15 Running Backs You Wouldn't Believe Had 1,000 Yard Seasons

Running backs come and go faster than any position in the NFL. With that being said, many players get put into the spotlight and before they can make a name for themselves, they are out of the league and out of the public eye. This is why we see certain running backs reach the 1,000 yard rushing mark and not have any recollection of who they are. Sometimes we need a refresher on some of the more forgettable players that have come across are TV screens in recent years.

With how quickly the NFL career is over, many players can get lost in the cracks and forgotten forever. The constant shuffling of rosters and the fact that so many players get injured over the course of the year makes it difficult to have a lasting impact in the league. For every star player that breakouts in a season, there are multiple players losing out on their shot of staying on a roster.

There are also the players that we know and love but had no idea they were able to reach the coveted mark for running backs. Certain players are known for disappointing at the next level, but not everyone who doesn't live up to expectations is as bad as some people remember. We will be looking at the most forgettable players to make it over 1,000 yards rushing. This list is dedicated to those running backs who had great rushing seasons that many fans won’t remember, or simply won't believe.

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15 Chris Brown (2004)

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When Chris Brown was drafted in 2003, he was slated to be the third string back, which is why many people will forget how productive he was in his second season. Two factors lead to Brown’s unlikely production in 2004. Eddie George left during the summer, signing with the Dallas Cowboys, and an injured hamstring that plagued Brown his rookie year was full healed. During that season, Brown looked to be a very productive back, gaining 1,067 rushing yards on just 220 carries. His yards per carry was actually higher than any other running back in the league (4.9). In his second season as a starter, his production took a dip, and it provided to be costly for Brown, as the Titans front office selected LenDale White in the 2006 draft. Brown at times was not on the active roster in 2006, and found himself out of the league after the 2009 season. He finished his career with 3,024 rushing yards, over a third of them coming in 2004.

14 Lamar Smith (2000)

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Lamar Smith had his career year at the age of 30, which is something that most NFL running backs do not experience. After being a back up for six seasons, with stints in Seattle and New Orleans, Smith was given a starting role in Miami. Taking the opportunity to the fullest, Smith scored a total of 16 touchdowns in 2000. He racked up 1,139 yards during the season as the Dolphins made the playoffs. During the wild card game against the Colts, he carried the ball 40 times, a record that still holds up. The Dolphins leaned on him to lead the team’s rushing attack during the 2000 and 2001 seasons, putting up 2,107 yards in that time. Smith’s role in the NFL was diminished after 2002, as the Dolphins replaced him with Ricky Williams.

13 Olandis Gary (1999)



Coming off back to back Super Bowl victories, the Denver Broncos needed a youth injection on their roster with John Elway retiring. Terrell Davis suffered a season ending injury and Gary got the opportunity to shine. Only playing 12 games in his rookie year, Gary nearly averaged 100 yards a game, and finished the season with 1,159 yards and seven touchdowns. Gary was the one who started the trend of nameless running backs finding a huge amount of success in Denver’s run blocking system. The next season, like Davis before, Gary suffered any injury that kept him from being productive ever again. He played four more seasons after his breakout year as a rookie, but didn't manage to get over 1,000 yards total during those seasons and was out of the league after a poor performance with the Detroit Lions in 2003.

12 Justin Fargas (2007)

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Justin Fargas barely qualified for this list, as his highest rushing campaign in 2007 saw him rush for 1,009 yards. The former Wolverine and Trojan saw himself serve as the Raiders primary backup for four seasons, before an injury to Lamont Jordan went down and Fargas assumed the starting spot. He only started seven games, but averaged near 80 all purpose yards and was a spark plug in a forgettable season for the Raiders, as they finished 4-12 for the year. Fargas had an inability to reach the end zone during that season, only scoring four times. The Raiders backup quarterback at the time, Daunte Culpepper, had three rushing touchdowns that year. In 2008, he was given the starting role, but was not able to recapture as much success, rushing for just over 800 yards while starting 14 games. Oakland let him go in 2009, and he was unable to find a roster spot anywhere else in the league. 

11 Reggie Bush (2011 and 2013)

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We all know who Reggie Bush is, except if you are the NCAA record books, but did anyone know Bush was a 1,000 yard rusher? Can anyone name what year or team he had a 1,000 yard season for? In 2011 Bush eclipsed this benchmark as a member of, the Dolphins. After five underwhelming seasons in New Orleans, Bush was given the opportunity to have more than 200 carries for the first time in his career. He responded by putting up 1,086 yards, the highest single season total of his career. Bush is one of the few entries on this list that actually have two 1,000 yard seasons, getting that benchmark as a member of the Lions in 2013. Since then, it has been all downhill for the former NCAA star. Since 2013, he has rushed 322 yards, finishing with negative three yards in 2016 as a member of the league’s most efficient running offense, the Buffalo Bills. Bush has had a rather forgettable 11 year career in the NFL, and his 2011 season is no exception.

10 Lamont Jordan (2005)

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After previously mentioning his backup in Oakland, it is time to shed some light on another forgettable running back of the 2000s. Jordan had a nine year career and gained 3,734 rushing yards throughout his time in the NFL. On average, that's about 414 yards a season, when you account for his lone 1,000 season being more than 25% of his productivity, it’s easy to see why Jordan may not be a household name. He came to Oakland in his fifth season in 2005, after never getting more than 100 carries as a member of the Jet’s backfield. He shined as a starter, and as a pass catching back, catching a league high 70 receptions for running backs. His success did not last long, suffering injuries in 2006 and 2007 and was released from the team a year later. He played his last two seasons as a backup with the Patriots and Broncos before calling it quits. Jordan showed signs up being a productive back, but injuries struck at the worst time.

9 James Allen (2000)

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The key to being  a forgotten running back is to have the most generic name possible. Chris Brown, Anthony Johnson and now James Allen have found themselves being out of the memory of many NFL fans partly due to this. Another reason Allen finds himself here is that in his five year career he only rushed for 2,497 yards and four touchdowns. During his career year in 2000, he scored only twice, but that wasn’t necessarily Allen’s fault, as the Chicago offense only scored 18 touchdowns for the year. Gaining 1,120 yards on the ground, Allen was the only offense at times while the team struggled with horrible quarterback play. After just five seasons, he called it quits after splitting time as the starter for the Houston Texans in 2003. The reason was due to him losing his passion for the NFL, and announced he would pursue a rap career. He attempted a comeback, but no team was willing to offer him a chance at a roster spot.

8 Christopher Wells (2011)

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Does this name look familiar at all without the word “Beanie” in it? Beanie Wells was a star at Ohio State just about eight years ago and has been out of the league for the last five years. Every single off-season we heard that it was time for “Beanie Wells’ Breakout Season” and it did happen in 2011, where he ran for 1,047 yards and ten touchdowns. After two underwhelming seasons it looked like Wells returned to the form he had in college, but the next season he suffered a toe injury that kept him out of action most of his fourth season. During 2013, he tried to get a roster spot on the Baltimore Ravens, but had a season ending Achilles injury during his tryout. He looked to be the missing piece that the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals needed in the draft, but Wells one productive season wasn’t what they were expecting from the former college star.

7 Anthony Johnson (1996)

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When you google search “Anthony Johnson” this particular one does not show up at all. When you type in “NFL” afterwards, he still isn't one of the first two options after the search. This is the most obscure 1,000 yard rusher in NFL history. Johnson was drafted as a fullback, pass catching running back for the Colts in 1990. He played all 16 games as a rookie, but did not get a single carry and had five receptions for 32 yards. During his first four seasons, Johnson just barely cracked the 1,000 mark plateau. It wasn't until his sixth season where Johnson made an impact, after joining the Carolina Panthers. Heading into 1996 Johnson had only carried the ball 306 times in his career. During that season in Carolina, Johnson was given the ball 300 times, and nearly doubled his carries for his career. He retired four years later and will go down as one of the biggest one year wonder running backs in NFL history. In 1996 we were given two of the most obscure one hit wonders ever. Johnson’s abnormal season, and the “running man challenge song”, “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJ’s. Somehow, this all seems oddly fitting.

6 Cadillac Williams (2005)

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Remember when Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams were the most powerful running back duo in college football history? That's basically where all of Williams fame came from, as his impact in the NFL was minimal. He stormed onto the scene in his rookie year, rushing for 1,178 yards for the Buccaneers. From there, Williams was unable to be a factor. He suffered a torn patella tendon in 2007 and never really was able to recover at full strength. He was only a starter for two seasons, and after his time in Tampa Bay was over, he backed up Steven Jackson for the Rams in 2011. Williams showed tremendous promise his rookie season, as he was the first player to start his career with 100 + rushing yards in his first three games. Many people will remember Williams, but rather as a cautionary tale for drafting running backs so early in the draft, and not for his lone 1,000 yard season.

5 Julius Jones (2006)

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It's been 11 years since Jones was the future for America's team. Jones had a very productive few years in Dallas, but never really met the expectations people had of him, which was to replace Emmitt Smith. After getting 819 and 993 rushing yards in his first two seasons, it looked like Jones was primed to take over and be one of the most feared back in the league. His best season was forgettable though, as he only managed to get 1,084 yards. The Cowboys did not trust Jones as the future back, and his split carries with Marion Barber, with Barber getting the bulk of carries near the goal line and in the 4th quarters of games. He was deemed a bust to Cowboy fans and many people will remember him as one for not filling the shoes of running backs before him. Even though he wasn't as productive as people thought he could be someday, he was still able to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark once in his seven year career.

4 Dominic Rhodes (2001)

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The only Super Bowl champion on this list is Dominic Rhodes, who won a ring as a member of the Colts in 2007. His biggest contribution to that particular team was as a backup to a rookie Joseph Addai, but when Rhodes was the starter as a rookie in 2001, he rushed for 1,104 yards. His rushing mark set the record for an undrafted rookie, but assumed back up duties the next season once Edgerrin James returned from an injury he sustained during week five of the 2001 season. For the next four seasons Rhodes served as the primary change of pace back before leaving Indy after their Super Bowl win, signing a deal with the Oakland Raiders. The 2007 Raiders backfield was actually completely comprised of three players on this list, as Rhodes joined Fargas and Jordan in Oakland. His stint there was short lived, getting suspended for four games, and getting cut after the season after the Raiders drafted Darren McFadden. Rhodes had a notable career, but very few people remember him as anything more than a change of pace back for the Colts.

3 Tatum Bell (2006)

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The Broncos could have made seemingly anyone a 1,000 yard rusher in the 2000s, and Bell was another back that thrived in Denver that fizzled out quickly. Bell was the last of the four straight new Bronco running backs to gain 1,000 yards during 2003-06, as Mike Shanahan was able to turn virtually anyone into a useful running back. The year before Bell became the starter in 2006, he served as a backup, and gained 921 yards and eight touchdowns. When he assumed the starting role, he rushed for 1,025 yards, but saw his backup Mike Bell score eight touchdowns compared to Tatum’s two. Bell left Denver after his impressive season to be a member of the Lions, but was unhappy with his backup role and was eventually cut by the team. Although he was out of the NFL, he still played football in the United Football League, and rushed for 365 yards in one game.

2 Karim Abdul-Jabbar (1996)

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Most people don’t know that the NBA’s record setting center also rushed for 1,000 yards as a member of the Dolphins in 1996. In all seriousness, Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar was a touchdown machine in the late '90s, seeing the end zone 26 times in his first two seasons. His rookie year saw him score 11 times while running for 1,116 yards. He followed that season by rushing for just 3.2 yards a carry, but scored 15 times and rushed for 892 yards. Jabbar looked to be a bonafide stud coming out of UCLA but was traded to where NFL careers have little chance of panning out. His lone season as a member of the Cleveland Browns did not go well. After playing ten games in Cleveland, and only getting 350 yards in that span, Jabbar did not receive a new contract or a contract extension from any team. His last NFL appearance was the one carry he had in 2000, as a member of the Colts, that went for negative two yards.

1 Kevan Barlow (2003)

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Kevan Barlow may be the most successful player on this list, but he is one of those names you haven’t heard in years, and many people forget that he was only in the spotlight for the 49ers for three seasons. With Terrell Owens on your team it is very easy to not see much of the spotlight, but Barlow had some productive years in San Francisco. He just barely qualifies as a 1,000 yard rusher, netting 1,024 in 2003 while only starting four games. He was the perfect compliment in the backfield while Jeff Garcia tried to perfect the west coast offense with Terrell Owens at wide receiver, but didn't stay on the 49ers for the long haul. He was traded to the Jets who were looking for a long term replacement for retired Curtis Martin, but was unimpressive and out of the league after 2007.

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