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The 5 O'Clock Club: Ranking the NFC East Running Backs

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere...

It’s July. Free Agency is finished. The draft is in the books. Training Camp starts next week, and it seems like a good time to consider how the Redskins stack up against their division rivals.

Today, I’d like to think about Running Backs in the NFC East.

Consider this (incomplete) list:

  • John Riggins
  • Larry Brown
  • Clinton Portis
  • Stephen Davis
  • Alfred Morris
  • Terry Allen
  • Ernest Byner
  • Mike Thomas
  • Cliff Battles
  • Ladell Betts
  • Gerald Riggs

The Redskins franchise has been blessed with running backs in the Super Bowl era, but the franchise has had talented runners even from the very beginning, dating back 85 years.

You may not know the name Cliff Battles, but he played for the Redskins from 1932 - 1937, and was inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.

In 1932, Battles won the NFL's rushing title as a rookie. He also performed well during the 1933 season and on October 8, 1933, Battles, playing for the newly named Boston Redskins, became the first player to exceed 200 rushing yards in a game, finishing with 215 yards on 16 rushes and one touchdown against the Giants.

In 1937, the Redskins moved from Boston to Washington, D.C. and acquired quarterback Sammy Baugh. For the 1937 [season], Baugh and Battles combined their talents just as everyone had anticipated. During their last regular-season game, Battles scored three touchdowns and the Redskins beat the Giants for the Eastern Division title.

In what would end up being his last regular-season game on December 5, 1937, Battles ran for 165 yards against the Giants at the Polo Grounds. This was the record for most rushing yards for a player in the final regular-season game of his NFL career until Tiki Barber broke the record on December 30, 2006 with 234 rushing yards.

In 1937, Battles was again the league's leading rusher with 874 yards on 216 carries and won all-league honors for the fifth time in six years.

Battles is accepted as the NFL’s first holder of the record for career rushing yards, and is still the franchise’s 8th leading rusher of all time!

Because we don’t have reliable information prior to 1932, we have to accept the notion that the 1932 rushing champion is the default original record-holder.[This is obviously not true in a factual sense. However, given that the only officially recognized statistics prior to 1932 are touchdowns and wins, we don’t really have much choice.] Playing for the Boston Braves (now the storied Washington franchise), Battles finished 1932 with 576 rushing yards. He would go on to gain 3511 yards on the ground by the time of his retirement in 1937.

People know about the Redskins three super bowl victories, but often forget that the Redskins won two NFL Championships prior to the Super Bowl era, meaning that the Redskins are 5-time NFL champs.

In the photo below, Washington Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh, center, celebrates with teammates Cliff Battles (#20), left, and Wayne Millner (#40) in the locker room after defeating the Chicago Bears in the National Football League Championship game in Chicago, Ill., on Dec. 12, 1937. Baugh completed 17 out of 34 passes, Millner scored two of the team's four touchdowns, and Battles scored one, to give their team a 28-21 victory.

A tradition of strong ground attacks

Almost without regard to the head coach, the owner, or the fortunes of the team, Redskin football has meant a punishing ground game.

The Jay Gruden era threatens to change that, but there’s hope that Jay may yet bring balance to the offense, and that with the addition of 4th round pick Samaje Perine, the Redskins may once again field a fearsome ground attack.

In 2017, the Redskins offense faces quite a few unknowns at the offensive skill positions, with a re-modeled wide receiver group, and a running back group that seems to be a work-in-progress.

While very little is certain as the team heads into training camp, the odds-on favorites to make up the Redskins backfield when they take the field against the Eagles on 10 September are: Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine & Chris Thompson. Players who seem to be on the outside looking in, include last season’s opening week starter, Matt Jones, 2016 draft pick, Keith Marshall, and one of last season’s pre-season darlings, Mack Brown.

The Redskin group has a lot of depth, but — absent a pleasant surprise — there’s no obvious marquee-quality name in the backfield. The NY Giants have a similar situation at their running back position. Meanwhile, there’s at least one bona fide star in Dallas, and some very recognizable names in Philadelphia.


Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith


Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood

New York

Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen, Shaun Draughn, Wayne Gallman

  1. Which NFC East team has the best group of running backs?
  2. Which RB group is the worst in the division?
  3. Who is the best back in the division, not named after a major prophet of the Old Testament?


How many yards from scrimmage will Matt Jones have in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    (167 votes)
  • 32%
    between 1-300
    (101 votes)
  • 7%
    301 - 550
    (23 votes)
  • 4%
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    over 1,000
    (4 votes)
309 votes total Vote Now