The Arizona Cardinals may have the NFL’s second-worst all-time winning percentage, but that doesn’t mean the franchise hasn’t had its share of good players throughout the years. Here are the three best running backs in Cardinals history.
3. Ernie Nevers, 1929-1931
Nevers spent only three years with the Cardinals, who were playing in Chicago at the time, but he still makes his way onto this list. Nevers originally joined the Duluth Eskimos in 1926, and played two seasons for them. He also spent time as a professional baseball player, alternating between that and football. He joined the Cardinals in 1929, and played three seasons in Chicago. In 1930 and 1931, Nevers also served as the team’s head coach.
It’s difficult to nail down exact statistics from this era, but Nevers is credited with scoring 26 rushing touchdowns in his Cardinals career, and he also kicked field goals. During the 1929 season, he set an NFL record with 40 points in one game; six touchdowns and four extra points. That mark stands to this day, as it’s difficult for modern players to score that many points, since none play offense and placekicker.
Nevers was named a first-team All-Pro in each of his three seasons with Chicago (in fact, each of his five NFL seasons), and retired after the 1931 campaign. He coached the team in 1939, and after that, served as a Marine in World War II.
In 1963, Nevers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class.
2. Charley Trippi, 1947-1955
Trippi was drafted first overall in 1945 and began his NFL career in 1957. He won the NFL Championship as a rookie, and retired having made two Pro Bowls, one All-Pro team, and having gained the most yards from scrimmage in NFL history at the time. Trippi played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, punter, punt returner, and even saw time on defense. He was incredibly versatile, and is the only player in the Hall of Fame to have gained 1,000 or more yards as a passer, runner, and receiver.
For his entire career, Trippi gained 7,241 all-purpose yards and scored 37 touchdowns. He retired in 1955, and was an assistant coach for the Cardinals from 1957 to 1965. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968, and is currently the oldest living member of the Hall, set to turn 99 in December.
1. Ottis Anderson, 1979-1986
The best pure RB in Cardinals history, Anderson was the eighth overall pick in 1978 and immediately established himself as an elite runner, rushing for 1,605 yards and eight scores on his way to the Pro Bowl, the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and an All-Pro selection. He ran for over 1,100 yards four more times during his time with St. Louis, but injuries began to take a toll on him, and he was replaced by the upstart Stump Mitchell. The Cardinals traded him to the New York Giants during the 1986 season, and although he wasn’t featured much, did score a touchdown as the Giants won Super Bowl XXI. He also won the Super Bowl XXV MVP.
Anderson still leads all Cardinals runners in career rushing yards by over 3,300, and owns the rushing TD mark by a full nine touchdowns over the second-place Wayne Morris. Anderson finished his seven-plus years in St. Louis with 7,999 yards and 46 touchdowns. He also added 299 catches for 2,495 yards and five scores.