New on SI: 10 Best Running Backs in New York Giants History

The Giants have had their share of excellent running backs in their long NFL history. Here is a ranking of their 10 best running backs, plus a few honorable mentions.

Who Are the Greatest Running Backs in Giants History?

As a fan of the Giants since the mid-1970s, I've had the privilege of seeing many of the greatest running backs in team history. And as a student of the Giants' long history, I've learned about some of the best running backs from earlier eras of the franchise.

The Giants have had their share of great players at this position. Take the simple metric of the 1,000-yard season: There have been 10 Giants running backs who have rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Seven of those players have done it more than once, led by Tiki Barber with six. In the 2008 season, two Giants players, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, both ran for more than 1,000 yards.

Of course, the 1,000-yard season is a relatively modern metric. Ron Johnson had the Giants' first 1,000-yard season in 1970. Before that, the highest rushing yardage total was 971 by Eddie Price in 1951.

This is just one illustration of the fact that it is somewhat difficult to compare modern players to those of earlier eras. For one thing, the game itself has changed. Coaching philosophies have evolved, rule changes have been implemented and seasons have gotten longer.

Even the terminology used to designate players' positions has changed. If you look at the current Giants roster, no player is identified as a fullback, halfback or tailback. Today, all offensive backs other than quarterbacks are just called running backs.

In addition, NFL players—like athletes in other sports—have gotten bigger, stronger and faster. The year-round conditioning programs for today's athletes, as well as the six- or seven-figure salaries that allow them to take advantage of those programs, form a stark contrast with the football culture of the early years. In that bygone era, most players and even coaches had second jobs to make ends meet, making rigorous year-round training impossible.

Selection and Ranking Criteria

Despite these considerations, it's always fun to select and rank the best players. This is my list of the 10 best running backs in Giants history, along with several honorable mentions.

My criteria are as follows:

  • Length of Career With the Giants: How long did the player play for the team? For this ranking, I considered only running backs who were members of the franchise for a minimum of five seasons.
  • Individual Performance Statistics and Achievements: I compared the players' statistics, both rushing and receiving, but with more emphasis on rushing, since that is typically a running back's primary role—especially in the modern game. Did the player lead the team in rushing or other categories? Did he set any NFL or team records, either for his career, for a season or for individual game performance? For players whose careers included time with other teams, as well, I considered only their years with the Giants.
  • Recognition by the Giants, the NFL, Other Players or the Media: Was the player selected for the Pro Bowl or named a first-team All-Pro? Did he win any MVP awards or recognition as Player of the Month or Player of the Week? Is he in the Hall of Fame or in the Giants Ring of Honor, or has his jersey been retired?
  • Team Success: An NFL team will seldom be successful without at least one good running back on the roster, so I factored in how well the Giants did as a team during a player's career. Did the Giants have winning seasons, did they make the playoffs or did they win a championship? Of course, it's also possible for an excellent running back to be a member of a mediocre team, so I didn't give this criterion as much weight as the others.

My ranking, of course, is still subjective, despite these metrics. Whether or not you agree with my choices, I hope you enjoy the list.

10. Doug Kotar

  • Years with the Giants: 1974–79, '81 (entire 7-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 44

Pennsylvania native Doug Kotar went undrafted in the 1974 NFL Draft after playing college football at Kentucky. But the Steelers signed him as a free agent in July 1974, and the Giants acquired him in a trade several days later.

In his first game, Kotar scored the Giants' only touchdown and led the team in rushing with 43 yards, while also returning two kickoffs for a total of 79 yards. He scored another touchdown in the Giants' Week 3 win over the Cowboys.

In Week 4, with primary running back Ron Johnson out with an injury, Kotar had a breakout game. He ran for 119 yards on 15 carries, including a 53-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately, the Giants lost to the Falcons and went on to post a 2-12-0 record for the season. Kotar finished the season with 396 yards rushing, along with 10 receptions for 57 yards.

Kotar became the Giants' featured running back in 1976, his third season, sharing the backfield with future Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka. Kotar responded by leading the team in rushing with 731 yards and adding 319 receiving yards, for a team-leading 1,050 total yards from scrimmage. His totals included two games in which he rushed for 100+ yards. He also tallied 132 yards receiving in a game against the Cardinals.

In 1978, Kotar again led the Giants in rushing with 625 yards, and he added another 225 yards receiving. He recorded his fourth career game with 100+ rushing yards in the Giants' win over the Cardinals in Week 15. In 1979, which was Phil Simms' first year at quarterback, Kotar came close to matching his 1978 yardage totals with 616 yards on the ground and 230 receiving yards.

Unfortunately, Kotar was forced to miss the entire 1980 season after suffering a knee injury in the last pre-season game. Although he came back in 1981, he was limited to seven games due to a shoulder separation and continuing knee problems.

Kotar's shoulder and knee problems persisted in 1982, and he retired during training camp. He had also begun to experience severe headaches—and just several weeks into retirement he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, which took his life at the age of 32 in December 1983.

Kotar had the misfortunate of playing with the Giants during an era when they consistently posted losing records. When the team finally qualified for the playoffs in 1981, his last season, he was injured and didn't play.

But Kotar's individual contributions to the Giants were impressive. During his seven seasons, he recorded 3,380 rushing yards on 900 carries with 20 touchdowns. He had 126 receptions for 1,022 yards and one touchdown. At the time of his retirement, his 3,380 rushing yards were fourth-most in Giants history.

Doug Kotar's Stats With the Giants

Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) breaks loose during a game against the Washington Football Team at MetLife Stadium.

9. Ahmad Bradshaw

  • Years with the Giants: 2007–12 (6 years of a 9-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 44
  • Playoff appearances: 2007, '08, '11
  • Super Bowl championships: XLII, XLVI
  • NFL season leader: Longest rush attempt (2007)

The Giants drafted Ahmad Bradshaw out of Marshall University in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Throughout most of his rookie season, the team used him primarily for kickoff returns. He got his first rushing opportunities against the Vikings in Week 12, when running backs Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward had to sit out due to injuries. In Week 16, he had a huge game to help the Giants beat the Bills. He ran for 151 yards on 17 carries, including an 88-yard touchdown run that was the longest in the NFL that season.

He then made significant contributions in the 2007 playoffs. When the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII—ruining their opponent's bid for a perfect 19-0 season—Bradshaw was the game's leading rusher.

As the third running back behind Jacobs and Ward in 2008, Bradshaw ran for 355 yards on 67 carries. In 2009, he finished second to Jacobs with 778 yards and led the team in rushing touchdowns with seven.

Bradshaw was promoted to the Giants' first-string running back in 2010. Although he was sometimes prone to fumbles, he ran for a career-high 1,235 yards on 276 carries with eight touchdowns. In Week 4 of the season, he was named the NFC Player of the Week for his 129-yard performance in the Giants' win over the Bears.

Bradshaw shared most of the running back duties with Jacobs in the 2011 season. Nevertheless, he led the Giants with 659 rushing yards and 11 rushing and receiving touchdowns. In Week 6, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time when he ran for 104 yards and scored all three of the Giants' touchdowns in their win against the Bills.

A career highlight for Bradshaw came in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI win over the Patriots. With 1:04 seconds left, the Giants had a second down on the Patriots' six-yard line, trailing 17–15. Bradshaw got the ball with instructions to stop short of the goal line in order to take more time off the clock and reduce the chance that the Patriots could come back after a Giants score. But New England intentionally opened up their defense, and Bradshaw's forward motion carried him over the goal line. Fortunately, the Giants' defense stopped the Patriots, and Bradshaw's touchdown provided the winning margin.

In 2012, he led the team in rushing for the third consecutive year with 1,015 yards. The season included a 200-yard rushing game in the Giants' Week 5 win over the Browns, and it marked Bradshaw's second season with 1,000+ yards.

The Giants released Bradshaw in early 2013, and he signed with the Colts. In his six years in New York, Bradshaw rushed for 4,232 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, and he scored 32 rushing touchdowns. He also gained 1,087 yards on receptions with three touchdowns. He has the sixth-most rushing yards in Giants franchise history.

Ahmad Bradshaw's Stats With the Giants

8. Ron Johnson

  • Years with the Giants: 1970–75 (6 years of a 7-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 30
  • Pro Bowl selections: 1970, '72
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1970
  • NFL season leader: Rush attempts, total touches, total yards from scrimmage (1970), rush attempts, total touches, total rushing and receiving touchdowns (1972)

Following his All-American college football career at Michigan, Ron Johnson was selected by the Browns in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft. He had a somewhat disappointing rookie season with the Browns and was traded to the Giants in January 1970.

Johnson had a huge impact in his first season with New York. In Week 4, he ran for 142 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Giants notched their first win of the year. He added three more 100-yard games and became the first player in franchise history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, tallying 1,027 yards on a league-leading 263 carries. He added 48 receptions for another 487 yards, resulting in a league-best 1,514 total yards from scrimmage.

Injuries limited Johnson to two games in 1971, but he bounced back with another 1,000-yard season in '72. His 298 carries led the league, and his 1,182 rushing yards and 1,633 total yards from scrimmage were the best single-season totals of his career. In a Week 3 win over the Eagles, he set a since-tied Giants record for touchdowns in a game with four, catching three touchdown passes and scoring once on a rush.

Johnson had another good year in 1973, with 1,279 total yards from scrimmage on 902 rushing yards and 377 receiving yards. But his playing time decreased in 1974 and '75 as the Giants gave the ball more often to Joe Dawkins and Doug Kotar. He retired before the 1976 season.

The speedy Johnson could do it all—catch, block, run both inside and outside, make big plays. But despite all of his achievements, the Giants did not make the playoffs during his tenure. In fact, the only years in which they posted winning records in the 17-year stretch from 1964 to '80 were Johnson's two 1,000-yard, Pro Bowl seasons in 1970 and '72.

In his Giants career, Johnson ran for 3,836 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per carry, and he scored 33 touchdowns on the ground. He also made 189 receptions for 1,813 yards with 15 touchdowns. At the time of his retirement, his career rushing yardage was second only to Alex Webster, who, ironically, was the Giants' head coach during Johnson's first four, most productive years with the team.

Ron Johnson's Stats With the Giants

7. Ottis Anderson

  • Years with the Giants: 1986–92 (7 years of a 14-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 24
  • Playoff appearances: 1986, '89, '90
  • Super Bowl championships: XXI, XXV
  • Awards and accolades: Pro Football Weekly NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1989), Super Bowl MVP (1990)

After an All-American college football career at Miami, where he set the school's all-time rushing record, Ottis "O.J." Anderson was drafted by the Cardinals with the eighth pick in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He had an outstanding rookie season for the Cardinals, and the Associated Press named him the 1979 Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was also recognized as a first-team All-Pro and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Anderson rushed for over 1,000 yards in five of his first six seasons and was also on pace for 1,000 yards in the strike-shortened 1982 season. However, leg injuries began to take a toll in 1985, and his playing time was significantly reduced. The Cardinals traded him to the Giants in 1986 after the two teams met in Week 5.

The Giants used him primarily in goal-line and short-yardage situations, and he had limited carries. But he did rush for a touchdown in the Giants' victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.

Anderson's playing time increased somewhat in the 1988 season. Then, in 1989, he became the team's primary running back in head coach Bill Parcells's ball-control offense. He rushed for 1,023 yards on 325 carries and scored a career-high 14 touchdowns. The Pro Football Writers Association named him the 1989 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

In 1990, Anderson led the Giants in rushing again with 784 yards and 11 touchdowns. In Super Bowl XXV, he rushed for 102 yards with one touchdown as the Giants beat the Bills for their second Super Bowl win. Anderson was named the Super Bowl MVP.

Rodney Hampton replaced Anderson as the Giants' leading running back in 1991, and Anderson retired after the '92 season. Although he had much higher yardage totals earlier in his career with the Cardinals, he made substantial contributions to the Giants in his seven seasons with the team. He rushed for 2,274 yards and scored 35 rushing touchdowns, and he added 567 yards on 77 receptions. Remarkably, Anderson fumbled only three times in 781 touches with the Giants.

Ottis Anderson's Stats With the Giants

6. Alex Webster

  • Years with the Giants: 1955–64 (entire 10-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 29
  • Playoff appearances: 1956, '58, '59, '61–63
  • NFL championship: 1956
  • Pro Bowl selections: 1958, '61
  • Awards and accolades: Giants Ring of Honor (2011)

Alex "Big Red" Webster was a standout running back for North Carolina State. The Washington Football Team drafted him in the 11th round of the 1953 NFL Draft but then cut him before the season. He accepted an offer to play instead for the Alouettes in the CFL. In his second season there, in 1954, he was named a CFL East All-Star.

In 1955 Webster returned to the United States and was signed by the Giants. He joined Frank Gifford and Mel Triplett in the backfield and had an immediate impact. He was a slashing runner with great open-field moves, as well as an excellent receiver and a strong blocker. In his first season, he led the Giants in rushing with 634 yards on 128 carries and caught 22 passes for 269 yards.

Webster became a mainstay of the Giants' offense for 10 years, in an era when the Giants were consistently a very good team. In his second season, in 1956, he rushed for 694 yards, added another 197 yards on receptions and led the team with 10 rushing and receiving touchdowns. The Giants won their first NFL championship since 1938, and Webster scored two of the team's five touchdowns as they beat the Bears 47–7 in the championship game.

Statistically speaking, Webster's best seasons came in 1961 and '62. He led the Giants in rushing with 928 and 743 yards respectively, and in total yards from scrimmage with 1,241 and 1,220. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time in 1961, and the Giants won the NFL Eastern Division title in both years, although they lost the championship games.

Webster finished his playing career with 4,638 rushing yards and 39 rushing touchdowns, along with 2,679 receiving yards and 17 touchdown receptions. His 4,638 rushing yards made him the Giants' career leader at the time of his retirement—and as of this writing, he is in fifth place.

After serving as an assistant coach under Allie Sherman, Webster was promoted to head coach in 1969. He held the job for five years. In 1970, United Press International named him the NFL Coach of the Year.

Alex Webster's Stats With the Giants

5. Brandon Jacobs

  • Years with the Giants: 2005–11, '13 (8 years of a 9-year NFL career)
  • Jersey numbers: 27 (2005–11), 34 ('13)
  • Playoff appearances: 2005–08, '11
  • Super Bowl championships: XLII, XLVI

Brandon Jacobs played college football at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas for two years before transferring to Auburn for a year and finally to Southern Illinois for his senior year. The Giants drafted him in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

Jacobs was a large and powerful running back but also had good speed. In his first two seasons in New York, he was a backup to Tiki Barber. When Barber retired after the 2006 season, Jacobs took over as the starting running back for 2007. He suffered a knee injury in the first game of the season and missed the next three games, but he returned in Week 5 to rush for 100 yards and score a touchdown against the Jets. He was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October.

Jacobs finished the regular season with a team-high 1,009 rushing yards and an additional 174 receiving yards. He capped off the season by starting all of the playoff games and scoring the winning touchdown in their divisional playoff game against the Cowboys.

Despite continuing knee problems, 2008 saw Jacobs post career-high rushing numbers with 1,089 yards and 15 touchdowns. He led the franchise in both categories. Jacobs and fellow running back Derrick Ward became only the fifth pair of teammates in NFL history to each rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, as Ward tallied 1,025 yards for the year.

Jacobs led the team in rushing attempts and yards in 2009 too. Ahmad Bradshaw became the primary ball carrier in 2010, but Jacobs had 147 carries and averaged 5.6 yards per carry for a total of 823 yards. He led the team with nine rushing touchdowns. In the playoffs, culminating in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI win, Jacobs carried the ball 37 times for 164 yards and one touchdown.

The Giants released him in March 2012. He signed with the 49ers, but he again injured his knee and saw action in only two games. He returned to New York for the 2013 season, playing just seven games and retiring after the season.

In 107 games as a Giant, Jacobs rushed for 5,087 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and he scored 60 rushing touchdowns. He added 743 yards and four touchdowns on receptions. His rushing total puts him in fourth place on the Giants' all-time list.

Brandon Jacobs's Stats With the Giants

4. Rodney Hampton

  • Years with the Giants: 1990–97 (entire 8-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 27
  • Playoff appearances: 1990, '93, '97
  • Pro Bowl selections: 1992, '93

The Giants drafted Rodney Hampton out of Georgia in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft. In his rookie year, he played well behind veteran running back Ottis Anderson, but unfortunately, Hampton broke his leg in the Giants' divisional-round win over the Bears and was out for the rest of their playoff run to Super Bowl XXV.

Hampton was named the Giants' starting running back in the 1991 season and soon emerged as the team's most consistent offensive threat. In Week 6, he rushed for 137 yards with one touchdown, and he caught four passes for 45 yards. The Giants beat the Cardinals 20–9, and Hampton was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.

The 1991 season marked the first of five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for Hampton. From 1991 to '96, he led the franchise in both rushing yardage and total yards from scrimmage. He also rushed for 46 touchdowns during these six seasons, leading the team in that category in five seasons and tying for the lead in the sixth. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1992 and '93.

One of Hampton's best performances came in the 1993 playoffs. In the wild-card game against the Vikings, he gained 161 yards on the ground and caught six passes for another 24 yards. The Giants beat the Vikings 17–10 on the strength of Hampton's two third-quarter touchdowns, one of which came on a 51-yard run.

Hampton's streak of five straight 1,000-yard seasons came to an end in 1996 when he ran for 827 yards. He missed the last game of the season with a knee injury, but his rushing yardage still led the team. He had arthroscopic surgery on the knee before the 1997 season, but he could only return for two late-season games. When New York released him before the 1998 season, he decided to retire.

Hampton retired as the Giants' all-time career rushing leader with 6,897 yards. He also tallied 1,309 receiving yards and had 51 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns. His rushing total was eventually surpassed by Tiki Barber, who joined the Giants in 1997, Hampton's last season.

Rodney Hampton's Stats With the Giants

3. Joe Morris

  • Years with the Giants: 1982–88 (7 years of an 8-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 20
  • Playoff appearances: 1984, '85, '86
  • Super Bowl championship: XXI
  • Pro Bowl selections: 1985, '86
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1986
  • NFL season leader: Rushing touchdowns, total rushing and receiving touchdowns (1985)

The Giants selected Joe Morris in the second round of the 1982 NFL Draft. The 5'7" Morris had been an All-American at Syracuse, where he set the school's all-time rushing record. He continued to excel at the professional level in New York.

In the Giants' game against the Packers in Week 2 of the 1982 season, Morris scored a touchdown on his first rushing attempt in a Giants uniform. From 1982 to mid-1984, he played behind Butch Woolfolk, whom the Giants had drafted ahead of him in '82. But as the 1984 season went on, Morris saw more playing time as Woolfolk was relegated to the bench. By 1985, Woolfolk was gone and Morris was the Giants' number-one running back.

Morris responded to his new status with monster back-to-back seasons in 1985 and '86. In 1985, he rushed for 1,336 yards in 294 attempts for an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and he led the NFL with 21 touchdowns. He ran for over 100 yards in six games and scored three touchdowns in four of the Giants' last six games of the season.

He saved his best for last, leading the Giants to a victory over the Steelers in Week 16 to help secure a wild-card berth. He ran for 202 yards in the game and scored three touchdowns. His second touchdown came on a 65-yard run, in which he ran the last 52 yards with only one shoe on after eluding a tackle.

Morris was a key member of the Giants' first Super Bowl–winning team in 1986. He averaged over 100 yards per game in the regular season for a total of 1,516 yards. After rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants' Week 8 win over the Washington Football Team, he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Morris continued his superb play in the playoffs, rushing for a total of 313 yards and scoring four touchdowns in the Giants' three games, culminating in their Super Bowl win over the Broncos.

Morris ran for 658 yards in the strike-shortened 1987 season. In 1988, he ran for 1,083 yards, his third 1,000-yard season. He missed the 1989 season due to a broken foot, and the Giants waived him before the start of the '90 season. He played for the Browns in the 1991 season before retiring.

Morris's Giants career total of 5,296 rushing yards put him in first place all-time ahead of Alex Webster until Rodney Hampton and then Tiki Barber surpassed him in the succeeding decades. He added 884 receiving yards and scored a combined total of 50 touchdowns. Morris still holds numerous Giants playoff rushing records.

Joe Morris's Stats With the Giants

2. Frank Gifford

  • Years with the Giants: 1952–60, '62–64 (entire 12-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 16
  • Playoff appearances: 1956, '58, '59, '62, '63
  • NFL championship: 1956
  • Pro Bowl selections: 1953–59, '63
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1955–57, '59
  • NFL season leader: Total yards from scrimmage (1956)
  • Awards and accolades: NFL MVP (1956), UPI Comeback Player of the Year (1962), Hall of Fame (1977), Giants jersey number 16 retired (2000), Giants Ring of Honor (2010)

The Giants selected Frank Gifford with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 1952 NFL Draft. He had played football for one season at Bakersfield Junior College and then transferred to Southern Cal, where he was named an All-American.

When Gifford began his career with the Giants in 1952, NFL rosters were limited to 33 players, and many players played both offense and defense. The skilled and versatile Gifford was no exception (in fact, he would be selected to the Pro Bowl at three different positions during his career). Although he was used mostly as a defensive back in his first two seasons, by 1954 he was primarily playing running back under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi.

Statistically, Gifford put together his best year in 1956 when he helped lead the Giants to the NFL championship. His total of 1,422 yards from scrimmage, comprising 819 rushing yards and 603 receiving yards, was tops in the league. He was named a first-team All-Pro, selected to the Pro Bowl and awarded the trophy as the NFL's MVP.

Disaster struck for Gifford—and the Giants—midway through the 1960 season. Going into their Week 9 game against the Eagles, the Giants trailed their opponent by a half game in the division. The previous week, Gifford had scored three touchdowns to lead the Giants to a 27–24 win over the Steelers. The game against the Eagles could catapult them into first place.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles took a seven-point lead, but the Giants were threatening. Gifford caught a long pass from quarterback George Shaw and cut towards the corner. But Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik hit him with a ferocious blind-side tackle at Philadelphia's 30-yard line that knocked him unconscious. Philadelphia recovered the ball, won the game and won the division.

More importantly, Gifford suffered a severe head injury that forced him to announce his retirement. He sat out the entire 1961 season but came back in '62 and played for three more seasons as a flanker, taking advantage of his skill as a receiver. He performed so well in his new position that United Press International named him the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. In 1963, he was chosen for his eighth Pro Bowl.

When he retired after the 1964 season, Gifford was the Giants' career leader in receiving with 5,434 yards. With 3,609 rushing yards, he was second to his teammate Alex Webster, who retired the same year. His 78 touchdowns (including one on defense) led the Giants' all-time list—and as of this writing, they still do.

Frank Gifford's Stats With the Giants

1. Tiki Barber

  • Years with the Giants: 1997–2006 (entire 10-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 21
  • Playoff appearances: 1997, 2000, '02, '05, '06
  • Pro Bowl selections: 2004, '05, '06
  • First-Team All-Pro: 2005
  • NFL season leader: Total yards from scrimmage (2004), longest rush attempt, total touches, total yards from scrimmage (2005)
  • Awards and accolades: Giants Ring of Honor (2010)

Tiki Barber played college football at Virginia, where he was the 1996 ACC player of the year and an Academic All-American. The Giants drafted him with the 36th pick overall in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft, intending to use him as a third-down running back.

In his rookie year, however, Barber began the season as a starter and scored a touchdown in each of the Giants' first three games. Unfortunately, his hot start did not hold up for the whole season. He missed a number of games with an injury and scored only one more touchdown. He finished the season with 511 rushing yards and 299 receiving yards.

In 1998, Barber did not start and had a somewhat mediocre year with 166 rushing yards and 348 receiving yards. The 1999 season was better. He added a total of 772 return yards to his rushing and receiving totals to give him 1,639 all-purpose yards for the year.

Barber came into his own in the 2000 season, running for 1,006 yards with eight touchdowns and adding 719 yards and one touchdown on receptions. He also continued to return punts and kick-offs, ending the season with 2,085 all-purpose yards. Barber's play was a major factor in the Giants winning the NFC Eastern Division and going to Super Bowl XXXV—but unfortunately, they lost to the Ravens.

Barber had a good year in 2001, but his next five seasons were even better. In each season from 2002 through '06, Barber rushed for well over 1,000 yards. He also had substantial receiving yardage. In both 2004 and '05, he led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 2,096 and 2,390 yards, respectively.

The Giants had a poor season in 2004, but Barber gave them something to cheer about in the final game of the season. With the Giants trailing the Cowboys 16–14 in the fourth quarter, he caught a touchdown pass from Eli Manning. This, along with a kick from Steve Christie, put New York ahead 21–16. Dallas scored again, though, retaking the lead with less than two minutes left. Barber again came to the rescue, scoring on a three-yard run with 16 seconds left to give his team the win.

The game, and especially the second touchdown, was sweet for Barber personally as well as for the fans. In the first half, he had already broken Rodney Hampton's all-time Giants rushing record of 6,897 yards. With his three-yard run on the last touchdown, he also broke Joe Morris's single-season rushing record. Morris's record, set in 1986, was 1,516 yards. After the touchdown, Barber had 1,518.

He broke his own new single-season record in 2005 with 1,860 rushing yards. The season included three games in which he rushed for more than 200 yards, including a game against the Chiefs in which he gained 220 yards to break the Giants' single-game rushing record that had stood for 55 years. Barber was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after each of these games (as well as three other times in his career). And he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month (for the second of three times) for the month of December when two of the 200-yard games occurred.

Midway through the 2006 season, Barber announced his intention to retire following the season, despite the fact that he was still at the top of his game. In fact, in the final regular-season game, he set a new team record for rushing yardage—breaking his own record from the previous year—with 234 yards with three touchdowns. The win also gave the Giants a wild-card spot.

As the most prolific running back in Giants' history, Barber no doubt belongs at the top of this list. His career total of 10,449 rushing yards is the best by a wide margin. And his 5,183 career receiving yards are the most by a running back other than Frank Gifford—who, as discussed above, was primarily a receiver for the last three seasons of his career. Barber's 68 touchdowns are also second only to Gifford.

Tiki Barber's Stats With the Giants

Honorable Mentions

In addition to the top 10 Giants running backs I've listed, here are my choices for honorable mention, in alphabetical order.

Rob Carpenter

  • Years with the team: 1981–85 (5 years of a 10-year NFL career)
  • Playoff appearances: 1981, '84, '85
  • Career rushing: 737 carries for 2,572 yards, 17 TDs
  • Career receiving: 103 receptions for 859 yards, 3 touchdowns

Tuffy Leemans

  • Years with the team: 1936–43 (entire 8-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 4
  • Playoff appearances: 1938, '39, '41, '43
  • NFL championship: 1938
  • Pro Bowl selections: 1938, '41
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1939
  • NFL season leader: Rush attempts, rushing yards, rushing yards per game, total touches (1936), rushing yards per game (1940)
  • Career rushing: 919 carries for 3,132 yards, 17 TDs
  • Career receiving: 28 receptions for 422 yards, 3 TDs
  • Awards and accolades: Giants jersey number 4 retired (1940), Hall of Fame ('78), Giants Ring of Honor (2010)

Joe Morrison

  • Years with the team: 1959–72 (entire 14-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 40
  • Playoff appearances: 1959, 1961–63
  • NFL season leader: Yards per touch (1966, '69)
  • Career rushing: 677 carries for 2,474 yards, 18 TDs
  • Career receiving: 395 receptions for 4,993 yards, 47 TDs
  • Awards and accolades: Giants jersey number 40 retired (1972), Giants Ring of Honor (2010)

Eddie Price (1950–1955)

  • Years with the team: 1950–55 (entire 6-year NFL career)
  • Jersey number: 31
  • Playoff appearance: 1950
  • Pro Bowl selections: 1951, '52, '54
  • First-Team All-Pro: 1951, '52
  • NFL season leader: Rushing yards per game (1950), rush attempts, rushing yards, rushing yards per game, total touches ('51), rush attempts, total touches ('52)
  • Career rushing: 846 carries for 3,292 yards, 20 TDs
  • Career receiving: 75 receptions for 672 yards, 4 TDs

Final Thoughts on This List

This ranking, of course, is not the last word on the subject. I think the evidence supports my choices. But Giants fans have their own favorites and may prefer other criteria to decide which running backs are the best. There can easily be a debate about listing some players to the exclusion of others or about the order of the ranking. For example, a very strong case can be made for including Tuffy Leemans among the top 10.

Feel free to disagree with my list, especially if I've omitted one of your favorite running backs or ranked someone higher or lower than you think he deserves. Statistics and records are intrinsic to the game, but football is also a game that inspires opinions and passions. And most of all, fun!

All 1,000-Yard Seasons by Giants Running Backs

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