When looking into the history of the Cleveland Browns, the current state of the team clouds the mind and make it easy to forget there were so many great players on the squad in the past. Let’s reminisce about backfields that had once had both Pruitt’s at the same time,1 Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner double teaming defenses, and the GOAT.2
No. 5: Greg Pruitt
Stats: 5,496 rushing yards, 25 TDs, 3,022 receiving yards, 17 TDs, 4 Pro Bowls (1973, 1974, 1976, 1977)
Pruitt was a dynamic player for the Browns in the 70s, starting out as a punt and kick returner, even making the Pro Bowl in his rookie and sophomore years being used primarily as a returner. He eventually became a Pro Bowl level running back for the team, rushing for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons in 1976 and 1977. Greg Pruitt3 was with the Browns for nine years and totaled 5,496 rushing yards and 25 TDs.
No. 4: Marion Motley
Stats: 4,712 rushing yards, 31 TDs, 1,107 receiving yards, 7 TDs, 1 Pro Bowl (1950), 2 All Pro teams (1948, 1950), 1 NFL Championship (1950), Hall of Fame (1968)
Originally, I had Motley No. 5, just due to lack of stats comparatively, but when you look at the numbers he put up in an era where 1,000 yard seasons were almost unheard of, it put him above other worthy challengers. Motley paved the way for African American players in the NFL, with his no nonsense approach on and off the field. Motley was a “hit ’em in the teeth,” grind it out player and paid for it by having such a short career when you look at his successors. Running for 4,712 yards as a Brown, Motley comes in No. 6. He does lead the franchise in yards per attempt at 5.7 among those with at least 200 attempts (sorry Mike Phipps) and had only nine lost fumbles in his eight years as a Browns fullback. He was instrumental in the 1950 championship season, the one season he made the Pro Bowl.
No. 3: Mike Pruitt
Stats: 6,540 rushing yards, 47 TDs, 1,761 receiving yards, 5 TDs, 2 Pro Bowls (1979, 1980)
Mike Pruitt, no relation to Greg, was less flash but more production than his surname-sake. Rushing for 6,540 yards in nine years, he outproduced the other Pruitt by over 1,000 yards, while also losing fewer fumbles, 37 to 59. Mike was named starter midway through the 1978 season and never gave the job back. He was named to the Pro Bowl the next two seasons, helping the Browns make the playoffs in 1980.
No. 2: Leroy Kelly
Stats: 7,274 rushing yards, 74 TDs, 2,281 receiving yards, 13 TDs, 6 Pro Bowls (1966-1971), 3 All Pro teams (1966-1968), Hall of Fame (1994)
Kelly took over the starting job reigns from the legendary Jim Brown in 1966 and kept the train going into the 1970s. Once finally handed the starting job, Kelly went to six straight Pro Bowls and had three All Pro seasons. Rushing for 7,274 yards in his ten year career, Kelly finished as No. 2 in franchise history in yards. Kelly earned his place in the Hall of Fame, getting inducted in 1994.
No. 1: Jim Brown
Stats: 12,312 rushing yards, 106 TDs, 2,499 receiving yards, 20 TDs, 9 Pro Bowls (1957-1965), 8 All Pro teams (1957-1961, 1963-1965), NFL Championship (1964)
Another list where the top was always known. Jim Brown can make a claim that only Ric Flair can: best there is, best there was, best there ever will be. Totaling over 12,000 yards, he rushed for 1,000 more yards than No. 3 and 4 on this list combined. It’s not hard to grasp how good he was; he was named to the Pro Bowl every year he played, and was named to the All Pro team in every year except 1962, when he rushed for *only* 996 yards and 13 TDs. He was the focal point of the team that won the championship in 1964 and has set records that will likely never be beaten. It’s plain and simple: when it comes to Browns running backs, Jim Brown is the GOAT.4
It was hard to not list Kevin Mack or Earnest Byner, but it needs to be mentioned that in 1985, they were only the third teammates to both rush for 1,000 in the same season. For that reason they are here in the honorable mentions category. Out of the crop of “new” Browns, Jamal Lewis is No. 9 all time in rush yards in only three seasons, totaling 1,304 in 2007 and 1,002 in 2008. Of those currently on the roster, Isaiah Crowell is No. 12 with 2,265 rushing yards. If an extension is reached, he could eclipse some big names over the next year(s).