The 20 best running backs in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles

We rank the top running backs to ever wear midnight or kelly green.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles / Rob Carr/GettyImages

Keeping up with the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles' theories on the value of running backs is like trying to watch E-Trade, Fidelity, or Charles Schwab to keep up with the stock market. There are times when everything makes sense. There are also days when you can't figure out what you're staring at. Value fluctuates. Results are unpredictable.

One minute, a running back is a quarterback's best friend. The next, it's anyone playing the wide receiver position, and the tailbacks are treated like they're indispensable.

Investing huge coins into an offensive backfield is a gamble because the shelf life is uncertain (and often short), but Philly struck gold by adding the guys on this list. We rank the top 20 Birds to ever play running back for the franchise.


Whenever lists like these are pieced together, there is always room to debate. How does one stack 20 great running backs from so many different eras of Eagles football?

Well, there's no easy (or correct) way to do it, so we created an unofficial but somewhat reliable formula (one whose rules we broke several times). Think of it as our version of the College Football Playoff ranking.

Pro Bowl nods are taken into consideration. All-Pro nominations, tenure, fan support, and statistical data are also included. Last but not least. We went with the tried and true processes, trusting the gut and the initial decision in most cases.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the 20 greatest running backs in Eagles history.

Honorable mention: Swede Hanson

Tenure: 1933-37

Swede Hanson's five seasons in Eagles green only equates to 45 games with 33 starts. He only reached the end zone 12 times as a runner and once as a receiver, but he was a workhorse who led the league in carries way back in 1934 (146).

He never won any postseason awards or any championships while with the team, but don't blame him for that. Had Philly cloned him and placed four more Swede Hansons on the field, it may have closed the deal.

20. Tom Sullivan

Tenure: 1972-77

Taken from us far too soon, Tom Sullivan unfortunately died in a car crash. During his second year, however, he surpassed 900 yards rushing, and in his third, he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (11).

In total, he notched 3,135 yards on 871 career carries and hauled in 161 receptions for another 1,266 yards while reaching the end zone 22 times.

19. Ernie Steele

Tenure: 1942-48

Ernie Steele may never be remembered as a key member of Philly's 1948 NFL Championship team. His hard-nosed running style, however, resonated with the citizens of the city he played in.

He never eclipsed five rushing TDs during any NFL season. He only scored one rushing TD during each of his final four seasons, Some of that, however, is the result of playing second fiddle to the man we rank as the best running back in franchise history (more on that in a second).

Steele played as part of the "Steagles" in 1943, a combined team fielded because both the Eagles and Steelers had lost too many players to military service during World War II. He also played a little defensive back.

A two-way player? Yep! That will land you on this list.

18. Charlie Garner

Tenure: 1994-98

If memory serves correctly, Charlie Garner was voted onto a Pro Bowl roster once during his pro career. That, unfortunately, was when he was a member of the Oakland Raiders.

Following his rookie season in 1994, he never averaged less than four yards per carry. His 5.4 yards-per-carry average led all NFL tailbacks in 1995. His greatest day of that season may have been a nine-carry, 120-yard, three-touchdown performance in a Week 6 win over Washington.

17. Correll Buckhalter

Tenure: 2001-08

When it comes to a sometimes-forgotten cog in Andy Reid's machine for five seasons, sometimes we sit and wonder. What might Correll Buckhalter have accomplished had he managed to stay on the field during his run with our beloved Eagles?

Buck missed all of the 2002 season...and all of the 2004 and 2005 seasons. In total, he still managed to stack 2,155 rushing yards, 930 receiving yards, and 22 TDs while splitting carries with Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook, among others.

He never earned postseason accolades, but he was good during his time here. Never elite but certainly someone deserving a spot on our list.

16. Ollie Matson

Tenure: 1964-66

By the time Ollie Matson landed with the Eagles in 1964, his best years were behind him. He is a member of the NFL's 1950s All-Decade Team. He earned six Pro Bowl nods (1952, 1954–1958). All of those accolades came because he was a member of the Chicago Cardinals from 1952 until 1958.

He also earned six first-team All-Pro nods with the Cardinals (1952,1954–58) and another with the L.A. Rams. He is, however, a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame after notching 608 rushing yards on 147 carries, 301 receiving yards on 25 snags and 10 total TDs in 40 career games with 12 starts.

15. LeGarrette Blount

Tenure: 2017

Yeah...we know...we know. LeGarrette Blount was only in Philly for one season.

But what a phenomenal season it was.

He only scored two regular-season TDs and ran for a mere 766 yards on 173 carries in 16 games. He only caught eight receptions for eight yards while scoring one TD through the air. If memory serves correctly, he didn't notch a single carry in Philly's Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that season.

But Philly earned a first-round bye, and the playoffs came in January. That's why Blount cracks our top 15.

Three postseason games led to the first Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Blount scored a TD in all three of them.

His touchdown run in the Divisional Round versus the Atlanta Falcons was the only one scored by Philly that day. Then, he hit the truck stick and ran over Andrew Sendejo in the NFC Championship Game and ran through the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Blount, with those three runs, earned a spot on our list — as did another Super Bowl hero.

14. Corey Clement

Tenure: 2017-20

You're doggone right he's on the list too! Corey Clement is a former 2017 undrafted free agent who earned a spot on the 53-man roster. He only gained 655 yards rushing and 340 yards receiving in four seasons, but he took the snap on the Philly Special and tossed it to Trey Burton. We all know how that one turned out.

It was also Clement's 55-yard catch-and-run that brought the Eagles to first-and goal and set up the the coolest trick play in Super Bowl history. In total, he snagged four receptions for 100 yards, including a toe-dragging 22-yard TD reception from Nick Foles in the back of the end zone with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

13. Herschel Walker

Tenure: 1992-94

Yes, youngsters. Herschel Walker played for the Eagles. The 1994 season, his last with the team, was truly special. He became the first NFL player to produce one-play gains of 90 yards or more as a rusher, receiver, and kick returner.

He left Philly after the signing of free-agent star Ricky Watters having gained 2,344 rushing yards on 554 carries, 1,388 yards on 163 receptions, 834 yards on 35 kick returns, and 22 total TDs.

12. Keith Byars

Tenure: 1986-92

While Keith Byars never really did much to justify Philly selecting him 10th overall in 1986, he did enjoy some solid seasons. He didn't earn his first (and only) Pro Bowl nod until a member of the Miami Dolphins, but he's a member of the Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team who turned out to be a pretty good fullback once it was clear he wasn't going to work out as the lead.

He still ranks second in franchise history to Brian Westbrook in career receptions by a tailback (371). His 6,204 scrimmage yards rank seventh among Eagles tailbacks.

Don't snooze. Byars had game.

11. Tom Woodeshick

Tenure: 1963-71

Nine years in an Eagles jersey produced 111 regular-season games with 55 starts. That's tops for a tailback in franchise history. Sadly, as great as Tom Woodeshick was, he never played on a playoff team, but we won't deny him a spot in our top 15.

His 3,563 rushing yards still rank as the 10th-most in franchise history.

10. Miles Sanders

Tenure: 2019-22

Maybe it was because of the way his career ended, but Miles Sanders never seems to be mentioned for being as good a player as he was. Yeah, he was probably too sensitive to play in Philly. Playing behind a great O-line helped him a lot. But he was a special player in his own right who, ironically, backed up Saquon Barkley at Penn State.

Boobie’s 3,708 rushing yards gained during his first four years are the second-most in Eagles history behind LeSean McCoy (more on the latter in just a second). He is also a 2019 Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team nod, a 2022 Pro Bowler, and one of only five backs to begin his career with 750 rushing yards and a 4.6 average during each of his first four seasons.

Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, and Nick Chubb are the other four. It's safe to state that's pretty good company.

9. Ricky Watters

Tenure: 1995-97

Once upon a time, Sept. 3, 1995, to be exact, Ricky Watters sat for an interview with select members of the Philly media. He was asked why he didn't lay it all on the line and stretch out to catch a pass from Randall Cunningham that would have likely resulted in a first down.

His response was one that has never been forgotten.

"For who? For what?"

Despite a phenomenal three seasons in Philly, that phrase later became the title of his autobiography. He has since expressed remorse for the remark, and all is now most circles.

Ricky only played in the City of Brotherly Love for three NFL seasons (1995-97). Two produced Pro Bowl appearances. All three resulted in 3,794 rushing yards and 5,112 scrimmage yards. Both rank sixth in franchise history. That's pretty wild.

8. Darren Sproles

Tenure: 2014-19

It doesn't take much work to persuade a true football fan into agreeing with the following statement: Darren Sproles isn't just one of the greatest and most versatile tailbacks in Eagles franchise history. He's one of the best in NFL history. Just take a look at the resume.

Named a 2014 Second-Team All-Pro as a returner, he's a member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. Though he was injured, he is a Super Bowl champion by way of being a member of the 2017 Eagles roster.

Sproles was voted onto the Pro Bowl roster three consecutive seasons while playing in Philly (2014-16). He led the NFL in punt returns (39), punt return yardage (506), and punt return TDs (two) in 2014.

For en encore, he also led the league in return yardage (446) and return TDs (two) in 2015. He notched an 89-yarder that season that was the longest in the NFL all year.

7. Billy Ray Barnes

Tenure: 1957–1961

Billy Ray Barnes was the 19th player taken during the 1957 NFL Draft. Back in those days, that made you a second-rounder. Philly was rewarded handsomely for the investment.

Barnes made the Pro Bowl roster following each of his first three seasons. He was also a member and key contributor to Philly's 1960 NFL Championship-winning team. He ran the ball 13 times for 42 yards. He tallied a nine-yard run and 13-yard reception on the game-winning drive before throwing a block on Green Bay Packers end Bill Quinlan that escorted Red Dean into the end zone for the go-ahead score to decide the game.

6. Timmy Brown

Tenure: 1960-67

Thomas Allen Brown might be one of the best examples we have ever seen who demonstrates "you can do anything if you put your mind to it." Most dream of being an actor, singer, or football star. Our guy Timmy pulled off the hat trick.

No other Eagle in franchise history can boast about starring in the MASH film and M*A*S*H television series. He also made an appearance on a 1970 episode ofThe Mary Tyler Moore Show and stacked numerous film credits from 1967-2000.

Somehow, he managed to author a football career in his spare time. Eight seasons as an Eagle produced three second-team All-Pro nods (1963, 1965, and 1966) and three Pro Bowl mentions (1962, 1963, 1965). He was a member of the 1960 NFL Championship-winning team that handed Vince Lombardi his only playoff loss as Green Bay Packers head coach.

Timmy led the NFL in kickoff return yards in 1961 (811) and 1963 (945). He's a member of the Eagles 75th Anniversary Team and the franchise's Hall of Fame.

Like Tom Woodeshick, he is sometimes overlooked because he played on some bad Eagles teams, but you can't blame Brown for that. He was a stud. May he continue to rest in peace!

5. Duce Staley

Tenure: 1997-2003

Hang out with any Eagles fan, say the words "Pickle Juice Game," and watch their faces light up. During a regular-season game on Sept. 3, 2000, Philly's players were given pickle juice to help them stay hydrated and prevent muscle cramps due to high temperatures in Texas Stadium. The thermometer reached as high as 109 degrees with the field temperature measuring as high as 130.

Duce Staley ran for 201 yards that day.

A former Eagles player and coach, Duce is still a fan favorite. He gets overlooked sometimes. He's one of only three RBs in NFL history who notched three 1,000-yard seasons and never earned a Pro Bowl mention. He's fifth in franchise history in rushing yards (4,807). He ranks fourth in scrimmage yards by a tailback (7,305). It never seems to matter where he lands or which organization he joins. Duce is an Eagle through and through.

4. Wilbert Montgomery

Tenure: 1977-84

Wilbert Montgomery owns one of the great Eagles highlights of all time. His 42-yard TD run in the 1980 NFC Championship Game versus the Dallas Cowboys will live in the minds and hearts of Birds fans forever (even if you weren't born yet).

What gets lost in that discussion was he ran for a franchise-record 194 yards in that game. His final game with Philly came on Dec. 16, 1984, and he still ranks second in rushing yards (6,583).

A two-time second-team All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler (1978, 1979), he's a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame. Only three of his eight years were elite (1978, 1979, and 1981), but what an amazing three years they were.

3. Brian Westbrook

Tenure 2002-09

Who would have thought? Andy Reid's staff found Brian Westbrook in the Eagles' backyard (Villanova). They drafted him 91st overall during Round 3 of the 2002 NFL Draft and landed one of the most versatile players in franchise history by doing so.

He was a Swiss Army knife in the No. 36 jersey. There was nothing this guy couldn't do.

A two-time Pro Bowler (2004, 2007) and 2007 first-team All-Pro, he's a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team. He logged 107 regular-season games with 85 starts, 5,995 rushing yards and 37 rushing TDs in 1,308 regular-season rushing attempts.

He scored 29 receiving TDs and stacked 3,790 receiving yards on 426 career regular-season receptions. He added another 591 rushing yards, 334 receiving yards, and six total TDs in 11 career playoff games.

Do you need a returner? He's got you covered there, too. He notched 498 career punt return yards and two TDs on 39 tries. The most memorable was probably his punt return to lift Philly over the Giants in 2003.

2. LeSean McCoy

Tenure: 2009-14

Chip Kelly's decision to trade LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Kiko Alonso ranks among the worst we have ever seen. It also ended one of the greatest runs (pun intended) by an Eagles back in franchise history.

During McCoy's six seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, only Adrian Peterson accumulated more rushing yards. Only Matt Forte racked up more yards from scrimmage. The 4.6 yards-per-tote average ranked third behind Peterson and Jamaal Charles.

Check out some of the resume he crafted while with Philly.

  • Two-time first-team All-Pro (2011, 2013)
  • Three Pro Bowl nods (2011, 2013–14)
  • NFL rushing yards leader (2013)
  • NFL rushing touchdowns leader (2011)
  • NFL 2010s All-Decade Team

At the time of this story's release, five running backs have played more games than Shady, yet the former Pitt Panther is the franchise's record-holder with 6,792 yards rushing. He left averaging 76 rushing yards per game and 101 scrimmage yards per game.

We could stop there, but we'll continue.

From 2009 through 2014, Shady averaged 1,132 rushing yards, 1,512 scrimmage yards, 4.6 yards per carry, and nine TDs. He also notched eight career fourth-quarter rushing TDs of 40 yards or more. No other NFL tailback can claim to have done that.

Let's make long stories short. It was hard to keep Shady out of the top spot, but we're pretty sure he wouldn't mind being ranked behind a Pro Football Hall of Famer and another of the greatest tailbacks the Eagles organization has ever seen.

1. Steve Van Buren

Tenure: 1944-51

Remember when we said Ernie Steele played second-fiddle to the man we ranked first on our list? Welcome to Steve Van Buren's portion of this list of great Eagles.

What follows are just some of the accolades he stacked during eight NFL seasons, each of which was spent in Philly:

  • Five-time first-team All-Pro (1944, 1945, 1947–1949)
  • Two-time second-team All-Pro (1950, 1946)
  • NFL scoring leader (1945)
  • NFL 1940s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • Two-time NFL champion (1948, 1949)

On four different occasions, he led the NFL in rushing yards (1945, 1947–1949). Four times, he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (1945, 1947–1949). When he retired, he was pro football's all-time leading rusher. He led the NFL in rushing yards per attempt as a rookie (5.6 in 1944).

He led all rushers in yards per game in 1945 (83.2), 1946 (58.8), 1947 (84.0), 1948 (85.9), and 1949 (95.5). He led all rushers in yards from scrimmage in 1947 (1,087) and 1948 (1,041). He even has two punt return TDs, three TDs by kick return, and nine interceptions on his resume.

If Philly had Steve Van Buren and 10 clones on its offensive roster, it would never have lost a game. He's a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame, the Eagles 75th Anniversary Team, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his No. 15 Eagles jersey is retired.

Every tailback on this list has earned his mention, but it will take a special brand of Eagle to knock this Bird from his perch.

Read more about the Eagles' storied history