NFL.com now has senior analyst Gil Brandt busy making list and rankings during the slowest part of the offseason and his current series centers around the top all-time NFL players at each position. On Tuesday, Brandt released his all-time great running backs in NFL history rankings and three former Pittsburgh Steelers made the list.
Marion Motley, who spent his final season in the NFL with the Steelers in 1955, is ranked 24th on Brandt’s list of 27 running backs. Motley, who led the league in rushing yards in 1950, went on to register 4,720 career rushing yards, 31 career rushing touchdowns, and seven career receiving touchdowns with nearly all those stats coming as a member of the Cleveland Browns, who originally signed him in 1946 as an undrafted free agent out of Nevada.
Motley, who passed away on June 27, 1999 at the age of 79, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. In his one season with the Steelers he rushed for just 8 yards on two carries.
Jerome Bettis unsurprisingly also made Brandt’s list and he is ranked 18th overall. Bettis’ career need not really be recited for current Steelers fans. With that said, his 13,662 career rushing yards is still the sixth-most in NFL history. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015 following a career that included him being named to the Pro Bowl six times and a First-Team All-Pro twice.
Rounding out the former Steelers running backs on Brandt’s list of all-time greats is John Henry Johnson, who had 6,803 career rushing yards and 48 career rushing touchdowns with four different NFL teams from 1954 to 1966. In his six seasons with the Steelers, Johnson rushed for 4,381 yards and 26 touchdowns on 1,006 carries. He also caught 106 passes for another 814 yards and 6 touchdowns as a member of the Steelers. Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and unfortunately passed away on June 3, 2011 at the age of 81.
As you have probably noticed by now, former Steelers running back Franco Harris failed to make Brandt’s list even though his 12,120 career rushing yards still has him ranked 14th overall on the league’s all-time list. Oh, and Harris also is four-time Super Bowl champion and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 following a career that included him being named to the Pro Bowl a whopping nine times and a First-Team All-Pro once. Let’s also not forget that Harris was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1972 and the MVP of Super Bowl IX. How’s that for a giant snub?
While any set of all-time rankings can certainly be debated, I imagine that Brandt having current Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ranked 26th overall on his list is sure to be his most contested. While Elliott’s 2016 rookie season that culminated with him winning the NFL rushing title with 1,631 yards was certainly a great one, I personally believe it’s way too premature to put him on any kind of an all-time best list. Yes, he’s a great running back with a perceivable great future ahead of him, but let’s not go putting him in Canton just yet.
On a related note, Brandt released his all-time great quarterbacks list last week and while former Steelers great Terry Bradshaw made his rankings at No. 10 overall, current Pittsburgh signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger failed to make the cut of 16. In all fairness, only two quarterbacks who are still playing made Brandt’s list of 16 and they are Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
On a side note, former Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach was ranked No. 8 overall by Brandt and thus two spots ahead of Bradshaw. Brandt’s affection for Cowboy players both past and present is likely a result of him serving as the organization’s chief talent scout from 1960 to 1988 and thus I believe his Dallas prejudice and lack of objectivity shows some in his rankings.
I’m sure Brandt has future rankings forthcoming and it will be interesting to see where a few other former Steeler greats wind up on his lists.