It’s easy to forget just how difficult it is for a running back to hit the millennium mark in a season. Blame it on exceptional running backs like Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders who could hit 1,000 yards before the playoff race even began in earnest and rush for another 600 more with ease. The truth is that there is no truly awful running back has ever hit the 1,000-yard mark in a season. It’s a mark of excellence that has forever separated very good seasons from the great ones.
However, there are two kinds of 1,000-yard rushers. Those who treat a 1,000 yards like a mark they must hit in order to maintain a standard of excellence and those who are just as shocked as most fans are to see them break the fabled 1,000 yard mark. What separates the two is consistency. Some 1,000-yard rushers are perennial millennium men who have helped turned 1,000 yards into a universal mark of excellence. Others...well, other 1,000 yard rushers are the kind that remind that you of the incredible series of performances it takes for otherwise unremarkable running backs to hit this remarkable level. These are the top 15 worst NFL running backs to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
15 Cleveland Gary
Long before Cleveland Gary became a small footnote in NFL history, he was a college football star the He played at University of Georgia as a true freshmen and lit up the college ranks with pro-caliber performances. He transferred to the University of Miami and continued to shine as a football player and baseball player. He was even offered an MLB contract by the Atlanta Braves. Gary ended up getting drafted by the Rams in the first round of the 1989 draft. He put up his lone 1,000 yard season in 1992.
Aside from that, Gary’s only notable NFL career accomplishment occurred in 1990 when he scored 14 rushing touchdowns. It would have been interesting to see how Gary would have fared as a baseball player, as his flash of brilliance in the NFL was painfully brief.
14 Tatum Bell
Tatum Bell wasn’t exactly a can’t miss college prospect, but scouts were excited about the Oklahoma player’s blinding speed. Bell was drafted by the Broncos in 2004 and only managed to put up 396 yards his rookie season. Bell improved in 2005 by putting up 921 yards and finally broke the 1,000 yard mark in 2006. Even when Bell was at his best, however, he never looked completely comfortable on the field. He struggled to get into the endzone - he only scored 2 rushing touchdowns to compliment his 1,000 yards - and ended up making a fool of himself when he was traded to the Lions.
Along with complaining about his playing time, Bell foolishly promised to rush for 1,300 yards in 2008. Instead, he rushed for 249 yards and was accused of stealing another player’s luggage.
13 Bobby Humphrey
Bobby Humphrey left Alabama as arguably the best running back the school had ever seen. He had four 200 yard rushing games and 16 100 yard rushing games to his name and 33 touchdowns to boot. Humphrey was selected by the Denver Broncos in the 1989 Supplemental Draft. Humphrey’s momentum carried into his NFL career as he rushed for 1,151 yards his rookie season and 1,202 the following year. Following his impressive start, Humphrey decided to hold out for a bigger contract. He got his contract, but in the process had managed to alienate most of team and put on quite a bit of excess weight. Humphrey lasted only three more years in the NFL and never crossed the 500 rushing yards mark again. He ended up coaching an arena football team.
12 Cadillac Williams
Ah, Cadillac Williams. It was impossible for NFL teams to not be tempted by what Cadillac Williams had to offer. In four years at Auburn, Williams torched the competition with his blinding speed and shocking athleticism. In 2003, he went off for 1,037 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must have been shocked when they landed Williams in the 2005 draft and stunned when Williams put up 1,176 yards in his rookie season. Unfortunately, that ends the tale of Cadillac Williams’ great NFL career. While some say that Williams inability to ever reach the 1,000 yard mark again can be attributed to injuries, the fact remains that Williams was given opportunities to shine again even when he was healthy and could only turn in acceptable performances really highlights his status as a one season wonder.
11 Gaston Green
Before we end the saga of Bobby Humphrey, let’s talk about Gaston Green. Gaston Green spent three unremarkable years with the Los Angeles Rams following an impressive college career at UCLA. His career was looking like a complete bust until Bobby Humphrey decided to hold out for more money and acquired Gaston Green as a replacement. During his first year as a Broncos running back, Green rushed for 1,037 yards. The following year, Green only put up 648 yards but did maintain a 4 yards per run average.
Still, nobody really saw much long term potential in Green. He played his final season the following year. All told, almost 50% of Green’s total NFL career yards came during his 1,000+ yard season. That’s hardly a Hall of Fame career.
10 Reggie Cobb
Reggie Cobb’s rushing career got off to a rocky start when he put up 1,721 all-purpose yards at Tennessee in 1987, was injured the following year, and placed on indefinite suspension for failed drug test prior to the start of the next. Despite his troubles, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't’ help but be impressed by what they saw Cobb do when he was at his best. They brought him onto the team in 1990 and were rewarded with a...480 yard season. Cobb wouldn’t do much better the following year, but did rush for an impressive 1,171 yards in 1992. Whatever it was that Cobb summoned to have that year apparently left him shortly thereafter. Cobb never again showed even a hint of his brilliance. His career low point came in 1995 when he rushed for 18 yards as a member of the Jaguars.
9 John Settle
Who is John Settle? That’s a great question. Even the internet might fail you if you’re trying to truly find out about the career and life of this former 1,000 yard rusher. Settle didn’t set the world on fire during his time at Appalachian State, but he put up stats that were impressive enough to draw the attention of the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons brought him in as an undrafted free agent and Settle rewarded them for their trust with a 72 yard rookie campaign. Settle exploded the following year with a 1,024 yard campaign. In the process, he became the first undrafted running back to rush for at least a 1,000 yards in a season. He even did it as a fullback. Settle wasn’t given much of a chance to repeat his performance. He was out of the NFL only two years later.
8 Dominic Rhodes
Well, Dominic Rhodes’ career certainly started off well enough. Following an exceptional couple of years at Midwestern State, Dominic Rhodes decided to declare for the NFL Draft. Teams were hesitant to draft a player that had such a short college career. However, the Colts decided to take a chance on him by bringing him on as a free agent. He immediately rewarded the Colts for the opportunity by turning in a brilliant 1,104 yard performance. Many suspected he might even take Edgerrin James’ starting job.
Rhodes ended up tearing his ACL the next year. Remarkably, he only put up a few more yards over the next few years than the year he sat out with the injury. The Colts kept Rhodes around for quite a few seasons, but aside from his rookie performance, the best he could do was a pedestrian 641 yard season in 2006.
7 Raymont Harris
Sometimes, talent doesn’t translate into numbers. There have been incredibly gifted NFL players who simply haven’t lived up to their potential. Raymont Harris if a perfect example of this phenomenon. At some point in his career, Harris earned the nickname “Ultraback” due to his incredible athletic versatility. You’d never know he was so talented based on Harris’ NFL stats. Aside from his 1,033 yard/10 touchdown season in 1997, Harris failed to distinguish himself as anything more than a bit player for the Chicago Bears.
Following his career season, injuries robbed Harris of the chance for a repeat performance. He limped towards retirement by rushing for 36 yards in 2000 as a member of the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
6 Barry Word
To be fair, Barry Word’s life makes for a very interesting story. In 1985, Word rushed for 1,224 yards as a member of the Virginia Cavaliers. This put him on the map and convinced the New Orleans Saints to spend a 3rd round pick on him in 1986. Everything was going Word’s way until he and some former Virginia teammates were indicted in 1987 on charges of cocaine distribution. He spent five months in prison and ended up being a third-string running back in New Orleans.Following a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1990, Word rushed for 1,015 yards and seemed to be on the brink of a career resurgence.
Ultimately, Word’s lone 1,000 yard season seemed to be the product of his determination for redemption. Word just didn’t excel in any single aspect of the game and ultimately had the kind of career you expect a third-round running back to have.
5 Terdell Middleton
There is a very good chance you’ve never heard of Terdell Middleton before this moment. If that’s the case, we’re not surprised. Middleton began his NFL career at the tail end of the ‘70s as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Considering that he was a third-round pick traded to the Packers, it’s safe to say that nobody really expected much from him. His 97 yard rookie season only validated those concerns. A funny thing happened in Middleton’s second year, though, as he rushed for an astonishing 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns. Middleton was a big runner with a little speed, but nobody thought he had such a performance in him. Middleton again proved the doubter right by failing to cross the 500 yard mark again in the few years he had left as an NFL starter.
4 Tyrone Wheatley
Tyrone Wheatley was a great Michigan running back. He was a perennial Heisman contender and an incredible all-around athlete who put up three 1,000+ yard seasons in four years. Tyrone Wheatley the NFL starter, however, was a massive disappointment. The New York Giants engaged in an extended negotiation period with Wheatley as they believed that he was going to be a star for years to come.
Once Wheatley finally took the field, he struggled to adapt to the NFL. Meanwhile, his extended contract talks didn’t make him many friends on the team. Wheatley’s lone 1,000 yard season didn’t even come with the Giants. It happened during the 2000 season when he played for the Raiders. Aside from that, Wheatley’s best years was a 936 yard effort in 1999. The rest of his career is filled with underachievement.
3 Lamont Jordan
When the New York Jets drafted Lamont Jordan in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, they thought they had just stolen a true gem. Lamont Jordan didn’t start making waves during his college career until his junior year. Sure, Jordan’s senior year was a bust, but the Jets figured that they could mold Jordan into a star. However, Jordan never gave the Jets any reason to bench Curtis Martin. He was given quite a few carries in four years with the Jets, but struggled to be either explosive or consistent.
When Jordan was sent to the Raiders in 2005, he finally found a little room to run and put up 1,025 rushing yards to complement 536 receiving yards. Injuries hampered Jordan’s career shortly thereafter, but even when he was healthy, Jordan’s moments of greatness were few and far between.
2 Peyton Hillis
Nobody expected much from Peyton Hillis when he was picked in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft. At Arkansas, he served as a goal-line bruiser who used his massive frame to punch in the occasional touchdown. The Broncos tried to use him in that same capacity, but over his first two seasons, Hillis failed to prove that he could do anything more than occasionally turn his power running style into a few yards. They joyfully sent him to the Browns and then...something amazing happened. Hillis turned in an incredible 2010 season that saw him rack up 1,177 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, and one Madden NFL cover. Ultimately, Hillis proved his doubters right by spending the rest of his career failing to assert himself as a consistent power running back. In fact, he somehow got worse every year after his memorable 2010 season.
1 Steve Slaton
You can’t look back at Steve Slaton’s college numbers and not be impressed. Sure, he played for a unique offensive system that was designed to score a lot of points in college football, but anyone who can rush for 1,744 yards in a single season and average 16 rushing touchdowns a year, is worth draft consideration no matter how many red flags may hinder their pro prospects.
The Texans were the team that took a chance on Slaton in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Slaton then made the Texans look like draft day geniuses with a shocking 1,282 rushing yard rookie performance that was highlighted by some stunning individual games. After that, Slaton would never put up 150 rushing yards in a single season. What happened? Well, injuries eventually slowed him down, but Slaton seemingly lost his confidence. As a result, he began to fumble the ball an unusual amount of times and forced the Texans to bench him. Most, however, will tell you that Slaton was just never really that good.