The Greatest Dallas Cowboys Running Backs In Franchise History

ezekiel elliott

Running back is a fleeting position in football, as the job tends to cause injury and shorten careers prematurely.

Throughout Dallas Cowboys history, some backs were impactful over short time periods. Others had prolonged success and worked their way up the franchise’s all-time rushing leaderboard. 

In fact, Dallas is the only franchise with two running backs in the top ten of the NFL’s all-time rushing yards list.  

Below is a breakdown of the 10 greatest ball carriers in Cowboy’s history.

RELATED: Our top 10 QBs in Cowboys history

10th – Duane Thomas

If you scroll through the statistics of the all-time great Dallas backs, Thomas’ name won’t be at the top of the list. 

He only played two seasons in Dallas but cemented his legacy by playing a massive role on the 1971 Super Bowl-winning team. Thomas led the team in rushing through the season, and in the big game he ran for 95 yards, had 17 receiving yards and one touchdown.

It’s debatable that Thomas should’ve won MVP of the game as well. Rather, it went to quarterback Roger Staubach.

9th – Herschel Walker

The all-time leader in rush yards in the Southeastern Football Conference bounced around a lot through his 12 years in the NFL, never spending more than three consecutive years with one team.

After being drafted by the Cowboys, Walker had the star on his helmet for three seasons. He played for three different teams before playing his final two seasons in Dallas. 

Interestingly, when the Cowboys traded Walker they used a draft pick they got in return to draft the first player on this list.

Walker’s peak years were in Dallas, where he earned two pro bowl selections. His best season came in 1988 when he ran for 1,514 yards, second only to LA Rams running back Eric Dickerson.

8th – Marion Barber

The one-time pro bowl back had a knack for finding the endzone as his 47 touchdowns rank fourth in Dallas’ record books. Totaling 4,358 yards on the ground lands Barber in eighth among Cowboys greats.

Barber played a major part in the Cowboys making three consecutive postseason appearances early in his six seasons in Dallas.

7th – Robert Newhouse

Dallas’ second round pick of the 1972 NFL Draft was a workhorse, playing all 12 years of his career with the Cowboys. Only one running back in Cowboys history has played in more games. 

At 5’10 and 210 pounds, Newhouse was a ground-and-pound rusher. He actually spent much of his career blocking for another running back appearing at number two on this list.

He was the second-leading rusher in Dallas’ 1978 Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.

6th – Calvin Hill

Hill only suited up in Dallas for six seasons, but he made the most of his short time with the team in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Hill helped Dallas win the 1971 Super Bowl and he ranks fifth in yards and sixth in touchdowns in franchise history.

The former Yale Bulldog was an all-pro in just his rookie year. Hill’s best season came in year four when he rushed for 1,142 yards and tallied 290 receiving yards. He was an all-purpose back before it was a trend in pro football.

5th – DeMarco Murray

Murray only spent four seasons with the Cowboys and played far fewer games compared to others you’ll read about here, yet he still ranks seventh in rushing yards and ninth in rushing touchdowns among Cowboys greats.

He led Dallas in rushing his first two seasons but ultimately shared touches with his backup.

Finally, in year three, Murray was given a majority of Dallas’ rushing attempts and proved it was the right decision. He set career highs that he would soon break in year four. In that same season, Murray led the NFL in rushing yards, yards per game and touchdowns.

4th – Don Perkins

A ninth round selection in the 1960 Draft, even Dallas couldn’t have predicted the production Perkins would provide for them.

Outside of his late selection in the draft, another thing that sets the six-time pro bowler and all pro recipient apart from the other members on this list is that Perkins transitioned to fullback late in his career.

In Cowboys history, Perkins ranks fourth in rushing yards and fifth in touchdowns.

3rd – Ezekiel Elliott

Appearing on this list after only six seasons is an impressive feat and Zeke’s instant production from his rookie year to now got him there. 

Elliott’s 1,631 rookie rushing yards are the third most in league history. This earned him offensive and overall rookie of the year honors in 2016.

Despite playing significantly less games than the company he keeps at the top of the list, Elliott is third all time in rushing yards and touchdowns in Cowboys history.

The former Ohio State Buckeye has made three pro bowls and an all pro team, but he’ll need to keep piling on the yards and bring a Super Bowl to Dallas to pass the elite rushers ahead of him on this list.

2nd – Tony Dorsett

Despite drafting Dorsett second overall in the 1977 NFL draft, even Dallas couldn’t predict the half of fame career that awaited the former Pittsburgh Panther.

Much like Zeke, Dorsett kick-started his career from his rookie season and on. He won four various rookie of the year awards and later in his career he’d hoist the Lombardi Trophy once, make an all pro team and four pro bowls.

Dorsett has the 10th most rushing yards in NFL history with 12,739. Majority of which came in Dallas as Dorsett was a Cowboy for 11 seasons and a Denver Bronco for one year before retiring. 

At his retirement, Dorsett was the greatest Cowboy rusher ever. But only one season would pass before Dallas would draft the player that eventually took that crown.

1st – Emmitt Smith

Smith is not only the greatest Cowboys running back of all time, but arguably the best to do it in NFL history. His 18,355 career rushing yards and 164 rushing touchdowns are more than any other player since the league’s inception in 1920. 

Smith didn’t tally all those yards and touchdowns in Dallas as he finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals, playing two seasons in the desert.

To reel it back in and only rank Smith among Cowboys greats, he’s got over 5,000 more rushing yards and 81 more touchdowns than Dorsett, who ranks second in each category.

Add in four all pros, eight pro bowls, three Super Bowl rings, one Super Bowl MVP, countless MVPs and offensive player of the year awards and you’ve got the makings of a hall of famer. Smith will be remembered as having one of the greatest NFL careers of all time.