Top 10 Lions RBs of All-Time

I have lived in Michigan near Detroit for my whole life. Detroit sports have been the foundation of my upbringing in sports. For football, the Lions were the team to watch. It is nationally known that the Lions have not been the best team historically speaking. While the Lions have never even been to a Super Bowl (along with 3 other teams), there have been some highlight players over time. There is one that stands out among the rest, specifically a running back who played during the 90s. If you do not know who I am referring to yet, then this is your introduction to the Lions. We welcome you. Here are my top 10 Lions running backs of all-time.

RankPlayerSeasons Played for the Lions
1Barry Sanders1989-1998
2Billy Sims1980-1984
3Doak Walker1950-1955
4Mel Farr1967-1973
5Dexter Bussey1974-1984
6Bob Hoernschemeyer1950-1955
7Kevin Jones2004-2007
8James Stewart2000-2002
9Altie Taylor1969-1975
10James Jones1983-1988

1. Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders is, without doubt, the best Lions player in history. In terms of running backs, it is not even close. He finished with almost 3 times the amount of rushing yards than the second highest (15,269 compared to 5,106). Sanders also stands as the career touchdown leader in Lions’ history with 109. After his 10-year career, he finished with 5 yards per attempt. That stands as tied for eighth in NFL history. He also was selected to the Pro Bowl in ALL 10 seasons, making First-Team All-Pro in 6 of those seasons. In 1997, he reached his career-high in rushing yards in a single-season with 2,053. Lastly, Sanders sits on the all-time NFL rushing leaderboard in 4th place with no likely contenders for that position for a long time.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 18,190
Total Touchdowns: 109
Pro Bowls: 10
Championships: 0
HOF: Yes, Class of 1998

2. Billy Sims

Billy Sims gave the Lions 5 great years during the early 80s. In the three seasons in which Sims played over 10 games, he finished the season with over 1,000 yards. His first two season stats are where he shines. In his rookie season, he had 1,924 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns. In the following season, he had 1,888 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns. Sims was selected to 3 Pro Bowls during his career and helped lead the Lions to 2 playoff appearances. Even in the ‘83 playoff appearance, he had 140 yards from scrimmage and 2 touchdowns which were not enough to win. His one problem was fumbling the ball a lot with 40 during his career, but that should not overshadow the rest of his career as second on the Lions all-time rushing leaders.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 7,178
Total Touchdowns: 47
Pro Bowls: 3
Championships: 0
HOF: No

3. Doak Walker

Doak Walker was not only a successful running back for the Lions, but he also kicked extra points and field goals. When thinking about an all-around player, Walkers is that player. He recorded an interception on defense and also acted as the kick and punt returner. On the offensive side of the ball, he was a monster in terms of scoring. Because of his all-around usage, you will not see him dominate in a single category besides scoring. He finished with 34 total touchdowns, 183 extra points made, and 49 field goals converted, totaling to 534 total points. In two of his seasons, he was the scoring leader. At the end of his career, he averaged 7.97 points per game in which he played. In his six seasons from 1950-1955, he was selected to 5 Pro Bowls, had 4 All-Pro selections, won 2 NFL championships, and finally was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 4,134
Total Touchdowns: 34
Pro Bowls: 5
Championships: 2
HOF: Yes, Class of 1986

4. Mel Farr

Mel Farr was a top draft pick for the Lions in 1967 in which he made the Pro Bowl his rookie season. In his 13 games played, he finished above 1,000 yards from scrimmage while picking up 6 total touchdowns. After that season, injuries plagued his career, but from the seasons in which he played, one can see the success he had on the field. In his other full season in 1970, he was selected to the Pro Bowl again while picking up 930 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. Despite the injuries, he finished 8th on Detroit’s all-time rushing list.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 4,446
Total Touchdowns: 36
Pro Bowls: 2
Championships: 0
HOF: No

5. Dexter Bussey

Dexter Bussey started 100 games for the Lions from 1974-1984. He hit 1,000 total yards three times throughout his career. Not only did he finish at 3rd on the all-time rushing list for the Lions, but he also tacked on 1,616 more receiving yards. His best season came in 1978 where he ran the ball 225 times for 924 yards and 5 touchdowns while also having 31 receptions for 275 yards and another touchdown. While not being a scoring legend during his career, he brought a huge contribution to moving the Lions’ offense forward. There are not many Lions’ running backs with tons of rushing yards, but Bussey is one who has shown his dominance on the ground while being a factor in the receiving game as well.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 6,721
Total Touchdowns: 23
Pro Bowls: 0
Championships: 0
HOF: No

6. Bob Hoernschemeyer

Bob came to Detroit in 1950 and ran alongside Doak Walker. While Walker did it all, Bob shared the rushing and receiving yards only. He was selected to 2 Pro Bowls and ran for over 500 yards from scrimmage in four straight years with the Lions. He contributed to the Lions winning 2 National Championships during his time. While his numbers do not compare easily to today’s statistics with how running backs are utilized, his 678 rushing yards in 1951 was 4th in the league for that season. While Doak Walker ended up in the Hall of Fame for his other crazy achievements, Bob gets overlooked even though he was the leading rusher. Nevertheless, Bob’s contributions gave success to Detroit, something that wouldn’t be seen almost ever again.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 3,390
Total Touchdowns: 24
Pro Bowls: 2
Championships: 2
HOF: No

7. Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is another one of the great rookie running backs that have been drafted by Detroit that give hope then frail. In 2004, Jones ran for 1,113 yards with 5 touchdowns, complimenting that with 180 receiving yards and an additional touchdown. Injuries began to hold him back from what he could have been. In the next three years as a Lion, he never went under 700 yards from scrimmage and even surpassed 1,200 again in 2006 when he had 520 receiving yards. He also never went under 5 total touchdowns in a season, giving the Lions a lot of value while he lasted.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 4,073
Total Touchdowns: 27
Pro Bowls: 0
Championships: 0
HOF: No

8. James Stewart

James Stewart ranks 10th on the rushing leaderboard for the Lions, but he was able to get there in only three seasons with them. As the replacement to Barry Sanders, there were big shoes to fill and he fit in nicely. In his first season after being acquired by the Lions, he ran for 1,184 yards with 10 touchdowns. In two of his three seasons, he ended with over 1,300 total yards, but that did not create any playoff appearances as is typical with Lions’ running backs. He was active in the receiving end as well, never finishing under 240 receiving yards. Again, the trend with these is a good running back does not get the Lions anywhere.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 3,752
Total Touchdowns: 19
Pro Bowls: 0
Championships: 0
HOF: No

9. Altie Taylor

Altie Taylor was the Lions’ running back of the 70s and climbed the Lions’ leaderboard up to the 4th in rushing yards all-time. He went five straight seasons with at least 800 yards from scrimmage which was no easy feat back in the day with a shorter season. In ‘71 he hit the 1,000 total yards mark for the only time in his career. While he was never a Detroit legend, he was a solid consistent back to have for such a long time (7 seasons). The Lions made the playoffs once during his time in 1970 but he had no real impact in their only game. Despite that, Taylor left his mark by being high on the Lions’ rushing leaderboard.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 5,820
Total Touchdowns: 30
Pro Bowls: 0
Championships: 0
HOF: No

10. James Jones

James Jones is listed as a fullback but was the leading rusher for the Lions in 1985-1986. He was heavily involved in the receiving game out of the backfield, ending his career with the Lions with 2,318 yards. He finished 6th on the Lions’ all-time rushing leaderboards with 3,452. In his first four seasons, he never finished without at least 7 touchdowns and 900 yards from scrimmage. In fact, in three of those seasons, he finished with over 1,100 yards. Disappointedly again, the Lions only made the playoffs once during his 6 seasons in which he did not play much of an impact in their one game. But that is the story of the Lions.

Stats while on the Lions

Total Yards From Scrimmage: 5,770
Total Touchdowns: 33
Pro Bowls: 0
Championships: 0
HOF: No

  
I am a student at the University of Michigan studying Sport Management. I have been involved in sports as long as I can remember, playing football, baseball, and basketball. I also love learning how to play songs on the piano and ukulele.

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