Cleveland Browns: 15 best running backs of all-time

The Cleveland Browns seem to have found a star in Nick Chubb which has us feeling nostalgic as we look back at the best 15 running backs of all-time.

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Isaiah Crowell #34 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

2018 has been one of the most memorable seasons in Cleveland Browns history. While they won't be remembered as a playoff team, they will get praise for the huge steps they made as a team.

Following a 1-31 stretch from 2016-2017, the Browns got things figured out this season. Or at least they got it figured out after firing Hue Jackson.

Since he left, the team has looked completely different. Players are digging deep and putting up some impressive games. Seeing them put together some wins down the stretch reminds us all how great the NFL can be when Cleveland has a good football team.

With that in mind, we look back over the life of this historic team and pick out the 15 best players to line up behind the quarterback. Here we have our best Cleveland Browns running backs of all-time.

15

Isaiah Crowell

RB | 2014-2017
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The name Isaiah Crowell doesn't evoke smiles around Northeast Ohio, but he still sneaks onto this list. While he wasn't ever a franchise back, Crowell did put together four decent seasons on some pretty bad rosters. And he did so despite being an undrafted free agent.

Of course, Crowell didn't go undrafted due to talent. Instead, he had some character concerns after being kicked out of the University of Georgia program. An arrest for a weapons charge was the straw that broke the camel's back there, but Crowell had issues before that.

He ended up with Alabama State before making his way to the Browns. As a rookie, he showed off his skill. Crowell had 607 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns that season. He continued to play well as a second-year pro, but his third season was his best. That year, Crowell had 952 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

Crowell played just one more season before heading to the New York Jets this past offseason. He ended his time with the Browns by running for 3,803 yards and 27 touchdowns. He added another score and 770 yards off 96 catches in Cleveland. Crowell isn't remembered fondly, but he's still an underrated player.

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Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

14

Nick Chubb

RB | 2018-present
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Yes, he is a rookie and the season has yet to end, but Nick Chubb has been a fantastic running back this season for the Browns. Taken in the second round of the draft, there were questions about Chubb's ability to ever make it as a pro just a few seasons prior.

As a freshman at the University of Georgia, Chubb broke out in 2014. He had 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Dawgs. They have had a long line of great running backs come through Athens, and Chubb looked primed to be mentioned as one of the best. Then after six games in 2015, he suffered a gruesome knee injury versus the SEC East rival Tennessee Volunteers. There were questions about how much of his burst he would lose.

Chubb returned the following season and was a solid player with 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns. He could have gone pro then, and likely would have been a mid-round pick.

It would have been understandable for him to go as well since he was risking his chances to make money as an NFL player if he had another injury. Still, Chubb returned for one more year and it was a brilliant decision.

The senior ended up running for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns while re-establishing himself as one of the best young prospects in the draft.

In Cleveland, he ended up taking the starting job after general manager John Dorsey sent Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He became the first rookie running back since Trent Richardson to rush for 100 yards on the ground twice in the same season. Chubb even set a franchise record for the longest run when he ripped off 92 yards in Week 10 against the Atlanta Falcons. He has been a star and a huge part of the team's resurgence in 2018. It's also not crazy to think he could be in the top-3 for Browns running backs by the time his career is over.

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Running back Peyton Hillis #40 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

13

Peyton Hillis

RB | 2010-2011
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Coming in at No. 13 in our all-time list is Peyton Hillis, the former Madden cover athlete. Hillis was a seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos back in 2008 out of Arkansas and was originally listed as a fullback. In two seasons with Denver, he had just 397 yards, but did score six touchdowns — five of which came during his rookie campaign.

He joined the Browns in 2010 as a piece of the trade puzzle that sent former first-round quarterback Brady Quinn to Denver. And it didn't take long for Hillis to become a star for the Browns. Cleveland had him working as a fullback and tight end, but injuries forced him into a halfback role by Week 3. And he never gave the job up after that.

Hillis became one of the hottest players in the league during that 2010 NFL Season as the 250-pound running back went for 144 yards and a touchdown in his first start. He then followed it up with 102 yards and another score in his second game as their bell cow back. He had three more games with at least 100 yards, with his season-high coming in Week 9 as he went for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a surprising 34-14 win over the New England Patriots.

By the time the season ended, Hillis had 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. He added another 61 receptions, 477 yards, and two touchdowns through the air. Unfortunately, he wasn't as good the following season, as injuries limited him to just 10 games and 587 yards rushing.

Cleveland then was unable to keep Hillis, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012. That ended up being for the best as he never recaptured the magic he had during 2010. Hillis played just three more seasons after leaving the Browns, lasting just one year each with the Chiefs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and finally New York Giants.

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Running back Jamal Lewis #31 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

12

Jamal Lewis

RB | 2007-2009
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Jamal Lewis could make the top-15 list for the Baltimore Ravens as well as the Browns. Of course, he would be much higher on the list for the Ravens. The team that originated in Cleveland took Lewis at No. 5 overall in the 2000 NFL Draft after he put together an impressive college career at Tennessee.

Lewis came out the gates as a workhorse back and carried the ball 309 times as a rookie. He finished that season with 1,364 yards and six touchdowns — and helped the team win their first Super Bowl.

He missed all 16 games in what would have been his second year in the league due to injury, but came back as strong as ever after that. His best campaign came two years after that injury — which was 2003 when Lewis ran for 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns.

That season took a toll on Lewis as he finished with 387 carries 26 more receptions. After that, his numbers started to decline over the next few years. He was eventually released by the Ravens — and that's when the Browns came calling. Lewis signed ahead of the 2007 season and ended up playing his final three years in the orange and brown.

While he wasn't ever the same back he was earlier in his career, Lewis was a trusted bell cow. He ran the ball 298 times in 2007 and finished with 1,304 yards and four touchdowns. The following year he also topped 1,000 yards before gaining just 500 in 2009, which was his final year in the NFL. In all, Lewis totaled 2,806 yards and 13 touchdowns in his 40 games.

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11

Dub Jones

RB | 1948-1955
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A name that's not thrown around much when thinking of some of the better Browns of all-time is former running back Dub Jones. That could be because Jones shared the backfield with fullback Marion Motley, who was the primary ball carrier for them at the time.

As for Jones, the 6-foot-4, 202-pound running back was originally a member of the Miami Seahawks of the AAFC and then headed to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the same football league.

After two seasons with Brooklyn, he was traded to the Browns in 1948 and finished his career with them in 1955. During that span, he won two AAFC titles and three NFL Championships. Jones returned in 1963 as a coach and worked in that capacity until 1968.

More:30 greatest players in franchise history

On the field, Jones was more adept as a receiver than a runner. His best year in that regard came in 1052 when he had 651 yards through the air and four touchdowns. In all, he had 171 receptions for 2,874 yards and 20 touchdowns as a pass catcher in his eight seasons.

As a runner, he had 1,910 yards but averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per attempt and put in another 20 touchdowns for the Browns. His best season on the ground came in 1951 when he made his first Pro Bowl. That season he had 492 yards and seven touchdowns — while adding 570 yards and five scores as a receiver.

The last few seasons of his tenure hardly saw Jones running that ball. However during his prime, he was an impressive dual threat out of the backfield.

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10

Ernie Green

FB | 1962-1968
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If Ernie Green were to enter the NFL today, he wouldn't have been drafted. That's because it took all the way until the 14th round for him to hear his name called.

After performing as an All-American for the Louisville Cardinals, Green was selected in the later rounds of the 1962 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. He never ended up playing for The Pack though, as Green was sent to the Browns via trade during his rookie training camp.

Green never really became a lead back in his tenure and spent more of his time as a blocker. The fullback had the honor of being on the same roster as Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown and was credited with opening many holes for a couple of the biggest names to ever play in Northeast Ohio.

This doesn't mean that Green wasn't good with the ball in his hands. As a runner, he averaged 4.8 yards per attempt and ended his seven-year career with 3,204 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. He was more consistent as a receiver and finished with 2,036 yards off 195 receptions — and another 20 touchdowns.

In 1968, Green started to deal with knee problems. They lingered throughout his final NFL season. He played in just eight games that year and ended up having to hang up his cleats after surgery was performed on his problematic knee.

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Duke Johnson #29 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

9

Duke Johnson

RB | 2015-present
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Here we again have a player who is currently on the Browns as Duke Johnson cracks the top-10 roster. On the surface, Johnson isn't the most accomplished running back — but that has more to do with the team not using him in that role.

Johnson has carried the ball less than 100 times in every season except for his rookie year — but he still is above four-yards per attempt in his four-year career. While that average is good, it's not his work as a ball carrier that makes him a threat.

Where Johnson makes his mark is as a receiver. The speedy back out of the University of Miami came into the league with great skill as a route runner. He also displays soft hands and an ability to make defenses pay with yards after the catch.

Johnson is actually on pace for his least productive season as a receiver, but a lot of that has to do with former head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley criminally misusing him. He was struggling to even see the field with those two. Johnson quickly became a factor by scoring three touchdowns in the first two games with them out of town.

It was frustrating to see the Browns keeping him sidelined after what Duke did in 2017. On a 0-16 team, it's hard to find a bright spot but Johnson was exactly that. He was their top receiver with 693 yards and three touchdowns off 74 receptions. He even petitioned Jackson to move him to receiver this season, but that request was declined.

Moving forward, look for Johnson to continue to serve as a weapon in the passing game — while also being used as a change of pace back behind Nick Chubb. While Chubb will eventually pass Johnson on this list if he continues to run at the pace he is, Johnson can still climb higher himself should he continue to make the most out of every touch as he has to this point in his young career.

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Running back Eric Metcalf #21 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

8

Eric Metcalf

RB/KR | 1989-1994
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Our next running back is a player who had a skill set very reminiscent to what Duke Johnson now brings to the table. Eric Metcalf, who was a nominee for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class, was an electric running back, wide receiver and return man during his 13-year career. He became a journeyman the final few seasons of his career, and his longest tenure was his first.

Drafted at No. 13 overall out of Texas in the 1989 NFL Draft, Metcalf stayed with the Browns through the 1994 season. He started out his career strong with 633 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. He also added 54 receptions for 397 yards and four touchdowns during that rookie season.

Related Story:Interview with Eric Metcalf, Hall of Fame Nominee

While he also showed off his return skills as a rookie, it was his sophomore campaign where he impressed as a special teams star. That year, Metcalf had 1,052 yards on kick returns with two touchdowns. Those were his only two kickoff returns for scores during his Cleveland career, but he added five as a punt returner before leaving for the Atlanta Falcons where he played from 1995 to 1996.

Metcalf finished his career with the Browns with 2,229 yards which places him at No. 13 all-time for the club. He's also No. 21 in receiving yards for Cleveland with 2,732 yards. He's No. 1 all-time for running backs in receiving yards in the franchise's history, just ahead of his old teammate Earnest Byner.

After leaving the Browns, Metcalf had a 100-reception, 1,000-yard season with the Falcons. He was also part of the trade in which the then-San Diego Chargers moved up in a deal with the Arizona Cardinals for quarterback Ryan Leaf. Still, it was his time in Cleveland that comes to mind when Metcalf's name is mentioned.

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Running back Earnest Byner #44 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

7

Earnest Byner

RB | 1984-1988, 1994-1995
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Earnest Byner was just mentioned for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield for the Browns. He finished his time with the Browns catching 276 passes for 2,630 yards, placing him just one spot behind Eric Metcalf — and making him the No, 2 receiving back in Browns history at this point. Like Metcalf, he also made his mark in a multitude of ways.

A 10th-round pick out of East Carolina in 1984, Byner made the Browns as a running back and was also a kick returner. He never was an electric returner, but he did prove to be a durable power back for the Browns.

More:Brown Top 15 All-Time first-round draft picks

He spent the first five seasons of his career with them and in his second season, he topped 1,000 yards. That was his best season in the orange and brown as he rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns while adding another 460 yards through the air.

After those five seasons, Byner went on to play for the Washington Redskins, where he had two seasons in a row with over 1,000 yards on the ground.

After five years with them, he headed back to the Browns and played for them until they moved to Baltimore — and he then finished his career with two more seasons as a Raven. In his last year with the Browns, he had a career-high 61 receptions as he had become more of a receiving threat than a pure runner for them at this point.

Byner was also recently nominated for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class for his remarkable career. For his part with the Browns, Byner ended up with 3,364 yards on the ground and 27 touchdowns.

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Running back Kevin Mack of the Cleveland Browns runs with the ball during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game, 20-17.

6

Kevin Mack

FB | 1985-1993
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Back in 1984, the Browns used a first-round pick in the Supplemental Draft to obtain the rights to running back Kevin Mack. Unlike the Supplemental Draft of today, this one was a little different.

Back in this time, players had a couple of leagues to choose from. Mack spent the 1984 season with one of those leagues. This draft was used to gain the rights of these players, who were playing in leagues that started playing before the NFL did.

His first season as a pro football player saw Mack play as a member of the Los Angeles Express of the USFL. After that season, he joined the Browns in 1985 and made an immediate impact.

As a rookie in the NFL, 'Mack Truck' rolled over opponents to the tune of 1,104 yards. That proved to be a career-high for him, but more impressive was that he did this in the same season that Earnest Byner ran for 1,002 yards.

That kind of one-two punch in the backfield was nearly impossible to stop. However, the truth is the two may have actually hurt one another's numbers some as neither put up the kind of yards in Cleveland that their talent suggests they should have.

In his nine seasons, Mack made two Pro Bowls and had 5,123 yards rushing with 46 touchdowns. He was never an incredibly versatile back, but was still effective catching the ball out of the backfield. Mack had 197 career receptions for 1,602 yards and eight more touchdowns.

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5

Marion Motley

FB | 1946-1953
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We now start to get into the top-5 running backs of all-time for the Browns. We're also starting to see players from a different era — like Marion Motley. Listed as a fullback, Motley wore No. 76 as he was expected to play linebacker. He ended up playing both during his eight seasons with Cleveland, but it was as a runner where he made his mark.

Motley also played during a time when racial issues were still a major problem. He was working at a steel mill and got his chance since the team needed a roommate for Bill Willis — who was the first African-American player in the AAFC. Motley took advantage of the chance he was given and ended up being the featured back, despite being listed as a fullback.

In 1950, he ended up leading the NFL in rushing yards and was a two-time member of the First-Team All NFL. Motley was part of four championships runs in the AAFC before the Browns moved to the NFL — where they again won a title in their first season in the new league.

Working alongside Otto Graham and wideout Mac Speedie, Motley and the Browns were a force. However, his bruising style of play — which including some fantastic blocking — took its toll on Motley. Knee problems caused him to retire in 1953. He did return to the NFL in 1955 for one more season, but that year he played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 1968, Motley was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor for a talented player who almost was overlooked for the wrong reasons.

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4

Greg Pruitt

RB | 1973-1981
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In 1973, the Browns used a second-round pick on Greg Pruitt out of Oklahoma. Pruitt was brought in to eventually replace Leroy Kelly, who played just one season with Pruitt as a teammate. In 1974, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound back became the lead ball carrier and the transition from one star to another went rather smoothly.

Pruitt had 540 yards and three touchdowns in his first season as the primary starter, but then really broke out after that. In 1975, he had his first of three consecutive seasons with over 1,000-yards on the ground. That year, he had 1,067 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns.

He ended up playing nine seasons with the Browns, although his final three were spent as a backup. He did still serve a big role despite losing his starting job as Pruitt became an effective receiver out of the backfield. His final year in Cleveland saw him grab 65 passes for 636 yards and four touchdowns.

Following that season, he joined the Oakland Raiders where he played primarily as a returner on special teams. Pruitt is No. 4 all-time in rushing yards for the Browns as he finished his career there with 5,495 yards and 25 touchdowns.

What he may be most famous for would be the tear-away jerseys he wore. Pruitt had 100 percent cotton jerseys that rip when defenders got a hold of them. The NFL eventually banned these in 1979 and it became known as "The Greg Pruitt Rule." No one can blame him for trying to find an advantage.

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Fullback Mike Pruitt #43 of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

3

Mike Pruitt

FB | 1976-1984
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Not long after landing Greg Pruitt, the Browns added Mike Pruitt to their roster. The two had no relation to one another, but they played well together with Mike serving as a fullback the first few seasons of his career.

In 1979, he got his chance to star though, as Greg Pruitt suffered a knee injury which limited him to six games. Mike Pruitt had come off his best season as a pro with 560 yards and five touchdowns in 1978 and ended up putting up a career-best 1,294 yards in relief of his fellow Pruitt. Greg Pruitt never retained his role as the lead back, as Mike Pruitt ran for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons for the Browns.

In 1982, he wasn’t the same player as the well-documented NFL strike led him to play just nine games and he averaged only 3.6 yards per rush that year. He bounced right back in 1983 with 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns. Pruitt played just one more season in Cleveland before finishing his career with the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

The fullback finds himself as the No. 3 all-time rusher in Browns’ history with 6,540 yards gained on the ground. He’s also third in touchdowns, as he crossed the goal line 47 times in his nine seasons with Cleveland.

Pruitt was never a big dual threat, but he brought enough to the table as a pass catcher to keep defenses honest. As a Brown, he had 255 receptions for 1,761 yards and another five touchdowns in that span.

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2

Leroy Kelly

RB | 1964-1973
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It’s rare a team can move from one superstar to another at any position. The San Francisco 49ers pulled it off when they transitioned from Joe Montana to Steve Young under center. Same for the Green Bay Packers who went from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. There have been other cases of this, but it’s often the quarterback position that gets the glory when talking about going from one start to another.

However, in 1966, the Browns were able to replace Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown with Leroy Kelly — who also ended up having a Hall of Fame career.

Kelly was drafted out of Morgan State in the eighth round of the 1964 NFL Draft and backed Brown up for two seasons. With Brown being the workhorse he was, Kelly had just 43 rushing attempts in his first two seasons.

Once he took over, he had less than 200 attempts just twice in his career as he became another bell cow for the Browns. He also had more than 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in each of his first three seasons as the lead back.

His best season came in 1968 when Kelly rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns. When he was done, he amassed 7,274 yards and 74 touchdowns during a career where he was incredibly durable considering the number of touches he was given. Both numbers were good for second all-time in Browns’ history behind only one person, which we can all guess who that would be.

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Jim Brown looks on during a game between the Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. Mandatory Credit: Markus Boesch /Allsport

1

Jim Brown

FB | 1957-1965
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It's no surprise at all to see Jim Brown listed as the No. 1 running back in Browns history — as he was clearly the best ball carrier in their storied existence. The No. 6 overall pick out of Syracuse University in 1957, Brown was the second running back chosen that year after the Los Angeles Rams took USC's Jon Arnett. That proved to be a huge mistake for Los Angeles, but Cleveland was more than happy with how things played out.

The rookie fullback took the league by storm and had 942 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. That was one of only two seasons in his career where Brown didn't top the 1,000-yard mark. The other was in 1962 when he had 996 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Brown was so hard to stop, he ended up leading the league in rushing in every season from 1957 through 1961 and then again from 1963 through 1965. During that span, Brown set the club record for yardage in a single season when he had 1,863 yards on the ground in 1963. To sum that up, he led the NFL in rushing in every season he played, except for one.

His final year in the league was in 1965 and the 29-year old continued to play hard. That year, he had 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns. Brown finished with 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns for Cleveland, with both those numbers eclipsing Leroy Kelly who is in second place for each category.

Next: 2019 Wide receiver prospects to consider

Still considered the best player to ever wear the uniform, the Browns have a statue at the entrance of FirstEnergy Stadium dedicated to Jim Brown, who went on to have an acting career following his dominant time in the NFL.