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The Best Running Backs in Dallas Cowboys History

Updated on February 5, 2012

The Dallas Cowboys have had long history of success in the NFL dating back to the 1960s. The Cowboys have been to eight Super Bowls (more than any other team) and won five Super Bowls. A large part of that success is due to the great running backs they have had on their team.  I will rank the five best running backs in my opinion.  I believe it is best for a player to finish his career before being judged, so I haven’t included any players that are still active.  Feel free to comment on these choices and let me know who you think are the best running backs that have played for the Dallas Cowboys.

All-Time NFL Rushing Leader Emmitt Smith

1. Emmitt Smith (1990-2002)

Emmitt Smith is the greatest running back in Cowboys history. The Cowboys drafted him with the 17th overall pick in the draft in 1990. He is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with over 17,000 yards, surpassing the late Walter Payton on October 27, 2002. Emmitt scored 164 touch downs during his career and went to eight Pro Bowls. Emmitt also has three Super Bowl rings and was the MVP in Super Bowl XXVIII. Emmitt was the NFL MVP in 1993. He holds numerous NFL records:

  • Most 100 yard rushing games (78)
  • Most career yards rushing (18,355)
  • Most career rushing touch downs (164)
  • Only player to have 11 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons

2. Tony Dorsett (1977-1987)

In 1977 the Dallas Cowboys traded up in the draft to get the second overall pick from the Seattle Seahawks.  This is arguably one of the greatest trades in NFL history.  He was selected to the Pro Bowl four times and has one Super Bowl ring.  During his career with the Cowboys he rushed for over 12,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 yards during eight of his first nine seasons.  He holds the record for the longest run from scrimmage, a 99 yard run against the Minnesota Vikings on January 3, 1983.

Tony Dorsett in Super Bowl XXII

Tony Dorsett's 99 Yard Run

3. Calvin Hill (1969-1974)

Calvin Hill (father of Grant Hill) was the first Cowboy running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season in 1972.  In 1973, he rushed for 1,142 yards.  He was drafted with the 24th overall pick in the 1969 draft.  In his brief six year career with the Cowboys he was chosen for the Pro Bowl four times.  He went on to play for several other teams.

4. Don Perkins (1961-1968)

Don Perkins was the first of the Cowboys great running backs.  He was selected to the Pro Bowl six times in his eight year career and rushed for over 6,000 yards.  He ranks third on the team’s all-time rushing list.  He was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 1976.

5. Herschel Walker (1986-1989, 1996-1997)

The Cowboys drafted Herschel Walker with a 5th round pick in the 1985 draft, suspecting that the USFL, the league he was playing in, would not be around long. When the USFL folded, Herschel Walker went to play for the Cowboys in 1986. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1987 and 1988. He is probably best known for the infamous trade involving the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings in 1989. The Cowboys traded Herschel to the Vikings for three first round picks, three second round picks, one third round pick, and one sixth round pick which the Cowboys used to help build their dynasty in the 1990s. The trade resulted in the Cowboys selecting four players that would make the Pro Bowl: Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith, and Darren Woodson. The Cowboys also drafted Alvin Harper, who would start at wide receiver for four years opposite Michael Irvin with one of the picks.

Herschel Walker


Who Do You Think Was The Greatest Cowboy Running Back?

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    • Shawn Scarborough profile imageAUTHOR

      Shawn Scarborough 

      7 years ago from The Lone Star State

      @Jessie Fortner-thanks for your comment.

      @andyglean--Curvin Richards was cut by Jimmy Johnson for fumbling in the final regular season game of 1992.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      LOVE MY COWBOYS. emmitt smith and walter payton was the best that ever wore a football uniform . loved both.

    • Bigpayno profile image


      8 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

      Good Hub, just came across it. Emmitt was a great back, but wouldn't have done half of what he did without Moose and that offensive line. Probably the best offensive line/fullback combination in NFL history for that long of a span. If Walker or Dorsett had that line, they would have probably put up similar numbers. I can't imagine if Barry had that line in Detroit.

    • monakossa profile image

      Mona Koussa 

      8 years ago from San Ramon, Ca

      Cowboys fans in San Francisco bay area. Love the Cowboys.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Walker's greatest accomplishment for the team was being traded. He never set the field on fire with his playing time.

      #5 should go to the troubled, but talented, Duane Thomas. He was a great talent and asset to the early 70's Cowboys. Unfortunately, the Black Power movement messed with his head and he saw Tom Landry as "The Man" who as keeping him down.

    • Shawn Scarborough profile imageAUTHOR

      Shawn Scarborough 

      10 years ago from The Lone Star State

      Thanks for stopping by wavegirl22.

    • wavegirl22 profile image


      10 years ago from New York, NY

      You already know how much I love football . .growing up (in NY) the Cowboys were my favorite team. My dad used to travel to Dallas a lot and he would get me all the players autograph . so come Sunday I would really look forward to seeing these guys on the field. Today I am a die hard NY fan ( I go both ways:) Giants Jets. . but I must admit to being a Cowboy sympathizer . .and if you haven't figured out the most Hubbers are Cowboy fans!!!!

      Voted upwards and awesome. Am looking forward to more NFL Hubs from you!


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