Best Cincinnati Bengals Running Backs of All Time: From Boobie Clark to Joe Mixon

There are two running backs who have an argument to be the best in Bengals history, but there's only room for one record-breaker at the top.

Unlike many of the other Cincinnati Bengals top 10 lists, the discussion at running back does not include the variable of current players.

Due to the trade of Joe Mixon, the current Cincinnati RB with the most rushing yards is Trayveon Williams (307), while Chase Brown (179) is second. But as thin as the present is, the past is loaded with talent and tough decisions on where some of the best running backs to wear stripes should rank.

Here are the top 10 running backs in Bengals history.

Ranking the Greatest RBs in Cincinnati Bengals History

Honorable mention: Archie Griffin, Harold Green, Jeremy Hill, Jess Phillips, Larry Kinnebrew

10) Ickey Woods (1988-91)

Elbert “Ickey” Woods makes the list almost solely on the strength of his rookie season, in which he rushed for 1,066 yards and danced his way into fans’ hearts while leading the Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII.

Woods’ 15 rushing touchdowns that season still stand as the franchise record, and his 5.25-yard average stands third among Bengals with at least 100 rushing attempts. His career average of 4.59 is second in team history.

Injuries gutted Woods’ career after 1988, as he had just 129 carries for 361 yards combined over the next three seasons. Despite appearing in just 10 games over those three years, Woods still scored 12 more touchdowns, giving him 27 for his career, which is tied for 10th in Cincinnati history.

His average of 0.7 rushing touchdowns per game ranks eighth in NFL history since the 1970 merger among players with at least 37 games.

9) Boobie Clark (1973-78)

A 12th-round pick in 1973, Charles Lee “Boobie” Clark played six seasons throughout his career, although he never matched the totals from his breakout rookie season.

In 1973, Clark ran for 988 yards and eight touchdowns while catching 45 passes for 347 yards, earning himself the Sporting News and UPI Rookie of the Year awards.

He ranks 10th in franchise history in career rushing yards (2,978) and ninth in rushing touchdowns (25).

8) Essex Johnson (1968-75)

Like Clark, Essex Johnson’s best season was in 1973, when he finished nine rushing yards ahead of his teammate. They became the second set of teammates in NFL history to rush for at least 815 yards in the same season — Miami Dolphins Larry Csonka (1,117) and Mercury Morris (1,000) did it in 1972.

A sixth-round pick in 1968, Cincinnati’s first as a franchise, Johnson led all NFL running backs with a 6.1-yard average in 1971. He’s third on the Bengals’ career list with a 4.55 average.

Johnson ranks ninth in team history in career rushing yards (3,070) and scrimmage yards (4,611), and his 12.7 yards per reception are a franchise record for running backs.

7) Giovani Bernard (2013-2020)

Despite leading the Bengals in carries just once in his career, Giovani Bernard ranks eighth in career rushing yards and fifth in scrimmage yards.

The only time Bernard led the team in rushing was in 2020, when Mixon missed the final 10 games with a broken foot. Yet, Bernard still only finished with five more carries than him.

Bernard owns the second-longest run in franchise history with his 89-yard touchdown against Carolina in the 37-37 tie in 2014.

Further, he was one of the few Bengals who was at his best in prime time, scoring nine touchdowns under the lights, including his scintillating, bob-and-weave 35-yarder in Miami in 2013.

Only A.J. Green (11) scored more touchdowns under the lights than Bernard.

6) Cedric Benson (2008-11)

Despite playing only four seasons with the Bengals, Cedric Benson ranks sixth on the franchise’s career rushing list with 4,176 yards. He’s one of only three Cincinnati running backs to author three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, doing so from 2009-11, and the only player in team history to have six 100-yard games in a single season (2009).

The No. 4 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Benson is one of the best free agent signings in franchise history.

In three years with the Chicago Bears, he never totaled more than 675 yards in a season. Benson topped that in his first year in Cincinnati with 747 before adding totals of 1,251, 1,111, and 1,067 the following three seasons.

5) Pete Johnson (1977-1983)

The franchise leader in rushing touchdowns (64) and total touchdowns (70), Pete Johnson was a 6-foot, 252-pound wrecking ball who had his best season — and only Pro Bowl nod — in 1981 as he helped lead the Bengals to their first Super Bowl.

Johnson finished in the top five of the league in rushing touchdowns four times in his seven seasons in Cincinnati, and he ranked eighth in rushing yards and scrimmage yards during the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.

When he left the Bengals after 1983, Johnson was the franchise leader in rushing yards, but he has since fallen to fifth. He still ranks fourth in career scrimmage yards.

Though he averaged just 3.87 yards per attempt for his career (16th on the franchise list), that number is skewed by the number of one-yard touchdown runs and other short-yardage attempts he had.

An amazing 31 of his rushing touchdowns were from one yard out. Those alone put him seventh on Cincinnati’s career list.

For his career, Johnson had 40 one-yard TD runs. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers Marcus Allen (56), John Riggins (52), Emmitt Smith (47), Jerome Bettis (43) and LaDainian Tomlinson (42) have more.

4) Rudi Johnson (2001-07)

One of the most underrated players in Cincinnati history, Rudi Johnson was one of the league’s top running backs for a three-season stretch from 2004-06, when he rushed for at least 1,300 yards each year. Corey Dillon is the only other Bengals player to do that.

Johnson’s 1,458 yards in 2005 and 1,454 in 2004 (his only Pro Bowl season) still stand as the two highest single-season totals in team history. He finished in the top seven in rushing each year from 2004-06, and he ranks fourth in franchise history in career rushing yards (5,742) after Mixon passed him last season.

Johnson also finished in the top 10 in scrimmage yards three times, rushing touchdowns thrice and yards per carry twice.

A fourth-round pick in 2001, Johnson ranks third in rushing touchdowns (48) and sixth in scrimmage yards (6,330).

3) Joe Mixon (2017-2023)

Had the Bengals not traded Mixon in March, he almost certainly would have moved past James Brooks for second place on the team’s career rushing list. Instead, he falls just 35 yards shy.

Mixon also needed two touchdowns and 898 scrimmage yards to secure second place in those categories.

The 2017 second-round pick had a 111-yard swan song with the organization in January,  marking the 15th 100-yard game of his career, tying Benson for fourth most in Cincinnati history.

That Week 18 performance against the Cleveland Browns also gave Mixon his fourth 1,000-yard season. Only Dillon had more (six).

Mixon, who only lost four fumbles on 1,854 scrimmage touches, earned his lone Pro Bowl nomination in 2021 on the way to the Super Bowl, where he threw a touchdown pass to Tee Higgins.

2) James Brooks (1984-91)

You’re not breaking any news when you tell someone Brooks was one of the best running backs in franchise history. But most people don’t understand just how insane the four-time Pro Bowler’s statistics were.

During Brooks’ eight seasons in Cincinnati, his league rankings among all running backs were second in yards per attempt, third in total touchdowns, fourth in scrimmage yards, fourth in yards per reception, fifth in rushing yards, and sixth in receptions.

Brooks led the league in yards per carry three times, including in 1985 when he also led all NFL backs in yards per catch. In addition to his three first-place showings, he was second in yards per rush in 1988 and fifth in 1985.

Brooks had three top-10 finishes in rushing yards and two top-five finishes in scrimmage yards. He owns the franchise record for career yards per rush (4.8) and is second in rushing yards (6,412), scrimmage yards (9,459) and total touchdowns (64).

1) Corey Dillon (1997-2003)

Dillon didn’t just rewrite the franchise records; during his seven seasons in Cincinnati, he set multiple NFL records.

He’s one of only six players to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons.

Fourteen games into his first season, Dillon broke Jim Brown’s single-game rookie record with 246 rushing yards (and scored four touchdowns in the process) against the Tennessee Oilers. In 2000, he broke Walter Payton’s single-game record by thrashing the Denver Broncos for 278 yards.

Dillon, who went to three of his four Pro Bowls as a member of the Bengals, owns the team record for most rushing yards (8,061) by more than 1,600 yards and has the top three single-game performances and three of the top five single-season marks.

He also has more 100-yard games (28) than any Cincinnati player.

And Dillon did it all while playing on some of the most dreadful offenses in franchise history.

Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast

Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Bengals Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Bengals Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.

Related Articles