Is there even an argument that can be made as to who is the best running back in Bengals history? There is no obvious choice, there has never really been an Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton that has carried the ball for the Bengals, however, there are a few who deserve some consideration. Here is how I rank them in order, leading up to who I believe to be the best running back in Bengals history.
5. Ickey Woods- He currently ranks 14th in rushing yards in Bengals history. He was drafted in the 2nd round (31st overall) in the 1988 NFL Draft. His rookie season, which ended up being his best season over his short four year NFL career, he led the league in yards per carry 5.3, and was second in the league in rushing touchdowns with 15. Famous for the “Ickey Shuffle” his trademark dance he did after scoring a touchdown; Woods led the Bengals to the Super Bowl in his first season with the team. After running for 1066 yards and 15 touchdowns in his rookie season, he would only run for 459 yards in his next three years combined.
4. Rudi Johnson- Currently ranks 3rd in rushing yards in Bengals history. He was a fourth round pick out of Auburn in 2000, when he ran for over fifteen hundred yards, while averaging one hundred sixty rushing yards per game. As a pro, he ran for 5742 yards and 48 touchdowns during his Bengals career that lasted seven seasons. Johnson was a Pro Bowler in 2004 when he rushed for 1454 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 2005 season was a mirror image rushing for 1458 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was Mr. Consistent while rushing for another 12 Touchdowns in 2006. He was not a very flashy runner, rather spending most of his time between the tackles, plugging away at a 4.0 yard per carry average. His consistency was his biggest asset as a pro.
3. Pete Johnson- Currently ranks 4th in Bengals history in yards, but ranks first in rushing touchdowns with 64. Johnson played seven seasons with the Bengals, notching one Pro Bowl berth in 1981 when he ran for 1077 yards and 12 touchdowns respectively. Pete was a second round pick out of Ohio State in 1977. Johnson seemed to play better in odd numbered years where he ran for 14, 12 and 14 touchdowns in 1979,1981, and 1983. Although he only rushed for more than a thousand yards one time in his career, he rushed for 12 or more touchdowns three times for the Bengals.
2. James Brooks- One half of a potent backfield for the Bengals in 1988 when the Bengals made a Super Bowl appearance, Brooks had a Pro Bowl season rushing for 931 yards and 8 touchdowns that season. Those hardly seem like Pro Bowl numbers, however with the one two punch of Brooks and Ickey Woods, they were virtually unstoppable as a pair that season. Brooks was a four time Pro Bowler for the Bengals also playing in Hawaii in 1986, 1989, and 1990. Currently the 2nd leading rusher in Bengals history, Brooks had a great career overall averaging 4.8 yards per carry over his eight years with Cincinnati.
1. Corey Dillon- The most well known name when speaking of running backs in Bengals history. Dillon spent seven years in Cincinnati before finishing up his career with the New England Patriots. Corey is the Bengals leader in all time yards. Dillon was a three time Pro Bowler for the Bengals in 1999,2000, and 2001. He was a very consistent running back for a very bad team. He ran for one thousand yards or more every season from 1997-2002. Six consecutive seasons of one thousand yards or more is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Especially since the Bengals were an abysmal 26-70 during that span. Dillon went on to have a Pro Bowl season with New England in 2004, giving him 4 Pro Bowl appearances as a pro. As a rookie, Dillon broke Jim Brown’s 40-year-old single-game rookie record by rushing for 246 yards against the Tennessee Titans. In each of his first three seasons in the league, he rushed for over 1,100 yards, making him only the eighth player in history to do so. In 2000 he exploded for 278 yards against what was at that time the league’s second-ranked rushing defense of the Denver Broncos. That rushing performance passed Walter Payton’s single game rushing record.
There was a definite argument to include names such as Harold Green, Boobie Clark, or 2 time Heisman winner Archie Griffin. However, their careers were not as significant as the five players I have ranked above them. I don’t see how anyone could argue that Dillon is not the best Bengals running back of all time. James Brooks also had a great career as a Bengal, but he was nowhere near as significant as Dillon was overall.