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3 best running backs in New England Patriots history

The New England Patriots are the most successful NFL team of the Super Bowl era. The franchise has won a league-high 37 playoff games. New England has appeared in an NFL-best 11 Super Bowls and is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Lombardi Trophies (six).

While much of the franchise’s dominance can be tied to the brilliance of head coach Bill Belichick and the dominance of quarterback Tom Brady, there has been plenty of talent across all positions—including at running back. In fact, the Patriots had plenty of stud running backs before the Brady era.

So who are the best running backs in New England’s history? Before we dive into that, let’s look at two honorable mentions who narrowly missed the cut.

James White, the Patriots’ current pass-catching specialist, produced a legendary outing in Super Bowl LI. White nabbed a Super Bowl-record 14 catches for 110 yards and a receiving touchdown, adding 29 yards on the ground with two rushing scores. White, a fourth-round pick in 2014, has already won three Super Bowl titles with the Patriots.

Corey Dillon deserves recognition as well. Dillon, who played for the Patriots from 2004-06, dominated in his debut season in New England. Dillon set career highs and Patriots records for rushing yards (1,635) and touchdowns (12) in a single season. He made the Pro Bowl and helped the ’04 Patriots capture the Lombardi Trophy.

Now that we gave White and Dillon their proper due, here is the list of the top-three running backs in Patriots history.

3. Kevin Faulk (1999-2011)

Kevin Faulk was never a star, but his longevity, versatility and reliability (particularly in the clutch) helped him carve out a legendary 13-year career in New England. Faulk, a second-round selection from the 1999 NFL Draft, excelled in the passing game. He logged 300-plus receiving yards in six different seasons. Overall, he collected 431 receptions for 3,701 yards and 15 touchdowns during his career.

The Patriots counted on Faulk to occasionally return kickoffs and punts. The ultra-reliable and dynamic Faulk returned 181 kickoffs (two for TDs) and 101 punts. In 2002, Faulk became the only player in franchise history to score multiple touchdowns in three different categories: rushing, receiving and via kick return.

Known for his pass-catching abilities, Faulk was actually a great downfield runner. He amassed 3,607 yards and 16 rushing scores.

Faulk won three championships with the Patriots and appeared in five Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2016.

2. Curtis Martin (1995-97)

Although Curtis Martin’s stay in New England lasted only three years, he more than made his mark on the franchise. A third-round pick from the University of Pittsburgh, Martin made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two NFL seasons.

Martin captured the 1995 Rookie of the Year Honors. He led the AFC in rushing yards (1,487) and scored 14 touchdowns on the ground. The following year, Martin registered a career-high 17 total touchdowns (14 rushing, three receiving).

In Martin’s first ever playoff contest, he rushed for a then franchise-record 166 yards and three touchdowns. His absurd playoff debut led the Patriots to a rout of the Steelers in the 1996 AFC Wild Card.

New England went on to win the AFC title, before falling to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXIl. Martin ran for a touchdown in the Patriots’ defeat.

Martin played one final season in New England before signing with the New York Jets in March of 1998. The tailback continued his dominance with the Jets and was eventually enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Martin stands sixth all-time in rushing yards. He is undoubtedly the most talented running back to wear a Patriots uniform.

1. Sam Cunningham (1973-79, 1981-82)

Sam “Bam” Cunningham spent his entire NFL career* with the Patriots. He is the Patriots’ all-time leading rusher (5,453 yards) and ranks second in rushing touchdowns (43), trailing only fullback Jim Nance (45), a dominant force for the Patriots’ in their AFL days.

Cunningham, the 11th pick of the 1973 NFL Draft, enjoyed an All-American career at USC. He had his best pro season in 1978. Cunningham earned a Pro Bowl selection that year, leading the Patriots in rushing (768 yards) and scoring eight touchdowns.

The ’78 Patriots were unstoppable on the ground. In addition to Cunningham, they got major contributions out of the backfield from tailbacks Horace Ivory and Andy Johnson, as well as mobile quarterback Steve Grogan. The ’78 Patriots actually held the NFL record for team rushing yards (3,165) in a season, until last year when the Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram-led 2019 Baltimore Ravens (3,296 yards) eclipsed that total.

A member of the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Team and the franchise’s 1970’s All-Decade Team, Cunningham was enshrined into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2010.

Cunningham sat out the 1980 NFL season due to a contract dispute.