Top 5 Running Backs in Dallas Cowboys History

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott could be entering his final season in Big D. After several productive campaigns, Elliott has appeared far less explosive in recent years, casting doubt on whether his six-year, $90 million contract is worth keeping around beyond 2022.

If this year is the 27-year-old’s Texas swan song, where does Elliott rank amongst the franchise’s all-time rushers?

Here are my top five running backs in Cowboys history:

5) Don Perkins (1961-68)

Dallas’ fifth-greatest running back could have wound up elsewhere if not for a personal service contract he signed in 1959. Playing both the halfback and fullback position, Perkins spent his entire eight-year career in Big D, finishing top ten in rushing in each of those seasons. A three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection, Perkins’s 6,217 career rushing yards rank fourth in Cowboys history.

4) Calvin Hill (1969-74)

The first-ever Ivy League graduate to be selected in the first round, Hill was Dallas’ inaugural 1,000-yard rusher, reaching the milestone in 1972 (1,036). The former Yale Bulldog spent six seasons with the Cowboys, totaling 5,009 rushing yards and scoring 45 touchdowns. Hill made four Pro Bowls, was twice named First-team All-Pro and helped lead Dallas to its first Super Bowl victory in 1971. Not bad for a player many teams doubted because of an “elite college” background.

3) Ezekiel Elliott (2016-Present)

The lone active player on this list, Elliott burst onto the scene in his rookie season, leading the league in rushing (1,631) as the Cowboys stormed to a 13-3 record. His impressive showing that year saw him earn First-Team All-Pro honors, becoming just the third Dallas rookie to accomplish the feat.

One of only 15 players in NFL history to rush for at least 5,000 yards through his first four seasons, Elliott is a two-time rushing champ, two-time All-Pro, and a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He may be slowing down, but Elliott has been as productive as any Cowboys back in recent memory and is still expected to make a solid contribution in the coming season.  

2) Tony Dorsett (1977-87)

The Cowboys sent a first-round pick and three second-round picks to the Seattle Seahawks in the 1977 NFL Draft for the opportunity to select Dorsett No. 2 overall.

To say the Pittsburgh alum was worth the hefty price would be an understatement. 

An electrifying runner, Dorsett rushed for 1,007 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in his debut season, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and helping Dallas capture Super Bowl XII. The former Heisman Trophy winner would tally seven more 1,000+ yard campaigns, finishing his Cowboys career with 12,739 rushing yards (second most in franchise history) and 90 total touchdowns. 

Dorsett’s most memorable moment occurred on January 3, 1983, on Monday Night Football, when he scampered for an NFL-record 99-yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings – with Dallas having ten men on the field no less.

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, and three-time All-Pro, Dorsett was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

1) Emmitt Smith (1990-2002)

No surprise here, folks. The league’s all-time leading rusher is not only the greatest running back to ever don the Cowboys star but one of the greatest in NFL history. A member of Dallas’ famed “Triplets,” Smith was the driving force in the Cowboys dynasty, one which saw the team win three Lombardi Trophies in the 1990s. The Hall of Famer epitomized the word consistent, topping the 1,000-yard rushing mark from 1991-2001.

Smith’s numerous accomplishments include Super Bowl MVP (XXVIII), NFL MVP (1993), four-time First-team All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowl selection, and a four-time rushing champ (1991-93, 1995).

The Florida native ranks first in franchise history in rushing yards (17,162), rushing touchdowns (164), and points scored (986), solidifying his spot atop this list and in the hearts of Cowboys fans everywhere.