1954 season. He also served as the primary punter in both of those seasons. A preseason injury in 1955 limited his playing time that season and ultimately ended his career. His rushing totals showed 687 carries for 3,506 yards and 23 touchdowns. Additional stats from his career included:

  • Receiving: 130 catches for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns
  • Passing: 205 of 434 for 2,547 yards and 16 touchdowns
  • Punting: 196 punts at an average of 40.3 yards per punt
  • Return man: 2,321 yards
  • Defense: 4 interceptions, including a touchdown as a rookie

At age 98, Trippi is the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame and one of the oldest living professional football players.

Charley Trippi's Statistics With the Cardinals

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1947
11
9
83
401
2
23
240
0
1948
12
11
128
690
6
22
228
2
1949
12
12
112
553
3
34
412
6
1950
12
11
99
426
3
32
270
1
1951
12
7
78
501
4
0
0
0
1952
11
10
72
350
4
5
66
0
1953
12
11
97
433
0
11
87
2
1954
12
5
18
152
1
3
18
0
1955
5
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Former St. Louis Cardinals running back, Jim Otis (right), is inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony in 2005.
Former St. Louis Cardinals running back, Jim Otis (right), is inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony in 2005. | Source

Honorable Mentions

Though most of the best running backs in Cardinals history were featured above, listed below are several players who left an indelible mark on team history, but didn't quite make the top 10.

Johnny Roland (1966–72)

Johnny Roland retired as the leading rusher in franchise history after a seven-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1966, United Press International named him Rookie of the Year (the Associated Press began handing out its prestigious Rookie of the Year award in 1967), and he made his first of two Pro Bowls. Roland posted career-highs with 876 rushing yards and 11 offensive touchdowns in 1967. After Roland's tenure with the Cardinals ended, he had gained 3,608 yards and 27 touchdowns on 962 carries, while adding 1,240 yards and 5 touchdowns on 131 receptions.

Jim Otis (1973–78)

James "Jim" Otis played the final six seasons of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he brought them plenty of production in 1975. That year, he made his only Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,076 yards to narrowly win the National Football Conference rushing title. Otis finished his career with the Cardinals with 1,011 carries for 3,863 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Pat Harder (1946–50)

Marlin "Pat" Harder was the league's leading scorer from 1947–49, when he doubled as a member of the "Million-Dollar Backfield" and the Cardinals' primary kicker. His efforts in 1948 landed him the league's Most Valuable Player trophy, and he was also an All-Pro every season he played for the Cardinals. Harder rushed 550 times for 2,371 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Marshall Goldberg (1939–43, 1946–48)

Though he is most known for his offensive exploits at the University of Pittsburgh, Marshall Goldberg did his fair share of damage for the Chicago Cardinals, too. He ultimately became a standout defensive player in the NFL, but also helped on the offensive end in the early years of his career. Two years of his career were lost to military service, but he carried the ball 476 times for 1,644 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also catching 60 passes for 775 yards and 5 touchdowns. Defensively, he had a decisive interception during the 1947 NFL Championship game, which the Cardinals won over the Philadelphia Eagles, 28–21.

Arizona Cardinals running back, Kenyan Drake, dives over San Francisco 49ers cornerback, Richard Sherman, to score a touchdown in a 2019 game at State Farm Stadium. Drake has the potential to be the next great running back for the Cardinals.
Arizona Cardinals running back, Kenyan Drake, dives over San Francisco 49ers cornerback, Richard Sherman, to score a touchdown in a 2019 game at State Farm Stadium. Drake has the potential to be the next great running back for the Cardinals. | Source

Arizona Cardinals Running Back History

The Arizona Cardinals have had 39 players throughout their 100-year history rush for at least 10 touchdowns in their career, and 20 players who have rushed for at least 2,000 career yards. A handful of other facts and trivia about Arizona Cardinals running backs follow.

What Was the "Million-Dollar Backfield?"

Chicago Cardinals owner Charles Bidwell desperately wanted an NFL championship after having nothing to show off after owning the team for 14 seasons. He figured bolstering his offense with some of the best rushing talent would be a good starting point, so he strategically drafted a few players, then handed out a lucrative contract to create the "Million-Dollar Backfield."

In 1945, Jimmy Conzelman was hired as head coach of the Cardinals, and he implemented the run-heavy "T" formation on offense. That same year, he drafted quarterback Paul Christman to manage the offense, and added fullback Pat Harder and halfback Elmer Angsman to the picture in 1946. At the same time, the All-America Football Conference was established as a competitor to the NFL, and the new Chicago Rockets left the city with three professional football teams. Bidwell vowed that his Cardinals wouldn't be the worst of the bunch, and promptly outbid the Rockets in 1947 for the services of running Charley Trippi. Trippi was given an unprecedented 4-year, $100,000 contract to come to the Cardinals and complete the "Million-Dollar Backfield."

Bidwell, however, would never see the fruits of his investment. He died shortly after signing Trippi. The Cardinals became one of the best teams in the league in 1947, and beat the Chicago Bears in the season finale to finish the regular season at 9–3 and advance to the NFL Championship game. In that meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles, Trippi opened the scoring with a 44-yard run in the first quarter, and Angsman scored on a pair of 70-yard dashes. Trippi added a punt return for a touchdown, and Harder got in the mix with four extra-point kicks in Chicago's 28–21 victory that remains the franchise's last championship. The teams had a rematch for the 1948 title, but extremely snowy conditions left a low-scoring 7–0 win for the Eagles in the first televised NFL Championship game.

How Many Cardinals Running Backs Have Rushed for 1,000 Yards in a Season?

The Arizona Cardinals have 10 players who have rushed for at least 1,000 yards in a season. Ottis Anderson had the most, recording five such seasons.

Who Is the Current Starting Running Back for the Arizona Cardinals?

The incumbent starting running back for the Arizona Cardinals, David Johnson, was traded in the offseason. Kenyan Drake is expected to become the starter for 2020, and the Cardinals drafted Eno Benjamin in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

What is the Longest Rushing Play in Arizona Cardinals History?

John David Crow scored on an 83-yard touchdown run on October 4, 1958, which is the longest rushing play in Arizona Cardinals history. Ollie Matson holds the record for the longest non-scoring rushing play, scampering 79 yards twice in his career without reaching the end zone.

How Many Running Backs Have the Arizona Cardinals Drafted in the First Round?

The Arizona Cardinals have selected 18 running backs in the first round of the NFL Draft.

  • 2009: Chris "Beanie" Wells (No. 31)
  • 2000: Thomas Jones (No. 7)
  • 1993: Garrison Hearst (No. 3)
  • 1979: Ottis Anderson (No. 8)
  • 1970: Larry Stegent (No. 8)
  • 1968: MacArthur Lane (No. 13)
  • 1956: Joe Childress (No. 7)
  • 1953: Johnny Olszewski (No. 4)
  • 1952: Ollie Matson (No. 3)
  • 1948: Jim Spavital (No. 11)
  • 1946: Dub Jones (No. 2)
  • 1945: Charley Trippi (No. 1)
  • 1944: Pat Harder (No. 2)
  • 1942: Steve Lach (No. 4)
  • 1941: John Kimbrough (No. 2)
  • 1940: George Cafego (No. 1)
  • 1938: Jack Robbins (No. 5)
  • 1936: Jimmy Lawrence (No. 5)

Arizona Cardinals Rushing Records

Listed below are the franchise's rushing records, as well as a list of every 1,000-yard rushing season in Arizona's history.

  • Career Yards: 7,999, Ottis Anderson (1979–86)
  • Single-Season Yards: 1,605, Anderson (1979)
  • Single-Game Yards: 228, Beanie Wells (November 27, 2011)
  • Single-Season Touchdowns: 16, David Johnson (2016)
  • Career Touchdowns: 46, Anderson (1979–86)
  • Single-Game Touchdowns: 6, Ernie Nevers (November 28, 1929)*
  • Career Rushing Average: 5.1 yards per carry, Charley Trippi (1947–55)
  • Single-Season Rushing Average: 5.9 yards per carry, John David Crow (1960)
  • Single-Game Rushing Average: 13.0 yards per carry, Trippi (September 26, 1949)

*NFL record

Arizona Cardinals Running Backs to Rush for 1,000 Yards

Player
Year
G
GS
Att
Yds
TD
Ottis Anderson
1979
16
16
331
1605
8
Ottis Anderson
1981
16
16
328
1376
9
Ottis Anderson
1980
16
16
301
1352
9
Ottis Anderson
1983
15
15
296
1270
5
David Johnson
2016
16
16
293
1239
16
Edgerrin James
2007
16
16
324
1222
7
Ottis Anderson
1984
15
15
289
1174
6
Edgerrin James
2006
16
16
337
1159
6
Jim Otis
1975
14
14
269
1076
5
John David Crow
1960
12
12
183
1071
6
Garrison Hearst
1995
16
15
284
1070
1
Beanie Wells
2011
14
14
245
1047
10
Adrian Murrell
1998
15
14
274
1042
8
Ronald Moore
1993
16
11
263
1018
9
Stump Mitchell
1985
16
8
183
1006
7

Questions & Answers

  • I'm surprised CJ2K (Chris Johnson) didn't get 1,000 yards with the Cardinals. I remember he was basically the top rusher in the league and then he got injured. What do you think about Chris Johnson's 2015 season with the Cardinals?

    It was unfortunate what happened to Johnson during the 2015 season. At age 30, he was putting together a pretty memorable season before that injury. Still, 814 yards at that age is nothing to sneeze at.

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