In the illustrious history of the Dallas Cowboys, the franchise has had no shortage of great players. In fact, as of 2019, there are 20 former Cowboys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Among the greatest Cowboys of all-time are some of the greatest running backs of all-time. Dallas has a long history of great rushers that continues to this day. There have been so many, that it seems worthwhile to look back and separate the best of the best. While there is some room for debate, here is our list of the top-5 running backs in Dallas Cowboys history.
5. DeMarco Murray
Longevity was Murray’s only drawback when it comes to his legacy with the Cowboys, as he spent just four seasons with Dallas after the Cowboys took him in the 3rd round of the 2011 Draft. Initially, it was injuries that helped get Murray on the field, but when he got a chance, he took his opportunity and ran with it, literally. Despite starting just seven games as a rookie, Murray rushed for nearly 900 yards and was at or near the top of most rookie running stats, including 5.5 yards per carry.
Of course, the best was yet to come for Murray, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2013 and went on to win Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2014 after leading the NFL in both rushing and rushing touchdowns. He stockpiled over 1,800 rushing yards and over 400 receiving yards that season, which turned out to be his last in Dallas. Despite spending just four seasons with the Cowboys, Murray owns over a dozen franchise records
4. Ezekiel Elliott
After Elliott got the extension he wanted prior to the 2019 season, there’s a chance he ends up at the top of this list one day. The fact that he’s this high on the list just four seasons into his career is a testament to what he’s already accomplished. After all, it’s not every rookie who leads the NFL with over 1,600 rushing yards.
While Elliott hasn’t been able to keep up that kind of pace, he’s eclipsed 5,000 career yards in less than four seasons. That’s on top of his involvement in the Dallas offense as a receiver. Elliott actually averaged better than 10 yards a reception in his first two pro seasons. At times, Elliott has carried the Cowboys on his shoulders, and the more years he does that, the more we can debate how he stacks up against the top two Cowboys on our list.
3. Calvin Hill
There are few people on the planet who have had a more admirable life and career than Hill. Everything he accomplished on the football field is almost icing on the cake. Keep in mind that he graduated from Yale and was a two-time All-Ivy League player before becoming a 1st-round pick of the Cowboys in 1969.
Hill was then an instant success in the NFL, earning Rookie of the Year honors while also going to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He did that despite missing a couple of games with a broken toe and ultimately playing the final two games of the season with the injury. Injuries held him for the next couple of years, but in 1972, Hill became the first running back in franchise history to run for 1,000 yards in a season. When all was said and done, Hill spent six seasons with the Cowboys, representing them in the Pro Bowl four times and being part of two teams that went to the Super Bowl, including the team that won Super Bowl VI.
2. Tony Dorsett
There’s no denying that Dorsett is one of the all-time great running backs. He’s one of the few players to win the Heisman and then take home Rookie of the Year honors in consecutive years. The Cowboys took him second overall in the 1977 Draft and Dorsett proceeded to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons. In fact, he broke the 1,000-yard threshold in eight of his 11 seasons with Dallas and would have done it in nine straight years if the strike hadn’t limited him to nine games.
Dorsett was a stabilizing force on the Cowboys for over a decade, going to the Pro Bowl four times while rushing for over 12,000 yards and scoring 85 touchdowns in a Cowboys jersey. He was also the leading rusher in Super Bowl XII, helping deliver the Cowboys their second Super Bowl win. The only blemish on his Cowboys resume is that he ended up demanding a trade and spending his final season with the Broncos. Aside from that tiny asterisk, Dorsett is a Cowboys legend.
1. Emmitt Smith
As great as Dorsett was, he still doesn’t measure up to Smith, who is arguably the greatest running back in NFL history. The numbers certainly say that Smith is the greatest back of all-time, as he owns the NFL records for rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. From 1991 to 1995, he led the NFL in rushing four times and rushing touchdowns three times.
More importantly, Smith helped lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins during his prime. He was arguably the most important part of the triumvirate with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin that won those three Super Bowls for Dallas. Smith may not have been the most talented running back to ever play the game, but he got the most out of his talent and could do everything a running back needs to do. In 13 seasons with the Cowboys, he missed just over a handful of games, totaled over 20,000 yards between rushing and receiving, and found the end zone 164 times. In other words, there’s no doubt he’s the best running back in franchise history and perhaps NFL history.