Best Running Backs in Miami Dolphins History

Updated on March 30, 2020
A Miami Dolphins helmet is seen on the field before a 2019 game against the Washington Redskins at Hard Rock Stadium.
A Miami Dolphins helmet is seen on the field before a 2019 game against the Washington Redskins at Hard Rock Stadium. | Source

Who Are the Greatest Running Backs in Miami Dolphins History?

The Miami Dolphins have made 23 appearances in the postseason, and advanced all the way to the Super Bowl in 5 of those seasons. With that type of legacy, it's no surprise that the franchise has had its fair share of standout running backs throughout its 54-year history. Most notably, however, were the three ball carriers who anchored the offense during a three-year dynasty in the early 1970s. In that time, the Dolphins won a pair of Super Bowls and completed the only undefeated season in the history of the National Football League.

In total, the Dolphins have seen 10 different players rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season. In 1972, Miami became the first team in league history to have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same campaign. That feat has since been replicated just five times.

Selection Criteria for This List

This is a list of the five greatest Miami Dolphins running backs of all-time, which includes a handful of honorable-mention candidates, as well as franchise rushing records and statistics from every 900-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 Dolphins, percentage of career with the Dolphins, etc.)
  • Versatility (rushing ability, receiving ability, returning ability, etc.)

Only games played with the Dolphins are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas would be a great player to include on a list about the Buffalo Bills, his 9 games with just 136 yards won't place him in the top 5 here. Now, without further ado, let's count down the top five running backs in Miami Dolphins history! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these selections.

5. Jim Kiick

  • Years With the Dolphins: 1968–74
  • Playoff Appearances: 1970–74
  • AFL All-Star: 1968–69

James "Jim" Kiick was one piece of a star-studded backfield for the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970s, but his career accolades started well before then. Despite being the 118th player selected in the 1968 common draft between teams of the NFL and the rival American Football League, Kiick got off to a fast start. He gained at least 1,000 yards from each scrimmage in his first 4 seasons, and was an integral piece of Miami's Super Bowl dynasty from 1971–73.

Kiick led the Dolphins in rushing in 1968 and '69, and his nine touchdowns in '69 paced the AFL. In 1970, he was surpassed as the team's leading rusher, but led Miami in receiving yardage on his way to gaining a career-best 1,155 offensive yards. From 1972–74, his statistical production dipped, but his importance to the offense remained steadfast.

In the 1972 postseason, Kiick scored four touchdowns—including the game-deciding score in each round of the playoffs. In 11 postseason matchups, Kiick rushed 115 times for 401 yards and 6 touchdowns, while adding another 118 receiving yards. He and two teammates left the Dolphins after the 1974 season to join the upstart World Football League, and when the league folded a year later, Kiick signed with the Denver Broncos.

In 97 games with the Dolphins, Kiick rushed 997 times for 3,644 yards and 28 touchdowns, while adding 221 receptions for 2,210 yards (second in team history among running backs) and 3 touchdowns. Kiick rushed for a career-high 121 yards against the New York Jets in 1971, and he had 3 touchdowns in a game against the Buffalo Bills in 1970. In a 1969 game against the Oakland Raiders, he gained 169 offensive yards (76 rushing, 93 receiving).

Jim Kiick's Statistics With the Miami Dolphins

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1968
14
13
165
621
4
44
422
0
1969
14
14
180
575
9
29
443
1
1970
14
13
191
658
6
42
497
0
1971
13
11
162
738
3
40
338
0
1972
14
3
137
521
5
21
147
1
1973
14
4
76
257
0
27
208
0
1974
14
8
86
274
1
18
155
1
Former Miami Dolphins running back, Tony Nathan (center), stands with former wide receivers, Mark Duper (left) and O.J. McDuffie (right), prior to a 2018 game against the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium.
Former Miami Dolphins running back, Tony Nathan (center), stands with former wide receivers, Mark Duper (left) and O.J. McDuffie (right), prior to a 2018 game against the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium. | Source

4. Tony Nathan

  • Years With the Dolphins: 1979–87
  • Playoff Appearances: 1979, 1981–85
  • All-Pro: 1979

Among the most versatile running backs in the history of the Miami Dolphins was Tony Nathan, who was selected by the team in the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft. After opening his career as a return man, Nathan worked his way into the offense and became a reliable runner and receiver while helping Miami to a pair of Super Bowl appearances.

As a rookie, Nathan led the NFL with an average of 10.9 yards per punt return, and had more than 1,000 yards on kick returns. It wasn't until 1981, however, that he was making a big contribution on offense. Nathan had a career-high 8 total touchdowns that season, and it was the first of 4 years in his career with at least 1,000 offensive yards.

In the strike-shortened 1982 season, he didn't produce his strongest regular-season statistics, but helped lead the Dolphins to Super Bowl XVII with multiple standout games in the playoffs. He had more than 130 offensive yards in each of the first two rounds that season, but was slowed in the American Football Conference title game and the Super Bowl. Two seasons later, a young quarterback named Dan Marino was pushing the Dolphins deep into the postseason again, and Nathan was doing his part, too. In each of the 3 playoff games, Nathan had at least 90 yards. That included his postseason career-best 178 offensive yards in the 1984 AFC Championship game and 101 yards in Super Bowl XIX. Those postseason onslaughts were preceded by a 169-yard, 2-touchdown showing in the 1981 AFC title game.

Nathan actually had more career receiving yardage (3,592 yards on 383 receptions) than rushing yardage (3,543 on 732 carries), and is the ninth leading receiver in franchise history. He scored 32 touchdowns in his career—16 each rushing and receiving.

Tony Nathan's Statistics With the Miami Dolphins

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1979
16
0
16
68
0
17
213
2
1980
16
6
60
327
1
57
588
5
1981
13
11
147
782
5
50
452
3
1982
8
7
66
233
1
16
114
0
1983
16
12
151
685
3
52
461
1
1984
16
12
118
558
1
61
579
2
1985
16
15
143
667
5
72
651
1
1986
16
0
27
203
0
48
457
2
1987
6
0
4
20
0
10
77
0
Former Miami Dolphins running back, Mercury Morris, holds his commemorative ball during a halftime ceremony at Sun Life Stadium where he was named a member of the franchise's all-time team.
Former Miami Dolphins running back, Mercury Morris, holds his commemorative ball during a halftime ceremony at Sun Life Stadium where he was named a member of the franchise's all-time team. | Source

3. "Mercury" Morris

  • Years With the Dolphins: 1969–75
  • Playoff Appearances: 1970–74
  • All-Pro: 1971–73

Eugene "Mercury" Morris may not have been the most prolific rusher during the 1970s dynasty of the Miami Dolphins, but that doesn't mean he was any less effective. As an important cog in the three-headed rushing attack, as well as a standout return man, Morris enjoyed plenty of success during his seven-year career in Miami.

Morris came to the Dolphins in 1969 as a third-round draft pick and instantly became the best return man in the NFL. Morris led the league by returning 43 kicks for 1,136 yards and 1 touchdown—a 105-yard jaunt against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first game of his career. Over the next few seasons, Morris would see his role in the offense increase after averaging 6.8 and 5.5 yards per carry in 1970 and '71, respectively.

Morris had a breakout season in 1972, when he rushed for 1,000 yards. He and fullback, Larry Csonka, became the first teammates to each rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and they helped the Dolphins win the first of back-to-back Super Bowl championships. In 1973, Morris nearly reached 1,000 yards again, but did finish the season with a league-high average of 6.4 yards per carry. In the postseason, Morris had a nose for the ball, gaining 70 or more yards in 4 of 6 playoff games in 1972 and '73. He was injured for most of 1974, but did lead the Dolphins in rushing in 1975, his final season with the team.

With the Dolphins, Morris carried the ball 754 times for 3,877 yards and 29 touchdowns. His overall career average of 5.1 yards per carry is tied for sixth all-time in NFL history. Morris also caught 46 passes for 491 yards and another score with the Dolphins, and he also was a standout at returning kicks and punts. All together, he had 111 returns for 2,947 yards and 3 touchdowns (the other 2 scores going for 96 and 94 yards).

Mercury Morris' Statistics With the Miami Dolphins

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1969
14
0
23
110
1
6
65
0
1970
12
1
60
409
0
12
149
0
1971
14
3
57
315
1
5
16
0
1972
14
11
190
1000
12
15
168
0
1973
13
10
149
954
10
4
51
0
1974
5
3
56
214
1
2
27
1
1975
14
14
219
875
4
2
15
0
Former Miami Dolphins running back and 1998 Heisman Trophy winner, Ricky Williams, signs autographs at the ESPN Heisman House at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in 2018.
Former Miami Dolphins running back and 1998 Heisman Trophy winner, Ricky Williams, signs autographs at the ESPN Heisman House at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in 2018. | Source

2. Ricky Williams

  • Years With the Dolphins: 2002–03, '05, 2007–10
  • Playoff Appearances: 2008
  • All-Pro: 2002
  • Pro Bowl: 2002

Errick "Ricky" Williams had the talent to be the best running back in Miami Dolphins history, but unfortunately, off-the-field issues developed soon after he posted the greatest single season from a running back in team history. From there, Williams' career was derailed, but he's nevertheless remembered as a talented runner.

Williams holds the single-game (228 yards) and single-season (1,853) rushing records for the Dolphins, as well as the single-season record for rushing touchdowns (16). All of those marks came in 2002, when he was acquired by the Dolphins in a trade with the New Orleans Saints. Following his 228-yard effort against the Buffalo Bills, he then added 216 yards against the Chicago Bears on his way to leading the league in rushing.

After another strong season in 2003, Williams announced his retirement from football two days before the start of training camp in 2004. Williams was facing a hefty fine and a four-game suspension at the time due to failed drug tests. He would serve that suspension at the start of the 2005 season, when he came out of retirement and returned to the Dolphins. But the trouble didn't stop there, as Williams later failed another drug test and was suspended for the 2006 season.

He played professionally for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League that season, and when he was reinstated to the NFL in 2007, he was injured in the first game he played. Williams, however, righted himself and played all 16 games in each of the next 3 seasons. That included an impressive 1,121 yards at age 32 in 2009.

Williams ranks second all-time in franchise history with 6,436 yards and 48 rushing touchdowns. His 1,509 rushing attempts are a team record. Williams added 342 catches for another 2,606 yards and 8 touchdowns with Miami.

Ricky Williams' Statistics With the Miami Dolphins

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
2002
16
16
383
1853
16
47
363
1
2003
16
16
392
1372
9
50
351
1
2005
12
3
168
743
6
17
93
0
2007
1
0
6
15
0
0
0
0
2008
16
3
160
659
4
29
219
1
2009
16
7
241
1121
11
35
264
2
2010
16
0
159
673
2
19
141
1
Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame running back, Larry Csonka, is pictured in 1972, when he helped his team the only undefeated season in NFL history.
Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame running back, Larry Csonka, is pictured in 1972, when he helped his team the only undefeated season in NFL history. | Source

1. Larry Csonka

  • Years With the Dolphins: 1968–74, '79
  • Playoff Appearances: 1970–74, '79
  • All-Pro: 1971–73
  • Pro Bowl: 1970–74
  • Major Awards: Super Bowl VIII MVP, Comeback Player of the Year (1979)
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (1987), Miami Dolphins No. 39 Retired

If the Miami Dolphins offense needed to gain a few yards in the early 1970s, there was a good chance the play call would be to hand off the ball to Larry Csonka. The bruising fullback was one of the best of the decade, helping the Dolphins to three Super Bowls. Csonka is the only Hall of Famer to play running back for the Dolphins, and is remembered as one of the toughest players of all-time at any position.

Csonka was the eighth selection in the 1968 common draft among AFL and NFL teams. He struggled with injuries and average play throughout his first two seasons. Once legendary coach Don Shula came to the Dolphins in 1970, however, the fortunes of both Csonka and the team became inherently richer.

Over the next four seasons, Csonka wouldn't miss a game. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards each season from 1971–73, becoming the first player in franchise history to do so. Teamed up with Hall of Fame quarterback, Bob Griese, and opposite one of the best defensive units in the league, Csonka and the Dolphins advanced to the Super Bowl each of those seasons. They won the championship in 1972 and '73, with Csonka taking home the game's Most Valuable Player award in the 1973 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. He rushed for a then-record 145 yards on 33 carries, while also scoring twice in the win. It was a fitting end to a brilliant postseason for Csonka, who carried the ball 82 times for 333 yards and 6 touchdowns in 3 playoff victories.

After the 1974 season, Csonka and two teammates left the NFL to pursue a career in the upstart World Football League. The WFL quickly folded, and when Csonka returned to the NFL, he joined the New York Giants. In 1979, however, Csonka came back to the Dolphins, winning Comeback Player of the Year after posting a career-high 12 rushing touchdowns and gaining 837 yards. Twice during that campaign, Csonka rushed for a career-high three touchdowns in a game. He retired following the season.

During his time with Miami, Csonka had 15 regular-season games with at least 100 rushing yards, including a career-high 137 yards against the New York Jets in 1971. With the Dolphins, Csonka rushed for franchise records of 6,737 yards and 53 touchdowns on 1,506 carries, which rank second in team history. His showing in Super Bowl VIII highlighted four postseason games with at least 100 rushing yards. In 12 playoff games, Csonka carried the ball 225 times for 891 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Larry Csonka's Statistics With the Miami Dolphins

Year
G
GS
Rush
Yds
TD
Rec
Yds
TD
1968
11
11
138
540
6
11
118
1
1969
11
11
131
566
2
21
183
1
1970
14
14
193
874
6
11
94
0
1971
14
14
195
1051
7
13
113
1
1972
14
14
213
1117
6
5
48
0
1973
14
14
219
1003
5
7
22
0
1974
12
11
197
749
9
7
35
0
1979
16
16
220
837
12
16
75
1
Former Miami Dolphins running back, Ronnie Brown, carries the ball during the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl.
Former Miami Dolphins running back, Ronnie Brown, carries the ball during the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl. | Source

Honorable Mentions

With several standout running backs in the history of the Miami Dolphins, I've decided to include a handful of players who also left an indelible mark on team history, but didn't quite make the top five.

Ronnie Brown (2005–10)

Brown played for the Dolphins during the time Ricky Williams was in and out of football, and he made for a pretty good replacement. As the third all-time leading rusher in franchise history, Brown made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and was a reliable force as a rusher and pass catcher. He racked up 1,008 yards in just 12 games in 2006, and had a career-high 10 touchdowns in 2008. In 6 seasons with the Dolphins, he carried the ball 1,128 times for 4,815 yards and 36 touchdowns, while adding 184 receptions for 1,491 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Karim Abdul-Jabbar (1996–99)

As a rookie in 1996, Abdul-Jabbar picked up an accomplishment most first-year players can't achieve—he led his team in rushing. His 1,116 yards that season were a career-high, and the next season, he tied for the NFL lead with 15 rushing touchdowns. He gained over 1,000 offensive yards in all 3 of his full seasons with the Dolphins, who then traded him to the Cleveland Browns after 3 games of the 1999 season. He closed his Miami career with 888 carries for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns, as well as 77 catches for 527 yards and a touchdown.

Mark Higgs (1990–94)

When the Miami Dolphins signed Mark Higgs in 1990, he wasn't brought in to make a big splash on offense. And he didn't—until the incumbent starter was injured. Holding the starting reins midway through the 1991 season, Higgs rushed for 905 yards to lead the team in yardage for the first of three straight seasons. Only three other Dolphins have accomplished that feat. The two best games of his career both came in 1991, when he rushed for 146 yards against the Buffalo Bills and 131 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his career with Miami, Higgs ran the ball 702 times for 2,648 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Andra Franklin (1981–84)

Many wonder how good Andra Franklin would have been had he not suffered a career-ending knee injury in 1984. As a second-round draft pick, Franklin had 701 and 7 touchdowns his rookie season, then led the NFL by carrying the ball 177 times in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. He added 701 yards on his way to a Pro Bowl selection, and scored a touchdown in each of the first two rounds of the postseason. Also in 1982, he had back-to-back weeks that ended up as his two best single games. During Week 13, he had 129 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, and in Week 14, Franklin added 107 yards against the New England Patriots. In 1983, he had career-highs with 746 yards and 8 touchdowns. Franklin only played two games in 1984, and injured his left knee against the Patriots. His career ended with 622 carries for 2,232 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Miami Dolphins quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, celebrates after rushing for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in 2016. Tannehill is the franchise leader in rushing yards among quarterbacks.
Miami Dolphins quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, celebrates after rushing for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in 2016. Tannehill is the franchise leader in rushing yards among quarterbacks. | Source

Miami Dolphins Rushing Quarterbacks

Among Miami Dolphins quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill was the most impressive in the rushing attack. From 2012–18, Tannehill carried the ball 248 times for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Jay Fiedler had the most touchdowns, scoring 11 from 2000–04.

How Many Rushing Yards Did Dan Marino Have?

Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino may have led the NFL in career passing yardage when he retired, but he wasn't as prolific running the ball. Marino only gained 87 rushing yards in his 17-year career, but did score 9 touchdowns.

Miami Dolphins running back, Jay Ajayi (23), eludes a tackle during the second half at New Era Field in a 2016 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills. Ajayi is the last Miami Dolphins player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Miami Dolphins running back, Jay Ajayi (23), eludes a tackle during the second half at New Era Field in a 2016 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills. Ajayi is the last Miami Dolphins player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. | Source

Miami Dolphins Running Back History

The following is a look at the franchise rushing records, as well as a handful of other facts and trivia about Miami Dolphins running backs.

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

The Miami Dolphins have 9 players who have rushed for at least 1,000 yards in a season. Larry Csonka and Ricky Williams each achieved the feat three times, the most of any player in team history.

Who Is the Current Starting Running Back for the Miami Dolphins?

Jordan Howard is currently the starting running back for the Miami Dolphins.

What is the Longest Rushing Play in Miami Dolphins History?

Lamar Miller scored on a 97-yard touchdown run on December 28, 2014, which is the longest rushing play in Miami Dolphins history. The longest non-scoring rushing play was a 70-yard run by Mercury Morris on October 15, 1973.

How Many Running Backs Have the Miami Dolphins Drafted in the First Round?

The Miami Dolphins have selected seven running backs in the first round of the NFL Draft.

  • 2005: Ronnie Brown (No. 2)
  • 1998: John Avery (No. 29)
  • 1989: Sammie Smith (No. 9)
  • 1985: Lorenzo Hampton (No. 27)
  • 1981: David Overstreet (No. 13)
  • 1968: Larry Csonka (No. 8)
  • 1966: Jim Grabowski (No. 1)

Miami Dolphins Rushing Records

Listed below are the franchise's rushing records, as well as individual statistics for every 900-yard rushing season in the history of the Miami Dolphins.

  • Career Yards: 6,737, Larry Csonka (1968–74, '79)
  • Single-Season Yards: 1,853, Ricky Williams (2002)
  • Single-Game Yards: 228, Williams (December 1, 2002)
  • Career Touchdowns: 53, Larry Csonka (1968–74, '79)
  • Single-Season Touchdowns: 16, Williams ('02)
  • Single-Game Touchdowns: 4, Ronnie Brown (September 21, 2008)
  • Career Rushing Average: 5.1 yards per carry, Mercury Morris (1969–75)
  • Single-Season Rushing Average: 6.4 yards per carry, Morris ('73)
  • Single-Game Rushing Average: 13.1 yards per carry, Morris (September 30, 1973)

Miami Dolphins Running Backs With 900 Yards in a Season

Player
Year
G
GS
Att
Yds
TD
Ricky Williams
2002
16
16
383
1853
16
Ricky Williams
2003
16
16
392
1372
9
Jay Ajayi
2016
15
12
260
1272
8
Delvin Williams
1978
16
15
272
1258
8
Lamar Smith
2000
15
15
309
1139
14
Ricky Williams
2009
16
7
241
1121
11
Larry Csonka
1972
14
14
213
1117
6
Karim Abdul-Jabbar
1996
16
14
307
1116
11
Lamar Miller
2014
16
16
216
1099
8
Reggie Bush
2011
15
15
216
1086
6
Larry Csonka
1971
14
14
195
1051
7
Ronnie Brown
2006
13
12
241
1008
5
Larry Csonka
1973
14
14
219
1003
5
Mercury Morris
1972
14
11
190
1000
12
Reggie Bush
2012
16
16
227
986
6
Lamar Smith
2001
16
16
313
968
6
Karim Abdul-Jabbar
1998
15
15
270
960
6
Mercury Morris
1973
13
10
149
954
10
Ronnie Brown
2008
16
13
214
916
10
Mark Higgs
1992
16
15
256
915
7
Ronnie Brown
2005
15
14
207
907
4
Mark Higgs
1991
14
10
231
905
4
Miami Dolphins running back, Lamar Miller (26), stiff arms New York Giants linebacker, J.T. Thomas, on his way to a touchdown in a 2015 game.
Miami Dolphins running back, Lamar Miller (26), stiff arms New York Giants linebacker, J.T. Thomas, on his way to a touchdown in a 2015 game. | Source

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