The Best Colts Running Back Ever

  Cobb78
  3 months ago
  2022
The Best Colts Running Back Ever Image

The Best Colts Running Back Ever

We know it's not Donald Brown or Trent Richardson, but who is the best running back ever to play for the Indianapolis Colts?

Before we can rationally and objectively discuss the topic, we’ve got to set some ground rules, and we’ve got to figure out who all could contend for the title of “Best Colts Running Back—EVER!”

First, we will only consider running backs who played in Indianapolis.  This isn’t a slight against great Colts RBs during the Baltimore years, but there’s really no valid way to make the comparison between the different eras.  Also, most current Colts fans (not all, but most) just plain don’t care about the Colts’ time in Baltimore.  So, only running backs who were wearing the horseshoe between 1984 and 2014 can be considered.

Second, we will only consider their time in Indianapolis.  Because, let’s all be honest, we don’t care about what they did with teams before they came to Indy, and their stats after leaving Indy don’t matter to us either.  If we counted entire careers, there’d be no discussion—Eric Dickerson is arguably the second-best running back in the history of football.  But we’re not counting his record-breaking years with the L.A. Rams, just his time in Indy.

There are only three names that deserve any possible notice in this discussion:

  • Eric Dickerson (1987-1991)
  • Marshall Faulk (1994-1998)
  • Edgerrin James (1999-2005)

Dickerson and Faulk are already in the Hall of Fame.  Edge will be there soon.  So it’s not like we’re talking about so-so guys.  Each of them were great during their career.  So, without further introduction, let’s look at each one, their impact on the Colts, their stats, and the background of the team during their time there.

Eric Dickerson

People often forget (or just plain didn’t know) just how good Eric Dickerson really was.  As a rookie, he put up over 1800 yards rushing—in 1983!  In his second year, he put up over 2,000 yards.  In his fourth year, he put up over 1800 once again.  Year three was a “down” year for him, as he only ran for 1,234 yards.

In the midst of a contract dispute with the Rams, Dickerson was traded to the Colts in the middle of the 1987 season.  In the nine games he played for Indy that year, he put up over 1,000 yards—in NINE games!

His first year on the Colts, they went 9-6 (one game had been lost due to the players’ strike).  This was their first winning season EVER in Indianapolis, and their first winning season as a franchise in a decade.  They won their division, and went to the playoffs.  Without a doubt, Dickerson had an immediate impact on the Colts for the better.

In 1988 (his second year with Indy), the colts again posted a winning season, going 9-7, but just missed the playoffs.  Dickerson ran for over 1,600 yards, leading the league in rushing.

In 1989, he hit over 1,300 yards—making him the first player ever to rush for over a thousand yards in each of his first seven seasons.

1990 started Dickerson’s downhill skid.  With new quarterback Jeff George on the team, they went to more of a pass-first offense.  Add to this that Dickerson wasn’t happy with his contract (when he signed it, he was the highest-paid RB in the NFL), publicly criticized his fellow players and coaches, and threatened retirement—and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.  Jim Irsay suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team and “insubordination,” causing him to miss five games.  But Dickerson signed a new contract with the team and was suddenly happy again.  But he only put up 677 yards.

1991, though, got even worse.  He again wasn’t happy with his brand-new contract, and publicly lambasted the team.  He also refused to practice, causing another suspension.  He racked up 536 yards before the team finally got rid of him for practically nothing.

Dickerson’s stats with the Colts:

Year

Games

Yards

Attempts

Average

Yards/Game

Touchdowns

1987

10 (includes Playoffs)

1,061

238

4.45

112.3*

5

1988**

16

1,659*

388

4.3

107.3*

14

1989

15

1,311

314

4.2

87.4

7

1990

11

677

166

4.1

61.5

4

1991

10

536

167

3.2

53.6

2

TOTALS

62

5,264

1,273

4.1

84.9

32

*Led the League in this category. 
**In 1988, Dickerson added 377 yards receiving and led the league in total yards from scrimmage with 2036.

But before we move on, let’s consider the Colts’ record while Dickerson was on the team. 

Year

Team Record

Record With Dickerson

Record Without Dickerson

1987

6-3 (overall, 9-7)

6-3

N/A

1988

9-7

9-7

N/A

1989

8-8

8-7

0-1

1990

7-9

5-6

2-3

1991

1-15

0-10

1-5

TOTALS

31-42

28-33

3-9

 

As we can see from the stats, Dickerson put up great numbers his first two years, really good numbers in year three, and then took a nose dive in his final two years—especially in his final season (check his average yards per rush in 1991).

Dickerson also became a cancer to the team, pointing blame at everyone from the coach to the O-line, to the quarterback.  He refused to try unless he was the highest-paid RB in the league.

One stat that doesn’t show up in either of the charts above is this: in 1991, when he decided he wanted out of Indianapolis, he also fumbled the ball six times.  His fumble statistics prior to that are hard to nail down.  According to NFL.com’s statistics, he NEVER fumbled prior to 1991.  But according to pro-football-reference.com, he was a fumbling machine in both Los Angeles (51 fumbles in 4 ½ years) and in Indy (26 times in 4 ½ years).  Both sites agree, however, that in 1990 he had no fumbles, and then six in 1991.

Awards

Times Won

Pro Bowls With Colts

3 (1987, 88, 89)

All-Pro With Colts

2 (1987, 88)

Most Rushing Attempts

1 (1988)

Most Rushing Yards

1* (1988)

Most Yards Per Game

2 (1987, 88)

Most Yards from Scrimmage

1 (1988)

*In 1987, he finished in second.

Marshall Faulk

In 1993, the Colts had gone 4-12, giving them the privilege of selecting second in the 1994 NFL Draft.  They selected San Diego State Running Back, Marshall Faulk.  They also had a new quarterback to replace Jeff George, who had been traded to the Atlanta Falcons—his name was Jim Harbaugh.

In his rookie season, the Colts went 8-8, and again missed the playoffs.  But Faulk had over 1,800 yards from scrimmage (including 1282 yards rushing).  However, Fullback Roosevelt Potts actually had a better yards-per-carry average than Faulk did (4.4 vs. 4.1).

Faulk’s second season was one that many Colts fans remember well—just not because of him.  In 1995, Marshall ran for 1,078 yards (with 11 touchdowns) and added another 475 yards receiving, which were really good numbers.  But the star of the season was Captain Comeback, Jim Harbaugh.  The Colts went to the playoffs and were one play away from going to the Super Bowl.  But Marshall Faulk got injured early in the first playoff game and didn’t play in the others.

In 1996, Faulk missed three games with “turf toe” and it seemed to bother him the rest of the season, as he only put up 587 yards rushing.

In 1997, a healthy Marshall Faulk put up 1,054 yards rushing and 471 yards receiving, but the Colts ended the season with a 3-13 record.  After the season, coaches were fired, and Jim Harbaugh was traded to Baltimore.

1998 was easily Marshall Faulk’s best season in Indianapolis, as he was teamed with rookie quarterback, Peyton Manning.  Faulk rushed for 1,319 yards (his best up to that point), and added an amazing 908 yards receiving.  He led the league in yards from scrimmage for the first time in his career, with 2,227.  But even with his personal statistics, the Colts ended the season 3-13.

Faulk threatened to hold out until he got a new contract.  New GM Bill Polian looked at the upcoming draft and decided he could find a younger player who’d do just as well for cheaper.  So Marshall Faulk was traded to the St. Louis Rams.

Year

Games

Yards

Attempts

Average

Yards/Game

Touchdowns

1994

16

1,282

314

4.1

80.1

11

1995

17*

1,094

290

3.77

67.4

11

1996

14*

612

207

2.95

45.2

7

1997

16

1,054

264

4.0

65.9

7

1998

16

1,319

324

4.1

82.4

6

TOTALS

77*

5,361

1,399

3.8

69.6

42

*Includes Playoff Appearances

You’ll notice that the total numbers (yards and attempts) between Faulk and Dickerson are very similar.  Faulk did put up an extra 10 touchdowns.  However, it took Faulk an extra 15 games to reach those numbers.  But when you compare their yards per carry, and yards per game, there is a significant difference. 

What the stats above don’t show is that Faulk was a dual threat, putting up 2,804 yards and 9 touchdowns receiving during his five years wearing the horseshoe.  Dickerson, by comparison, put up only 1,082 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving during his time there.

But before we move on, let’s look at the Colts record while Faulk was on the roster.

Year

Team Record

Record With Faulk

Record Without Faulk

1994

8-8

8-8

N/A

1995

11-8 (includes playoffs)

9-7* (regular season)

2-1* (playoffs)

1996

9-8 (includes playoffs)

7-7 (includes playoffs)

2-1

1997

3-13

3-13

N/A

1998

3-13

3-13

N/A

TOTALS

34-50

30-48

4-2

*Faulk was injured on his first play in the 1995 playoffs, and so truthfully the team won their playoff games without him.

Awards

Times Won

Rookie of the Year

1994

Pro Bowls With Colts

3 (1994, 95, 98)

All-Pro With Colts

0

Most Rushing Attempts

0

Most Rushing Yards

0

Most Yards Per Game

0

Most Yards from Scrimmage

1 (1998)

 

Edgerrin James

In 1999, after jettisoning Marshall Faulk to the Rams (who would go on to win the Super Bowl with him), the Indianapolis Colts drafted Edgerrin James, a running back out of Miami.  This shocked many people who expected that then-GM Bill Polian would take Ricky Williams.  Polian’s choice was proven to be wise as “Edge” came in and made people all but forget about that Faulk guy in Indianapolis.

As a rookie, Edge was voted an All-Pro, won the Rookie of the Year award, made the Pro Bowl, and led the league in rushing yards (1553) and attempts (369).  He also put up 13 rushing touchdowns.  All of those numbers topped anything Marshall Faulk had done in Indy—or afterwards.    He also added 586 yards receiving, and led the league in total touchdowns with 17.  He finished second in total yards from scrimmage to Faulk.  Peyton Manning usually gets the credit, but it was on the legs of Edgerrin James that the Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3 in one season.  The Colts were ousted by the Titans in the playoffs.

His second year, Edge’s numbers improved.  He rushed for 1,709 yards (which led the NFL) and another 13 touchdowns.  He added 594 yards and 5 touchdowns receiving as the Colts went 10-6 before losing in the playoffs to the Dolphins.

In 2001, Edge tore his ACL six games into the season and the Colts finished 6-10.  But during those first six games, Edge put up 662 yards and 3 touchdowns, and was averaging over 110 yards per game.

Edge came back in 2002 and showed flashes of his old self, but the knee was still bothering him.  He missed two games during the season, but if you include the playoff loss to the Jets, Edge broke the 1,000-yard mark again.

In 2003, James rushed for 1,259 yards and 11 touchdowns as the Colts went 12-4 in the regular season before losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

2004 showed an improved Edgerrin James who put up over 1500 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing (and a career-high 4.6 ypc), along with almost 500 yards receiving.  The Colts again went 12-4 before losing in the second round to the Patriots.

In his final year with the Colts, Edge rushed for over 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns.  The Colts finished 14-2 before losing to the Steelers in the playoffs.

In the off-season, Bill Polian angered many fans by not making a good enough offer to keep the Colts all-time leading rusher in Indianapolis.  Edge went to the Arizona Cardinals where he spent three seasons.

He will soon be in the Hall of Fame.

Year

Games

Yards

Attempts

Average

Yards/Game

Touchdowns

1999

17*

1,609

389

4.1`

94.6

13

2000

17*

1,816

408

4.45

106.8

13

2001

6

662

151

4.4

110.3

3

2002

15*

1,003

286

3.5

66.9

2

2003

16*

1,540

372

4.1

96.25

14**

2004

18*

1,650

366

4.5***

91.7

10****

2005

16*

1,562

363

4.3

97.6

14****

TOTALS

105

9,842

2,335

4.2

93.7

69

*Includes Playoffs
**Three touchdowns were in the playoffs. 
***His regular-season average was 4.6.
****One touchdown was in the playoffs.

But, like with the other two, let’s also consider the team’s record with Edgerrin James on the team:

Year

Team Record

Record With James

Record Without James

1999

14-3*

14-3

N/A

2000

10-7*

10-7

N/A

2001

6-10

3-3

3-7

2002

10-7*

9-6

1-1

2003

14-5*

12-4

2-1

2004

13-5*

13-5

N/A

2005

14-3*

13-3

1-0

TOTALS

81-40

74-31

7-9

 

Obviously, the first thing that jumps out is the fact that out of all three players, Edgerrin James is the only one who helped the team to an overall winning record during his time there.  In fact, the only time the Colts had a losing record during the Edge years is when he was on Injured Reserve in 2001.

Awards

Times Won

Rookie of the Year

1999

Pro Bowls With Colts

4 (1999, 2000, 04, 05)

All-Pro With Colts

1 (1999)

Most Rushing Attempts

1 (1999)

Most Rushing Yards

2 (1999, 2000)

Most Yards Per Game

0

Most Yards from Scrimmage

1* (2000)

Total Touchdowns

1 (1999)

*He finished second in 1999 to Marshall Faulk.

The Comparison

In the chart below, we’ll put their numbers all side-by-side for easy comparison.  This will help us determine who the best is of the three.  The numbers in bold/italic are the ones which are the best for each category.  We’ll first look at rushing statistics.

 

Eric Dickerson

Marshall Faulk

Edgerrin James

Games

62

77

105

Rushing Yards

5,264

5,361

9,842

Rushing Attempts

1,273

1,399

2,335

Yards Per Attempt

4.1

3.8

4.2

Yards Per Game

84.9

69.6

93.7

Touchdowns

32

42

69

Touchdowns Per Game

.51

.54

.66

Average Yards Per Season

1,052.8

1072.2

1406.0

There can be no doubt, no argument, that Edgerrin James was far superior in the rushing game to both Dickerson and Faulk.  He was better on a week-by-week basis, a season-by-season basis, and in total numbers with the Colts.

These players also had impact in the passing game, so let’s compare their receiving numbers as well

 

Eric Dickerson

Marshall Faulk

Edgerrin James

Games

62

77

105

Receiving Yards

1,147

2,814

3,061

Receptions

145

300

384

Yards Per Reception

7.9

9.38

8.0

Receiving Yards Per Game

18.5

36.5

29.2

Receiving Touchdowns

4

9

11

Touchdowns Per Game

.06

.11

.10

Average Receiving Yards Per Season

229.4

562.8

437.3

Faulk was obviously the better receiving threat on an annual basis, but the difference between him and Edgerrin James is not that massive. 

And to complete the comparison, let’s look at the team records during their career in Indianapolis

 

Eric Dickerson

Marshall Faulk

Edgerrin James

Total Team Record

31-42

34-50

81-40

Record With Player

28-33

30-48

74-31

Record Without Player

3-9

4-2

7-9

Winning Percentage

.425

.404

.669

Winning % With

.459

.384

.704

Winning % Without

.250

.667

.438

 

When Eric Dickerson wasn’t playing, the already bad Colts team got much worse, dropping from .459 to .250.  When Marshall Faulk wasn’t playing, the Colts actually got better!  When Edgerrin James was out, a very good Colts team became a losing Colts team.

Awards aren’t the be-all, end-all, but leading the league in certain categories are pretty important.  So, let’s look at them too:

 

Eric Dickerson

Marshall Faulk

Edgerrin James

Rookie of the Year*

(won it with Rams)

1994

1999

Pro Bowls with Colts

3

3

4

All-Pro With Colts

2

0

1

Most Rushing Attempts

1

0

1

Most Rushing Yards

1

0

2

Most Yards Per Game

2

0

1

Most Yards from Scrimmage

1

1

1

Most Touchdowns

0

0

1

As far as awards and leading the league goes, Marshall Faulk is left behind.  Edge has one more Pro Bowl, but Dickerson has one more All-Pro season.  Edge holds the tie-breaker by virtue of leading the league in rushing twice, and in touchdowns once.

The Conclusion

For their careers, Dickerson, Faulk, and James are ranked #7, 10, and 11 in total rushing yards.  But when you look at their Colts careers, Edgerrin James stands out—and it’s not really even that close.  Even though he only played two more years in Indianapolis than the other two, he surpassed them by almost 4,500 yards rushing!  He beats both of them in average yards per season by well over 300!  He averaged more touchdowns per game, more yards per carry, and more yards per game. 

From a rational, objective standpoint, Edge was far and away the best Colts Running Back Ever.

He was a better team player, and—unlike the other two—he stayed a fan favorite even after leaving Indy.  He was so loved that when the Colts won the Super Bowl the season after Edge went to Arizona, Jim Irsay gave him a Super Bowl ring.  And now Edge is back in Indy, trying to help current running back Trent Richardson become a better player.

From a completely subjective standpoint, he is far and away the best Colts Running Back Ever. 

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Recent comments

7
  • Posted by SouthernColts about 3 months ago
    Wow hands on he IS the best. Wish I could have been around to see it live action.

    Do you think the league will ever get back to a running leagure again or is the pass first/balanced attack here to stay?
    likes
  • Posted by Cobb78 about 3 months ago
    Personal opinion, there's two things to consider:
    1. As long as the NFL keeps making things easier on passing teams (cracking down hard on illegal contact by the DBs, for example), then the passing game will be the focus.
    2. When a rookie comes in and just lights it up (see Edge, for example), other teams will again look at the running game as a bigger focus.

    I think it's a pendulum thing, really. It'll come back, but it'll take one of the two (or both) above to make it happen en masse.
    likes
  • Posted by VinfromJersey about 3 months ago
    Good Read...
    Although he didn't amass big career numbers I have always been a big Lydell Mitchell fan.
    He was one of the first great running and receiving threats in the NFL and keyed the Bert Jones Colts in the '70s !
    likes
  • Posted by VinfromJersey about 3 months ago
    Good Read...
    Although he didn't amass big career numbers I have always been a big Lydell Mitchell fan.
    He was one of the first great running and receiving threats in the NFL and keyed the Bert Jones Colts in the '70s !
    likes
  • Posted by JohnHandburger about 3 months ago
    Great Article!
    likes
  • Posted by ChrisGeorge about 3 months ago
    Fantastic article!
    likes
  • Posted by TechTitans about 3 months ago
    Damn, Cobb. Great work! And, I agree with your assessment. Edge is the greatest Colts RB ever!
    likes
  • Posted by TechTitans about 3 months ago
    Damn, Cobb. Great work! And, I agree with your assessment. Edge is the greatest Colts RB ever! Dickerson definitely had his moments. But, the stats (and his attitude) definitely place him behind Edge.
    likes