Ranking the Dallas Cowboys' most important running backs in franchise history

The Dallas Cowboys, known as "America's Team," are among the greatest franchises in NFL history. Here are the 10 greatest runningbacks in franchise history.
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The Dallas Cowboys have the most wins in NFL history since their inaugural 1960 season. A key ingredient to their success has been the presence of dominant running backs.

So, let's look at the top 10 running backs in franchise history, who have contributed significantly to America's Team's legacy.

Honorable Mentions: Tony Pollard (2019-2023), Duane Thomas (1970-1971), Marion Barber III (2005-2010)

10. Robert Newhouse (1972-1983)

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Robert Newhouse is a name often forgotten in Cowboys history because he did not rack up the same accolades as other greats. Newhouse spent 12 seasons with the Cowboys and helped lead the team to their second Super Bowl win in 1977.

Newhouse threw a touchdown pass during that Super Bowl, which means he has more touchdown passes in the Super Bowl than Tony Romo and Dak Prescott combined.

Accolades: 1x Super Bowl Champion

9. Walt Garrison (1966-1974)

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Garrison spent his whole career with the Cowboys and was a hard-nosed runner who welcomed physicality. He spent the latter half of his career as a fullback and provided as a runner, receiver, and blocker during his tenure with the Cowboys.

His greatest impact came as the team's second-leading rusher in the Cowboys' first Super Bowl-winning season.

Accolades: 1x Pro Bowler, 1x Super Bowl Champion

8. Demarco Murray (2011-2014)

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Drafted in the third round back in 2011, Demarco Murray became a star in his short stint with the Cowboys. In his best season with the team, Murray set franchise single-season records for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage with 1845 rushing yards and 2261 total yards from scrimmage in 2014.

His cowboy career ended when the team decided to re-sign Dez Bryant over Murray in the 2014 off-season.

Accolades: 2x Pro Bowler, 1x All-Pro

7. Herschel Walker (1986-1989, 1996-1997)

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Hershel Walker's greatest impact came when he was traded to the Vikings during the 1989 season. His trade to the Vikings sent the Cowboys four veteran players and 13 draft picks. The trade is widely regarded as the best in NFL history at least for the Cowboys.

The trade turned the Cowboys into a dynasty and ultimately helped them win three Super Bowls during the 1990s. It also helped the Cowboys draft legends Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, and Russell Maryland.

Accolades: 2x Pro Bowler

6. Calvin Hill (1969-1974)

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Calvin Hill is considered one of the greatest running backs in Cowboys' history. As the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1969, Hill quickly established himself as a versatile and dominant player, excelling in both rushing and receiving.

His greatest accomplishment was helping the Cowboys secure their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Accolades: 4x Pro Bowler, 1x All-Pro, Offensive ROY, 1x Super Bowl Champion

5. Daryl Johnston (1989-1999)

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When people mention Emmitt or the Cowboys' famous trio of the 1990s, they should also mention Daryl "Moose" Johnston. Johnston led the way for Emmitt during his decade of dominance and was a major factor as a blocker for the Cowboys.

Johnston was also a factor in the passing game, racking up over 2000 career passing yards and 14 touchdowns.

Accolades: 2x Pro Bowler, 3x Super Bowl Champion

4. Don Perkins (1961-1968)

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Don Perkins has the second-most Pro Bowls at the Cowboys' running back position.

Despite being among the first players to carry the ball for the Cowboys, his legacy will always be remembered, as he sits fourth all-time in franchise rushing yards.

Accolades: 6x Pro Bowler, 1x All-Pro

3. Ezekiel Elliott (2016-2022, 2024)

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Ezekiel Elliott has had a great career with the Cowboys, but it hasn't been what fans expected. As a rookie, Elliott led the league in rushing yards and was selected as a first team All-Pro; however, he has failed to perform to the same level in years since. With very little playoff success, Elliott's career has been somewhat of a letdown, but he will have a chance again this year to bring the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl.

Accolades: 3x Pro Bowler, 1x All-Pro

2. Tony Dorsett (1977-1988)

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Dorsett was the first player to record a 99-yard rushing touchdown in 1982, a record that stood for 36 years until Derrick Henry did it in 2018. Tony Dorsett's impact on the Cowboys was undeniable, and it was shown when the Cowboys won their second Super Bowl in Dorsett's rookie season.

Dorsett is the only player besides Emmitt Smith to rush for over 10,000 yards with the Cowboys.

Accolades: 4x Pro Bowler, 1x All-Pro, Offensive ROY, 1x Super Bowl Champion, Hall of Fame

1. Emmitt Smith (1990-2002)

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The NFL leader in career rushing yards and touchdowns, Smith will forever be etched in NFL history as one of the greatest running backs among Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and Walter Payton.

Few players have showcased the same durability and longevity, especially at the running back position. Not only is Smith the greatest running back in Cowboys' history, but he is also the greatest player in my book and the only Cowboys player to win MVP.

Accolades: 8x Pro Bowler, 4x All-Pro, Offensive ROY, 3x Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl MVP, NFL MVP, HOF All-1990s Team, Hall of Fame

These running backs have helped make the Cowboys the most valuable franchise in sports. 

Despite their recent failure to win a Super Bowl, the Cowboys still have the third-most Super Bowls, fourth-most playoff wins, the most regular season wins, and the most Hall of Famers since their inaugural 1960 campaign.

Most important Cowboys by position

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Koby Skillern