The 20 best running backs in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Still Curtain ranks the all-time best running backs in franchise history.
Sports Contributor Archive 2022
Sports Contributor Archive 2022 / Tom Szczerbowski/GettyImages

Throughout NFL history, it's been hard for teams to find success without a dominant rushing attack. Over the years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been graced with running backs who offered longevity and stability at the position and have been staples to their offense.

Some of these running backs quickly come to mind as they played pivotal roles in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl runs. Other RBs in the team's storied history had remarkable seasons but their careers were short-lived.

There has been no shortage of workhorse backs over the years, and several of these bruisers challenged the notion that a running back is only as good as the offensive line in front of him.

Criteria for selection

Many factors go into comprising a list of the best running backs in Steelers history. Statistics are weighed heavily in determining the order of the list. Players who stacked dominant seasons and were considered among the best in the league during their prime were taken into account.

Likewise, longevity is important. How long a running back was able to stay at the peak of his game was factored into these rankings. I also considered how much running backs did for their team and how far they helped the franchise go into the postseason.

The difference in eras played a pivotal factor in ranking criteria as well. Some statistical grace was given to Steelers running backs who played in an era where passing games couldn't do enough to take defenders out of the box and when the rules of the game favored the defense.

To qualify for a ranking, a player must have been on the Steelers roster for a minimum of one full season and they must have carried that football at least 100 times in Pittsburgh. I also made an exception for players listed as fullbacks but who ran the ball frequently.

This list is subject to change. As some players look to cement their names in the history books alongside the greatest running backs in Pittsburgh Steelers history, they will have a chance to climb further up the list as their careers continue.

The top 20 running backs in Pittsburgh Steelers history

20. DeAngelo Williams

DeAngelo Williams had a remarkable nine-year career with the Carolina Panthers before coming to Pittsburgh. For the Steelers, Williams was a one-year wonder, but that one season was extremely impressive.

At 32 years old in his tenth NFL season in 2015, Williams carried the football 200 times for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, it was his receiving ability that made him a threat. Williams caught 40 of 47 passes for 9.2 yards per reception. This equated to over 1,274 scrimmage yards.

What's most impressive is that the veteran running back did nearly all of this damage after Le'Veon Bell was suspended for the first two games of the year and after Bell went down with a season-ending injury in Week 8. Williams played one more season in Pittsburgh before hanging up his cleats.

19. Earnest Jackson

Earnest Jackson played in the NFL before the league moved to a seven-round NFL Draft. He can be thankful that he did. The former eighth-round draft choice was drafted by San Diego in 1983 and earned Pro Bowl honors in his second season when he recorded 1,179 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns.

After a brief stint in Philadelphia in '85, Jackson made his way to Pittsburgh where he earned Pro Bowl honors for the second time. In 13 games in 1986, Jackson rushed for 910 yards and 5 touchdowns while pitching in 169 receiving yards. He followed this season up with a 696-yard performance in 12 games in '87.

Jackson joined the Steelers during a forgettable era in the late '80s and he didn't receive much help from his supporting cast. Somehow he managed to churn out 4.1 yards per carry during his time in Pittsburgh.

18. Tom Tracy

A trip down memory lane doesn't cut it for most Steelers fans living today when talking about Tom Tracy. We need to go back further than that. Born in 1934, Tracy became a professional football player when he joined the Detroit Lions in 1956.

By his third year in the league in 1958, Tracy found his way to Pittsburgh and earned Pro Bowl recognition after recording 714 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. However, it was Tracy's receiving ability that really stood out. In his first season with the Steelers, he racked up 535 receiving yards and 4 receiving touchdowns.

This equated to 1,249 scrimmage yards in just 12 games (8 starts). Two years later, Tracy earned Pro Bowl honors for the second time. In a three-year stretch from 1958 to 1960, Tracy earned at least 1,000 scrimmage yards and 8 touchdowns in each season.

17. Bam Morris

Bam Morris played the game just like his first name suggests. At 6'0'' and 244 pounds, Bam was a battering ram for the Steelers who muscled his way through traffic.

Morris was a third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 1994. He exploded onto the scene as a 22-year-old rookie with 836 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns while recording over 1,000 scrimmage yards. In year two, Morris' efficiency took a dip as he played through injuries, but he still pounded the rock for 559 yards and nine scores.

Morris played just two seasons with the Steelers before stints with the Ravens, Bears, and Chiefs. His NFL career lasted only six seasons and his efficiency wavered as his body wore down in the second half of his career.

16. Dick Hoak

Dick Hoak had a decade-long career in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for him, his professional football journey ended in 1970 -- just before the greatest era in Steelers history began. While he was the lead back in Pittsburgh, Hoak's team struggled through some difficult times -- including a 1-13 season in 1969.

In 1968 Hoak made his first Pro Bowl at 29 years old when he recorded 858 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns in 14 games. His 4.9 yards per carry in '68 was a career high and his 77-yard run was the longest in the league that year.

Hoak did an impressive amount of damage through the air. By the end of his Steelers career, he recorded 3,965 rushing yards and 1,452 receiving yards with 33 total touchdowns.

15. Jaylen Warren

Here's a name that even the youngest members of the Steelers community will be familiar with. Jaylen Warren wasn't guaranteed to earn a roster spot when he signed with the team as an undrafted free agent following the 2022 NFL Draft. It was all uphill from there.

The Oklahoma State product turned heads quickly in his NFL career --rushing for 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie while catching 28 of 33 passes as the change-of-pace back to Najee Harris. In year two, Warren caught the eye of the NFL media with 784 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per carry while catching 61 of 74 passes. His 1,154 scrimmage yards and 5.5 yards per touch helped him insert his name among the most efficient backs in the NFL.

Warren is still writing his own story, and his NFL journey is far from over.

14. Walter Abercrombie

As the 12th overall draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1982, Walter Abercrombie didn't live up to lofty expectations. Despite running behind an early-80s offensive line that included Mike Webster, Craig Wolfley, Tunch Ilkin, and Larry Brown, Abercrombie never notched a 1,000-yard season or earned Pro Bowl honors.

Regardless, his time in Pittsburgh was still meaningful. After playing just six games as a rookie, Abercrombie's role and production with the team multiplied over the next two seasons. The first-round running back peaked in 1985 and 1986 when he recorded north of 850 rushing yards and at least 6 touchdowns in both years.

Abercrombie never had a dominant campaign that put him on the map as one of the best backs in the league during the '80s, but he finished his Steelers career with 3,357 rushing yards, 1,351 receiving yards, and 29 touchdowns while averaging a respectable 4.0 yards per carry.

13. John 'Frenchy' Fuqua

A fan favorite, 'Frenchy' Fuqua was listed as both a fullback and a running back during his seven-year tenure in Pittsburgh. After rushing for just 89 yards during his rookie season in 1969 with the Giants, Fuqua joined the Steelers and immediately exploded for 691 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns in 1970. This included busting off an 85-yard run -- the longest of the season in the NFL.

Fuqua served in a complimentary role to the great Franco Harris. But just because he never earned more than 155 carries in a season doesn't mean that he doesn't deserve to be on this list.

Fuqua found a way to chip in wherever necessary and proved to be an extremely efficient player. Over his Steelers career, he averaged 5.0 yards per touch (4.2 yards per carry and 9.4 yards per reception).

12. James Conner

The Steelers should have been kicking themselves for not retaining James Conner after his rookie contract expired. Instead, the front office allowed him to walk away and sign with Arizona on a one-year contract for $1.75 million. Immediately after leaving, Conner earned 18 touchdowns and over 1,000 scrimmage yards in 2021.

Even though Conner only played his rookie contract in Pittsburgh, he still holds a special place in the hearts of Steelers fans. Conner beat Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015 in the middle of his Pitt career and made a miraculous comeback to football to become a third-round pick of the Steelers in 2017.

By his second season in Pittsburgh, Conner racked up 973 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns while chipping in 497 receiving yards in just 13 games. The bruising running back was always hampered by injuries and never played a full season in Pittsburgh, but he still managed to record 2,302 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns in four seasons.

11. Rashard Mendenhall

Rashard Mendenhall has said some controversial things over the years that have stirred up football fans. Though we will always remember his infamous and untimely fumble in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV against the Packers, Mendenhall was better than many fans give him credit for.

The first-round pick received a 'Welcome to the NFL' moment when Ray Lewis hit him so hard that he broke his collarbone four games into his rookie season in 2008. When he returned for his sophomore campaign in 2009, Mendenhall was on a mission. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 7 touchdowns on an impressive 4.6 yards per carry. He was efficient in the passing game as well -- earning 10.4 yards per reception on 25 catches.

In 2010, Mendenhall was the epitome of a workhorse back -- carrying the ball 324 times for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns. He would have his third impressive season in 2011 before missing time with injuries and suspension in 2012. Mendenhall played just one season with the Cardinals in 2013 before retiring at 26 years old.

10. Najee Harris

Najee Harris made history when he became the first Steelers running back to ever record at least 1,000 rushing yards in his first three seasons. Despite significant usage early in his career (834 carries from 2021 to 2023), Harris started and played all 51 games over his first three years.

The workhorse back has had some tough sledding, however. Massive roster shakeups along the offensive line made it hard for Harris to find much room to get the wheels turning. This resulted in an underwhelming 3.9 yards per carry through three years.

Harris earned Pro Bowl honors as a rookie and is still writing his own chapter in the Steelers' history books.

9. Frank Pollard

Frank Pollard worked as part of a dual backfield with Walter Abercrombie in the 1980s, but Pollard's journey to the NFL couldn't have been more different. Abercrombie was a first-round pick by the Steelers in 1982, while Pollard was an 11th-round selection in 1980.

Pollard quickly proved to be an efficient back who sliced his way to a career average of 4.2 yards per carry over nine NFL seasons -- all as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. While staying healthy was an issue at times, Pollard's longevity and consistency with the football in his hands were valued by the team.

Pollard was hardly a touchdown machine, but he did have an impressive three-year stretch from 1983 to 1985 when he rushed for a combined 2,450 yards and 13 scores. The late-round draft choice turned didn't take his opportunities for granted. By the end of his career, he earned 3,989 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.

7. Merril Hoge

Merril Hoge is a well-known figure among the Steelers fanbase, both for his time on the team and his career in broadcasting at ESPN from 1996 to 2017. Hoge had the privilege of playing for both head coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.

Hoge, a 10th-round pick of the 1987 NFL Draft, saw just three rushing attempts during his rookie season at running back. He quickly moved to fullback in year two when he carried the ball 170 times for 705 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns. The versatile back exceeded expectations in the receiving game too -- catching 50 passes for 487 yards and 3 touchdowns in 1988.

Over his next two seasons, Hoge combined for over 1,300 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns while carving out a significant role as a pass-catcher. By the end of his Steelers career following the 1993 season, Hoge had recorded 3,115 rushing yards, 2,054 receiving yards, and 34 total touchdowns.

8. John Henry Johnson

Perhaps the most underrated and overlooked player from the Steelers' backfield of all time is John Henry Johnson. Like Hoge, Johnson was primarily a fullback during his playing career, but he makes this list as an expectation thanks to how much he carried the football.

Johnson began his football career in Canada with the Western Interprovincial Football Union. In 1954, he signed with the 49ers at 25 years old and quickly earned Pro Bowl honors after recording 681 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns.

Johnson didn't join the Steelers until age 31 in 1960. He played six seasons in Pittsburgh and recorded three Pro Bowls. The 6'2'', 210-pound fullback rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 7 touchdowns twice with the Steelers (back when there were only 14 games in a season). Johnson finished his Steelers career with 4,381 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry.

6. Barry Foster

Injuries cut Barry Foster's NFL career to just five seasons, and he only recorded 100-plus rushing attempts in three seasons. Though he didn't have the longevity of many other Steelers running backs, Foster had one of the greatest single seasons this franchise has ever seen at the RB position.

After two years of part-time work from the backfield in 1990 and 1991, the Steelers' fifth-round pick became the workhorse back in 1992. That's when Foster exploded for 1,690 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. This equated to 105.6 rushing yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry.

When you add his 344 receiving yards, Foster recorded over 2,000 scrimmage yards in '94. Foster played all five NFL seasons in Pittsburgh and recorded 3,943 rushing yards and 46 rushing touchdowns.

5. Willie Parker

When you think of 'Fast' Willie Parker, there's no doubt the play that comes to mind is his 75-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XL. Parker possessed a gear that most running backs only dream of. His speed aided him in gashing defenses for one explosive play after the next.

After seeing just 32 carries as a rookie in 2004, Parker took the NFL world by storm with 1,202 rushing yards in his second season with the Steelers. The undrafted free agent had a remarkable three-year stretch from 2005 through 2007 -- earned between 1,200-1,500 rushing yards each season.

The year after Pittsburgh's victory in Super Bowl XL proved to be the best of Parker's career and one of the greatest single-season performances from a Steelers running back in history. In 2006, Parker rushed for 1,494 yards and 13 touchdowns while chipping in 222 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns. He played all six years in Pittsburgh and retired as a member of the Steelers after the 2009 season.

4. Rocky Bleier

Few professional football players ever faced an uphill battle quite like what Rocky Bleier went through. Bleier was selected by the Steelers in the 16th round of the 1968 NFL Draft and recorded just six carries as a rookie.

The following year, Bleier departed from Pittsburgh to serve in the armed forces. Three months into his military deployment, Bleier was shot through his thigh and suffered a grenade blast that injured his right foot, according to The U.S. Sun.

Miraculously, Bleier returned to the Steelers in 1971 and dressed for six games but did not touch the ball. From 1968 to 1973 Bleier carried the football just 10 times. His NFL career didn't take off until 1974 at 28 years old. The war hero worked in unison with RB Franco Harris to aid the team to four Super Bowl victories in the '70s. You won't find a more inspirational story in football.

3. Le'Veon Bell

Le'Veon Bell was a second-round pick by the Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft. Though he was handed workhorse running back duties as a rookie in Pittsburgh, he plodded his way to just 3.5 yards per carry on 244 attempts.

Bell cut weight heading into his second season and his efficiency rose tremendously in year two. The Michigan State product earned All-Pro honors at 22 years old in 2014 after rushing for 1,361 yards and 8 touchdowns while catching 83 passes for 854 yards and 3 scores.

Things didn't end well in Pittsburgh. Bell sat out the entire 2018 season due to a contract dispute. In his final three seasons, he suited up for the Jets, Chiefs, and Ravens, but the massive workload with the Steelers made him an irrelevant piece late in his career. Bell finished his Steelers career with 5,336 rushing yards, 2,660 rushing yards, and 42 total touchdowns.

2. Jerome Bettis

You won't find many running backs built like Jerome Bettis. Nicknamed 'The Bus', Bettis was listed at 5'11'' and 252 pounds during his playing days. From his rookie season with the Rams, Bettis used his frame and physicality to steamroll would-be tacklers. This resulted in an All-Pro season in 1993.

Entering his fourth season, Bettis was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his first season donning the black and gold, Bettis bulldozed defenders for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns -- earning All-Pro honors for the second time in his career.

'The Bus' recorded six straight 1,000-yard seasons in Pittsburgh before the lugnuts started to fall off. Bettis' efficiency took a significant dip over his final four seasons after he lost his speed, but he was still an effective short-yardage and goal-line back.

By the end of his Steelers career, Bettis recorded 2,683 rushing attempts and 10,571 rushing yards with 78 rushing touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

1. Franco Harris

Franco Harris reached legendary status early in his NFL career. The 6'2'', 230-pound running back recorded 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns on a rookie (5.6 yards per attempt) back when there were only 14 games in a season. His dominance didn't end there.

Harris made nine straight Pro Bowls to begin his career with the Steelers and earned First-Team All-Pro honors for his performance in the 1977 season. The legendary running back recorded eight 1,000-yard seasons and five seasons of at least 10 rushing touchdowns.

With 11,950 rushing yards and 100 total touchdowns in his 12-year career with the Steelers, Harris holds all-time rushing records for Pittsburgh that may never be surpassed thanks to his longevity and outstanding play for over a decade. Harris earned his gold jacket and bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

The 20 best running backs in Steelers history by yards per attempt (min. 200 attempts)



Years with Team

Yards per attempt


Jaylen Warren




Warren Williams




John Henry Johnson




Willie Parker




Le'Veon Bell




Barry Foster




James Conner




Erric Pegram




Duce Staley




Frank Pollard




Rocky Bleier




John Fuqua




Sidney Thornton




DeAngelo Williams




Jonathan Dwyer




Mewelde Moore




Franco Harris




Rashard Mendenhall




Earnest Jackson




Isaac Redman