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Steelers, running backs

3 best running backs in Pittsburgh Steelers history

It will be hard to find an NFL team with a more successful history than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have six Super Bowl championships, tied for the most in the league. They have had plenty of legendary players pass through their locker room whether they were quarterbacks, wide receivers or defensive lineman.

Pittsburgh has also had some pretty good running backs in their day. That was not the case in 2019. The Steelers rushed for 1,447 yards last season which was the fourth-least in the league. James Conner suffered an injury which cost him must of the season. He will be back in 2020 and the Steelers are hoping they have in him their next great back.

When breaking down the top three backs in Steelers’ history, it was interesting to see the change in the style of player over the years. The list consists of players from different generations and different running styles. Here are the top three running backs in franchise history.

3. Le’Veon Bell

The Steelers selected Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Michigan State. He came into the league and completely changed the team’s running back position. During his rookie year, Bell started 13 games and showed his ability to carry the load and act as a receiver.

Bell had a breakout season in 2014 when he rushed for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns. This is the year that Bell revolutionized the position, by also catching 83 passes for 854 yards. This was his first of two First Team All-Pro selections in a Steelers uniform. Bell was named to three Pro Bowls as a Steeler as well.

In 2017, Bell had arguably his best statistical season. He led the league in carries, with 321, and totaled 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. Additionally, Bell caught 85 passes for 655 yards and two touchdowns. He was named an All-Pro once again but this is also when his tenure with the Steelers got ugly. Bell was unhappy with his contract and demanded an extension. When Pittsburgh refused, Bell sat out the 2018 season and he never played again for the Steelers.

Bell is currently with the New York Jets. He made a name for himself as one of the best running backs in the league and also was, for a time, elite from a fantasy football perspective.

2. Jerome Bettis

Bettis possessed a completely different style of play than Bell’s. He was selected 10th overall out of Notre Dame by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1993 NFL Draft. He spent his first three years with the Rams before being traded to the Steelers in one of the most lopsided deals in NFL history.

The Steelers acquired Bettis on draft night in 1996. The Rams sent Bettis and a third round pick in exchange for a 1996 second round pick and a third rounder in 1997. It is safe to say that the Steelers got the best end of the deal. Bettis hit the ground running in his first season in Pittsburgh, rushing for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bettis was named Comeback Player of the Year that season.

This began a string of six straight years of 1,000 or more rushing yards for Bettis. In 1997, Bettis led the league with 375 carries and totaled 1,665 yards and seven touchdowns. The Steelers were a staple in the postseason with Bettis in the backfield. They made the playoffs five times and won a Super Bowl in 2005. That was Bettis’ final year in the league.

Bettis retired as the second player in Steelers’ history to rush for over 10,000 yards. He finished his Steelers’ career with 10,571 yards and 78 touchdowns. Not only is he one of the best running backs in Steeler history, he is one of the biggest fan favorites. Bettis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

1. Franco Harris

Harris was the first running back taken in the 1972 NFL Draft. The Steelers selected the Penn State product with the 13th overall pick. Harris did not waste any time making Pittsburgh happy about their decision.

As a rookie, Harris carried the ball 188 times for 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1972. This also marked the first of nine consecutive Pro Bowl selections for Harris to begin his career. During his 12 year career in Pittsburgh, Harris rushed for 1,000 or more yards eight times. He led the league in touchdowns in 1976, with 14 on the ground.

Harris was a staple in the backfield for the Steelers’ dynasty of the 1970s. They won eight division titles with Harris on the team. The offensive duo of Harris and quarterback Terry Bradshaw made six AFC Championship game appearances and won four of them. They were unbeaten in the Super Bowl, winning in all four of their chances. Harris was named Super Bowl MVP in 1974 after rushing for 158 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries.

Harris was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990. He is the Steelers’ all time leader in rushing yards with 11,950, rushing touchdowns, with 91 and carries, with 2,881. He is without a doubt the top running back in Steelers’ history and one of the top backs in NFL history.