Throughout the rich history of professional football, there have been only eight NFL running backs to ever reach the lofty achievement of 2,000 rushing yards in a single season. So far, all but one of them have been inducted into the Hall of Fame when eligible, and four of them have won the MVP. However, until this most recent Sunday, there had been no two NFL running backs to reach 2,000 yards that played for the same team. That was until Derrick Henry dropped 250 yards on the Houston Texans, allowing the Tennessee Titans to claim the AFC South title, as well as finishing with 2,027 yards on the season.
The last Titan to rush for 2,000 yards was Chris Johnson (nicknamed CJ2K by fans) in 2009, won Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY), and held most single-season franchise records before Henry’s tear this season.
With this in mind, while the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise has never yet hoisted the Lombardi trophy, they do have the unique privilege of having some of the greatest running backs to play the game. In franchise history, there have been four main running backs that can form the ‘Mt. Rushmore of NFL Running Backs’, since all four were considered to be the best in the league at one time. Let’s get started.
Tennessee Titans: The Mount “Rush-More” of NFL Running Backs
#4. Eddie George (1996-2003)
While many NFL fans from the early 2000s usually focus on NFL running backs such as Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Edgerrin James, and Jamal Lewis, many people forget how dominant Eddie George was for several years after being drafted 14th overall in 1996. This came only a year after dominating in college at Ohio State and winning the prestigious Heisman Trophy.
George was a workhorse for the franchise early on and helped lead them to the team’s only super bowl appearance to date, as well as carrying the ball at least 300 times in every season with Tennessee. His 2000 season was truly remarkable, where he raked in All-Pro honors after rushing for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns, as well as 453 receiving yards and a pair of scores.
Throughout his career, George managed to have four seasons with at least eight rushing touchdowns, becoming the all-time rushing yards leader in franchise history with 10,009, and garnering four Pro Bowl appearances. However, despite these many accomplishments, George does not rank higher on “Mount Rush-More” simply because he only averaged over four yards a carry twice in his career, and due to his lack of efficiency as a ball-carrier.
#3: Chris Johnson (2008-2013)
Chris Johnson, nicknamed CJ2K by most Titans fans, is widely remembered for bursting onto the scene as a rookie and helping the Titans win the AFC South in 2008, which, until this past Sunday, was the last time that they won the division. However, it was the following year where Johnson truly broke out and became one of the fastest players in NFL history, where he had one of the most dominant single seasons in terms of NFL running backs, even by today’s standards.
In that season, Johnson finished with 2,006 rushing yards (franchise record at that time) and 14 touchdowns, as well as 543 receiving yards and a pair of touchdown grabs, to finish with 2,509 total scrimmage yards. That number marked the most in NFL history in a single season, a record that still stands to this day. While some might refer to Johnson as a sort of one-year wonder, one great statistic that many people don’t know about him is that he had at least 1,400 total scrimmage yards for the first seven years of his career.
One drawback about Johnson’s success is that he played behind a truly dominant offensive line, which included future Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae, among others. It is also compounded by the fact that, despite Johnson’s dominant run for Tennessee during his time there, the team was simply not that great, and failed to make the playoffs in a single season following his rookie year. However, he remains one of the greatest Titans to ever set foot on a field, thus his inclusion on “Mount Rush-more.”
#2: Derrick Henry (2016-Present)
While many old-school Titans fans might wonder why Derrick Henry is already up so high on this list, it is simply a matter of how dominant “King Henry” has been over the past two NFL seasons. Despite being a Heisman winner out of Alabama, rushing for 2,000 yards in his senior year and leading the Crimson Tide to a National Championship, Henry fell to the second round, where the Titans took a chance on him at #46 overall.
After backing-up DeMarco Murray for two seasons, Henry’s rise to dominance started with a breakout game on a 2018 Thursday Night Football matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. There, Henry tied an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown run, rounding off a performance of 17 carries, 238 yards, and four touchdowns. The following year, Henry set the rushing title by going for 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, as well as 206 receiving yards and two touchdown grabs. However, his dominant run continued into the playoffs, where he racked up at least 150 yards in back to back games, before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship.
In 2020, however, the ‘King’ had an even greater season, setting several NFL records, including rushing for 200 yards and two touchdowns three times in a single season, as well as five in his career, two more than all other NFL running backs. Overall, Henry ran for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns, as well as 114 receiving yards, leading the Titans to their first division title since 2008.
He has also gained notoriety for his nasty stiff-arms over the years, which have generated lots of social media hype, especially those against Buffalo Bills corner, Josh Norman, and Detroit Lions corner, Alex Myres. He has simply become the most dominant rusher during his time in the NFL and is one of the hardest players to tackle possibly ever, averaging five yards per attempt so far in his career.
#1: Earl Campbell (1978-1984)
There is simply no other option for the #1 running back in Oilers/Titans franchise history, and that option is Earl Campbell, who, if he did not prematurely end his career, may have been one of the greatest NFL running backs of all-time. He is most known for being a brutal and physical runner, similar in strength to Jerome Bettis, while also having a lightning-quick acceleration that left defenders in the dust.
In terms of three years for a running back, there has been none in comparison to the tear that Campbell went on to begin his career, leading the entire league in rushing yards three straight times, as well as winning three straight AP Offensive Player of the Year awards, the 1979 NFL MVP, and three Pro Bowls. He also led the league in rushing touchdowns twice during his three-year tear and gained popularity in an Oilers fanbase that struggled to fill the stadium each week.
His best year of the three had to have been in 1980, where he rushed for 1,934 yards and 13 touchdowns. With Campbell’s help, the Oilers made the playoffs each of those three seasons, but fell in the AFC Championship twice, before falling in the Wild Card the following year. Campbell’s decline was somewhat shocking considering his level of success, but many contribute it to the high number of carries and hard hits he took during a time when many ‘dirty’ hits today were considered to be common.
However, even with a premature end to his career, he has still managed to be inducted into the Titans Ring of Honor and the NFL Hall of Fame, as well as sparking interest and playoff hope for a team that didn’t have much beforehand. One last point to be considered is the fact that many fans do not understand his decision to retire early, but this can be attributed to him believing that he would not play at a level anything less than acceptable, showing a sort of humility and lack of vanity that not many running backs have.
While Derrick Henry might have the following of many Titans fans today, Earl Campbell will be in the hearts of Oilers fans forever.