The Broncos signed Melvin Gordon to team with two-time 1,000-yard back Phillip Lindsay, giving them a high-profile backfield. The newly created tandem will attempt to measure itself against some of the best to come before it. On that subject, here are the best running back duos in NFL history.
The NFL of the early 2020s features a few potent backfield tandems, both aiding playoff contenders and frustrating fantasy GMs. The league has seen many great backs form unique partnerships, however, some with Hall of Famers teaming up. Here are the best running back duos in NFL history.
An ahead-of-his-time player, Harmon eclipsed 500 receiving yards in six straight seasons. The outlet threat teamed with Butts on some talented Chargers teams. From 1990-93, Butts and Harmon combined for three Pro Bowls. The former bludgeoned his way to Hawaii in 1990 and '91 and teamed with Harmon to help the '92 Chargers become the only team to ever start 0-4 and make the playoffs. Since the 1970 merger, Harmon's 914 receiving yards in 1992 rank eighth among running backs. The Bolts drafted Natrone Means in 1993; their backfield trio combined for 2,441 scrimmage yards in its lone season together.
The 2008 Giants earned home-field advantage thanks largely to Jacobs and Ward becoming the NFL's fifth 1,000-1,000 rushing tandem. A Christian Okoye-esque terrifying tackling task, the 264-pound Jacobs surpassed 1,000 yards in 2007 and 2008 and scored 15 TDs in '08. Used on special teams during Tiki Barber's final three seasons, Ward missed most of New York's 2007 Super Bowl season but rushed for 603 yards in eight games. In '08, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw combined for 2,931 scrimmage yards in 2008. Bradshaw became a key cog after Ward's 2009 free agency exit.
The Browns earned 1986's No. 1 AFC seed despite Byner going down midseason. Had he been at full strength, perhaps "The Drive" game plays out differently. In 1985, Mack and Byner became the third pair of backs to join the 1,000-1,000 club; Mack did so as a rookie in a season when fellow rookie Bernie Kosar needed a dominant ground game to get the Browns to the playoffs. In '87, Mack made the Pro Bowl and Byner totaled 345 yards in two playoff games — before his era-defining fumble. Byner led the playoff-bound '88 Browns in rushing before being traded to Washington.
One of the most electric players in the Cardinals' 100-year history, Metcalf teamed with a fullback used frequently as a between-the-tackles runner from 1973-77. Residing as one of the NFL's most underrated inside-outside tandems, Otis and Metcalf thrived during Don Coyrell's mid-'70s St. Louis stay. The Cardinals won the NFC East from 1974-75, relying on their three-time Pro Bowl halfback and a fullback who led the NFC in rushing in 1975. Like his son in the 1990s, Terry Metcalf helped as a runner and receiver. Both he and Otis made the Pro Bowl in 1975 — an 11-3 season that doubled as the St. Louis Cards' peak.
This tandem worked together for barely two seasons, but after Jim Brown's 1966 retirement on "The Dirty Dozen" set, the Browns still led the NFL in rushing that season. They did so again in 1967. Brown's successor, Kelly rocketed to NFL stardom earning All-Pro acclaim in his first three starter years. The Canton-bound halfback teamed with Green, a Packers draftee who was Brown's sidekick in his final seasons. With Green also sparking Cleveland's passing attack, the two each made the Pro Bowl in their two seasons together and combined for 5,268 scrimmage yards from 1966-67. A knee injury ended Green's career in 1968.
The offensive catalyst on some overlooked Jets teams, McNeil was one of the NFL's top running backs for several years in the 1980s. He and Hector played together for 10 years and combined for four seasons of 2,000-plus scrimmage yards. The pair crested in the mid-'80s, with the Jets increasing McNeil's passing-game usage. He and his more traditional running back ally combined for 2,494 yards in the Jets' 1985 playoff season and topped 2,100 in '86 despite both missing time due to injury. McNeil never averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in 12 years and scored three times during the Jets' 1986 playoff slate.
As Taylor's prime wound down, the Jaguars brought in an overqualified wingman who then usurped him in the late 2000s. Taylor and Jones-Drew teamed up for only three years, only two of which were especially notable, but the Jags' ground attack soared in that span. The team's all-time rushing leader produced his sixth and seventh 1,000-yard seasons in 2006 and '07, making his only Pro Bowl in the latter season. Jones-Drew was immediately explosive, scoring 15 TDs as a rookie in 2006. Taylor and his 5-foot-6 mentee each surpassed 1,300 scrimmage yards in '06 and helped the Jags to the 2007 divisional round.
The early-1950s Lions were loaded, rostering several Hall of Famers. One of them played a multifaceted role on offense. At just 173 pounds, Walker was a jack-of-all-trades for Detroit. The Heisman winner earned four All-Pro honors in six seasons, being a key Bobby Layne target (three 500-yard receiving years) and helping Hoernschemeyer in the backfield. Both first-round picks, Walker and Hoernschemeyer played in Detroit from 1950-55. In that span, the Lions won two NFL titles. The duo accounted for three TDs in the Lions' title games — including a Walker 67-yard run in 1952 — and combined for six Pro Bowls.
The Cowboys traded a first-round pick and three second-rounders to the Seahawks to draft Dorsett second overall in 1977. He became an instant success and a lock Hall of Famer; the electric runner took Dallas' backfield reins as a rookie. Dorsett teamed with Newhouse and Pearson to post staggering yardage numbers. Dallas' do-everything back, its fullback and a 30-something receiving back combined for 2,916 scrimmage yards in 14 1977 games for the Super Bowl champs. In '78, the trio got to 3,093 in 16 games. While Pearson slowed down soon after, Dorsett and Newhouse remained a top-end duo until 1980.
Prior to the 2019 Ravens' throwback ground success, the 1978 Patriots' 3,165 rushing yards stood as the NFL record. The Cunningham-centered attack peaked in 1978, but Randall's older brother is the Pats' all-time leading rusher. He and Calhoun gave the Patriots a top-six rushing attack from 1976-78. Both Cunningham and Calhoun — running behind Hall of Fame guard John Hannah — each topped 700 rushing yards in 1976 and '77, and in '78, Johnson and Horace Ivory joined Cunningham in surpassing 600 for the AFC East champions. The Pro Bowl fullback skipped the 1980 season in a contract dispute, ending this era.
They only played 27 games together but combined for three Pro Bowls in a stretch that re-established the Saints as a Super Bowl threat. The Saints turned Kamara into a supercharged version of Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, and in 2017 New Orleans' most successful inside-outside tandem became the first running backs ever to each eclipse 1,500 scrimmage yards in a season. Kamara scored a Saints-record-tying 18 TDs, with he and Ingram coming within a botched pass interference call of a Super Bowl. Kamara-Latavius Murray has been effective, but it profiles as a discount version of what the Saints once had.
This partnership produced only two notable years; they happened to coincide with back-to-back Eagles championships. An undrafted free agent and a No. 5 overall pick, Pritchard and Van Buren, respectively, helped the Eagles go 20-3-1 from 1948-49. Van Buren, of course, was most responsible. The four-time rushing champion was the dominant back of his era, twice topping 1,000 yards (in 12-game seasons) and maxing out at 1,146 in 1949. Pritchard got to 506 that year but averaged 6.0 yards per carry. They combined for 165 yards in 1948's blizzard title game, and Van Buren gashed the Rams for 196 to clinch the 1949 crown.
Vince Lombardi assembled two backfields on this list, the second of which coming during his short time in Washington. In 1969, the iconic coach drafted Brown in Round 8 and acquired Harraway from the Browns. For a stretch in the early 1970s, Brown — a four-time Pro Bowler — was the NFL's best back. Freed from Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly's shadow, Harraway cleared paths for Brown and proved adept at rushing and receiving. Harraway caught 55 passes in 1969 and helped Brown become the NFL MVP in 1972. The two played together from 1969-73, lifting Washington to three playoff berths and Super Bowl VII under George Allen.
Team success and the historic Bill Walsh-Joe Montana partnership may obscure the mid-1980s 49ers' dynamic backfield. It shouldn't. A three-day stretch in April 1983 brought the 49ers Craig (via Round 2 pick) and Tyler (via Rams trade). They thrived as a three-year duo. Craig became one of the most versatile backs ever, and Tyler led an 18-1 team (the '84 Niners) in rushing with 1,262 yards. Craig caught 71 passes that year and scored three Super Bowl TDs. While Craig became the first-ever member of the 1,000-1,000 rushing-receiving club in 1985, he and Tyler combined for a monstrous 3,087 scrimmage yards that year.
A throwback pairing both in terms of productivity and resources expended, Carolina's backfield from 2008-14 featured two first-round picks and millions of fantasy owners on weekly rollercoasters. A 2006 first-rounder, Williams was the primary starter. But each player led the Panthers in rushing three times during this coalition's tenure. Chosen 11th overall in 2008, Stewart was the more powerful back and scored 21 TDs in his first two years. Wiliams-Stewart peaked in 2009 — as Jake Delhomme declined — with each surpassing 1,100 rushing yards. They remain the only duo to ever accomplish that.
The Chargers beat the Patriots, 51-10, in the 1963 AFL championship game — the franchise's lone title — and Lincoln's performance ranks up there with the best ever in a title-deciding game. The swift fullback gashed the Pats for 329 scrimmage yards — tied for the third-most in a game in AFL-NFL history. He teamed with Lowe, the Bolts' Sid Gillman-era halfback, to form a dominant backfield from 1960-66. With Gillman dialing up ways to use both, the two combined for eight AFL All-Star teams. Lowe totaled two 1,000-yards seasons, and going into 1963's title game, Lincoln averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
As the Cowboys hit their stride in the late 1960s and early '70s, they deployed a dependable ground attack. Hill and Garrison — with the short-lived aid of the enigmatic Thomas — gave the Cowboys a top-five rushing attack five times from 1969-74. Known more now for being Grant Hill's father, Calvin was a two-time 1,000-yard back and four-time Pro Bowler. In 1972, both he and his fullback surpassed 800 rushing yards en route to the Pro Bowl. The brooding Thomas took Hill's spot as the Cowboys' top halfback in 1970 and '71 but was gone by '72. The Hill-Garrison duo did well to supplement Roger Staubach in the coming years.
The early years of the Steelers 1970s dynasty required major Harris assistance, with Terry Bradshaw not yet a consistent quarterback. But Pittsburgh's offense took steps forward in the mid-'70s. Bleier's emergence into a high-end Harris support staffer helped on this front. The Vietnam War veteran contributed solid work alongside his Hall of Fame teammate from 1974-78. In 1976, Harris and Bleier became the second duo to go 1,000-1,000. Each missing the '76 AFC title game due to injuries doomed the Steelers, but the running backs were essential to the team's third and fourth Super Bowl championships soon after.
A talent consolidation for the ages. The stats are not there for this duo compared to the others in this list's top sector. That's because Jackson joined the Raiders each October after his Royals seasons. A year-round highlight maven from 1987-90, Bo averaged north of 5.5 yards per carry in three Raiders seasons. He reached 950 rushing yards in 11 games in 1989 and made the Pro Bowl despite being a Raider backup in '90. Los Angeles' established star, Allen still contributed steady work on the ground and through the air. Jackson's NFL career ended suddenly with his January 1991 hip injury, stopping this partnership at four years.
As far as complementary backfields go, it does not get much better. Dunn and Alstott played together in Tampa from 1997-2001; they combined for seven Pro Bowls and three seasons with 2,300-plus scrimmage yards. Alstott's broken-tackle highlight reels almost obscured Dunn's consistency. The elusive ex-Florida State star thrived as a runner and receiver, catching 259 passes during the Dunn-Alstott years. He later formed Dunn-Alstott Lite with T.J. Duckett in Atlanta. Alstott may be the last statistically impactful fullback — barring a drastic NFL stylistic pivot — but the six-time Pro Bowler made his run count.
The cogs in Vince Lombardi's methodical ground machine, Taylor and Hornung drove the Packers to their first three Lombardi-era championships. Both Hall of Famers arrived in Green Bay before Lombardi, but each's career took off in the 1960s after the legendary coach moved to Wisconsin. Taylor did the bulk of the inside lifting; the fullback amassed five straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1960-64 and prevented Jim Brown from going 9-for-9 in rushing titles by winning 1962's. Hornung did his best supporting work from 1959-61, scoring 32 TDs in that span. Hornung and Taylor combined for 153 TDs as Packers.
Each Hall of Famers, Perry and McElhenny's overlap was special. From 1952-54, the 49ers led the NFL in rushing and sent two backs to the Pro Bowl each year. Perry was with the team dating back to its All-American Football Conference roots in the '40s; McElhenny arrived in the 1952 first round. Perry's straight-ahead style blended with McElhenny's broken-field sojourns, and each earned All-Pro acclaim in 1953. Perry led the NFL in rushing in 1953 and '54. In the latter year, the 49ers assembled "The Million Dollar Backfield" with Johnson, but Perry and McElhenny played together through 1960.
An all-time versatile player, Moore teamed with Ameche to give the Colts elite capabilities during their franchise zenith in the late 1950s. Lethal on the ground and through the air, Moore averaged 7-plus yards per carry three times and eclipsed 900 receiving yards twice. From 1956-59, he and Ameche combined for six Pro Bowls and gave Johnny Unitas an unrivaled inside-outside tandem to lift Baltimore to back-to-back titles. Moore led the NFL in yards per touch in each of his first six years, and Ameche remained a quality between-the-tackles grinder. He scored the game-winning TD in "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
The Dolphins built a dynasty on an ability to gain rushing yards at will. From 1971-74, the Dolphins went 1-1-3-4 in rushing rankings. They rode their Csonka-Morris tandem to two Super Bowl titles and were one miracle catch away from playing for the right to reach four straight Super Bowls. Csonka and Kiick powered the Dolphins to Super Bowl VI, but the elusive Morris overtook Kiick during Miami's perfect season. He and Csonka became the first teammates to each rush for 1,000 yards in that 17-0 1972 slate. In Super Bowl VIII a year later, Csonka won MVP honors in a game in which the Dolphins threw just seven passes.
From 1958-61, Brown had a Hall of Fame teammate in the backfield. The Browns drafted Mitchell in the seventh round and used him as the lightning to Brown's not-since-replicated thunder dimension. Brown won four straight rushing titles despite Mitchell gaining at least 500 yards in each of his four Cleveland seasons. In 1960, the Browns' halfback added 612 receiving yards and joined the legendary fullback in the Pro Bowl. Cleveland traded Mitchell to Washington in 1962 for Ernie Davis' rights, dismantling this historic combo against Brown's wishes. Washington moved Mitchell to wide receiver, and he led the NFL in receiving the next two years.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.