In 2013, running back David Wilson is expected to make a habit of his Week 14 performance against the New Orleans Saints last year, in which he rushed for 100 yards, collected 227 kick return yards, scored three total touchdowns and etched his name into team history for most all-purpose yards in a single game.
Yes, it is more than likely Wilson nabs the lead role in the Giants backfield, but the scintillating young athlete has a long way to go before his name is mentioned among former running backs in the annals of New York's rich football history. Plenty of runners have made a name for themselves as members of the Giants' dedicated ground game throughout the franchise's 88-season history; will Wilson be the next to do so?
This article will rank the top five running backs in New York Giants franchise history, based not just on yardage, but also scoring, longevity and impact. When all is said and done, where will Wilson stack up against these gridiron greats?
No. 1: Tiki Barber
Despite retiring at the top of his game, possibly leaving a couple 1,000-yard seasons on the table, Tiki Barber stands head and shoulders above any other running back in Giants history.
Selected in the second round (36 overall) of the 1997 NFL draft, one round earlier than his twin brother Ronde, Barber joined the Giants primarily as a kick and punt returner. In his first three seasons, Barber started only 11 games at running back, but he still made an impact on special teams. From 1998-2002, he returned 122 punts and 27 kicks.
After two consecutive seasons in which Barber's receiving yards eclipsed his rushing yards, the University of Virginia product's role expanded beyond third-down duties during the 2000 season. While sharing the backfield with highly touted rookie Ron Dayne, Barber broke 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career. He also scored eight touchdowns on the ground after posting goose eggs in that column in both '98 and '99. The Giants also made it to the Super Bowl that year.
From there, Barber's career took only one slight dip in 2001 (865 yards, four TDs) before he fully claimed the starting role the following year. From the 2002 season to his retirement at the conclusion of the 2006 season, Barber's production rose at a meteoric rate, climaxing in 2005 when he finished 20 yards shy of the NFL rushing title (1,860 yards, nine TDs).
Barber is the only Giants running back to have recorded over 2,000 carries, and his career yardage total of 10,449 is miles ahead of the next closest rusher (R. Hampton, 6,897). At a position in which shelf life is relatively short, Barber only got better with age. He capped off his career with three consecutive Pro Bowl selections (2004-2006).
No. 2: Frank Gifford
As the only Hall of Famer on this list, multi-threat running back Frank Gifford easily slides into the No. 2 spot.
Gifford, a California golden boy from USC, was the 11th overall selection in the 1952 NFL draft. The Giants' glory days can be measured by Gifford's career with the team; from his rookie year to the day he retired, New York competed in six NFL Championship games but only claimed a single title (1956). During that time, only a crushing blow from Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik could slow him down—but even that couldn't stop him.
Working primarily as a defensive back in 1953, Gifford was selected to his first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls. In '54 and '55, Gifford's role on offense began to grow. He was named a first-team All-Pro four times from 1955-1959, and he quickly became the face of the New York Giants franchise. His greatest season running the ball came in '56, when he broke 800 yards in just 12 games.
At age 30, Gifford's production was beginning to taper off. During the 1960 season, Concrete Charlie laid a lick on Gifford so heavy that it forced him out of action for the entire '61 season. Nevertheless, Gifford returned for a 10th season in 1962—this time as a flanker. In his final three seasons, Gifford lined up as a receiver almost exclusively, earning his eighth and final Pro Bowl selection as a pass-catcher in '63.
Gifford ranks eighth on the Giants' all-time rushing yards list (3,609), but he may have been the franchise's most versatile running back in its storied history. Not only did Gifford retire with more receiving yards than rushing yards, he could even throw the ball well—he threw 14 touchdown passes in his career. Gifford also attempted several field goals and PATs when he wasn't showing off his speed or his arm.
No. 3: Rodney Hampton
Throughout the 1990s, the Giants offense ran through Rodney Hampton, the No. 3 running back on this list, as he epitomized the mascot of his college team, the Georgia Bulldogs.
Hampton was a first-round selection (24th overall) in the 1990 NFL draft, but he was hardly more than a bystander during the Giants' Super Bowl run that season—he started just two games, recording less than 500 yards on the ground. After his rookie season, however, Hampton exploded for five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (1991-1995).
Although he was often troubled by injuries, Hampton helped the Giants offense form an identity as franchise quarterback Phil Simms was on his way out. In 1992, Hampton's 220-pound frame rumbled through opposing defenses for 1,141 yards, 14 touchdowns and a bid to that year's Pro Bowl. He followed it up with a second straight Pro Bowl campaign in '93.
Though his production was rather consistent, Hampton was never able to reach an elite level because of the time he missed. His Pro Bowl season in '92 was the only one in which he started all 16 games. By his eighth season with the team, Hampton was no longer effective carrying the ball.
Still, Hampton ranks second on the Giants' all-time rushing list (6,897 yards). His 49 career rushing touchdowns ranks third in team history, and he is one of just 10 offensive backs (fullbacks and quarterbacks included) to have suited up for 100 or more games with Big Blue.
No. 4: Joe Morris
A speedy and elusive runner of the 1980s, Joe Morris helped the Giants claim their first Super Bowl title by delivering an All-Pro campaign, landing him at No. 4 on this list.
Morris, a second-round selection in the 1982 NFL draft, recorded just 15 carries during his rookie season with the Giants. The Syracuse graduate was only 5'7", 195 pounds during a time when bigger, stronger running backs were taking over the league. But as Bill Parcells and a rather bland offense started to take over in 1983, Morris would eventually provide the perfect dose of electricity.
Morris earned his first start in 1984, slowly worming his way into the offensive game plan. He rushed for over 500 yards that season, setting himself up for a breakout year in '85. Morris capitalized by seizing the starting role, rushing for 1,336 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns (a franchise mark that still stands today). Morris was a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl.
After ending the '85 season with a disappointing playoff loss to the Bears, Morris and the Giants still had more work to do. With Morris controlling the pace on the ground, the Giants emerged as the league's most dominant team in 1986. When the terrorizing Big Blue Wrecking Crew wasn't on the field, Morris was racking up the carries. He finished the season with 1,516 yards, a Super Bowl title and an All-Pro selection.
Morris is the third leading rusher in Giants history with 5,296 yards. While he did manage one final 1,000-yard season in 1988, Morris' career production was reminiscent of his playing style—present at one moment, but gone in a flash.
No. 5: Brandon Jacobs
The most famous bruiser in Giants history, Brandon Jacobs racked up 56 touchdowns during his seven-year career with New York, making him the No. 5 running back on this list.
Jacobs was virtually unknown when he was drafted out of Southern Illinois in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft. During his first training camp, however, it didn't take long to notice the 6'4", 260-pound running back. With a penchant for jarring collisions, Jacobs was destined to be a great short-yardage runner.
In his rookie season, Jacobs hawked goal-line carries from veteran Tiki Barber, cashing in on seven touchdowns by season's end. He scored nine the following season, but it wasn't until Barber retired after the 2006 season that Jacobs was able to showcase his full ability. Despite starting just nine games due to injury, Jacobs broke 1,000 yards in 2007, en route to a Super Bowl victory.
Again in 2008, Jacobs eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing, as did backfield mate Derrick Ward. Ahmad Bradshaw, a change-of-pace back who rushed for 355 yards that season, completed one of the league's most feared rushing attacks. As Bradshaw's effectiveness grew in 2009, Jacobs began to fade into more of a complementary role.
Still, Jacobs was known to be one of the NFL's toughest runners; tacklers risked embarrassment if they dared to hit him above the waist. He rushed for over 800 yards in both '09 and '10, but his yardage slipped to 571 during his team's second Super Bowl run in 2011. Jacobs spent last season with the San Francisco 49ers.
Jacobs ranks fourth on the Giants' all-time rushing list (4,849 yards), but he will always be remembered for his pummeling approach. He holds the record for most rushing touchdowns in Giants history (56), one more than Barber.
Honorable Mentions: Alex Webster (1955-1964, 4,638 yards, 39 TDs); Ahmad Bradshaw (2007-2012, 4,232 yards, 32 TDs); Eddie Price (1950-1955, 3,292 yards, 20 TDs); Tuffy Leemans (1936-1943, 3,132 yards, 17 TDs); Joe Morrison (1959-1972, 2,474 yards, 18 TDs)
Where I Missed: Ottis Anderson (1986-1992, 2,274 yards, 35 TDs) . . . . "Without him literally controlling the clock for the entire SB, the Giants would never have been in a position to win that game..remember, the Giants controlled the ball for nearly FORTY MINUTES! That was due in large part to Anderson" -richard
Ron Johnson (1970-1975, 3,836 yards, 33 TDs) . . . . "I started watching [the Giants] around the end of the Allie Sherman years, around 1965, I was born in 57. It got worse, at least I got to see people like Ron Johnson." -Big Daddy
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