The 20 best running backs in the history of New York Jets

Who is the best running back in Jets history?
Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin / Michael Valeri/GettyImages

The NY Jets haven't always had the most successful offenses throughout their history, but they have always seemed to lean on their ground game. There are quite a few notable running backs throughout the existence of the Jets organization.

From their Super Bowl-winning team to their AFC Championship Game runs in the late '90s and very early 2010s, the Jets have often found success when led by standout rushing attacks.

Some of the most famous players in Jets' history are running backs, and while you might see a pretty sizable drop-off after the top few names on this list, it's always fun to reminisce about Jets teams of old.

The running back position is no different. But before we jump into our list, let's take a look at some criteria first.

Criteria for selection

It's never easy to put together a list like this. There isn't one single metric that can be used to determine the "best" running backs in a team's history. Subjectivity will always be a factor.

For the purposes of this list, however, we will be ranking based on a combination of team success, individual success, awards, accolades, longevity, memorable moments, overall impact, etc.

We will also be including fullbacks in this list, although impact will still be taken into account. It will probably be difficult for a fullback to rank higher on this list without making a significant impact as a runner or receiver.

This list will also only account for contributions made on offense. Certain running backs on this list may have contributed heavily on special teams in their careers, but this list is only looking at what they did as a running back.

The top 20 running backs in NY Jets history

20. Leon Washington

If this list took into account special-teams contributions, Leon Washington would almost certainly rank higher. The former Florida State standout made a Pro Bowl with the Jets and was named first-team All-Pro following his impressive 2008 campaign, although he earned those accolades as a return man.

Washington made a living on special teams, but he also contributed on the offensive side of the ball, rushing for 1,782 yards and 13 touchdowns over four years with the Jets.

Only two running backs in Jets history with at least 200 carries finished with a higher yards per carry than Washington's 4.8. The former fourth-round pick was a quality change-of-pace back who was a featured player in the Jets' passing game for a little as well.

Washington is one of the most beloved Jets players of his era, and while he may not have been quite as impactful as a running back as he was a special-teamer, he still left his mark and deserves a spot on this list.

19. Clark Gaines

Clark Gaines is a forgotten member of those mid-to-late-1970s Jets teams, and if not for an untimely broken leg that effectively ended his career, he might rank even higher on this list.

Gaines was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jets in 1976, and he proceeded to go on to not only lead the team in rushing as a rookie but actually earned Jets MVP honors for his performance.

Gaines would battle injuries in the NFL, but he once again led the Jets in rushing in 1979, actually finishing fourth in the AFC with 905 rushing yards on a league-best 4.9 yards per carry.

He also contributed in the passing game, including setting a franchise record with 17 catches in a game in 1980 — a record that still stands today. Gaines didn't have the same longevity that others on this list have, but he was among the better running backs in football for a year or two with the Jets.

18. Bruce Harper

This is a very similar situation to Leon Washington. Bruce Harper was one of the most beloved Jets players during his time with the team due in large part to his efforts as a kick and punt returner.

Harper led the NFL in kick return yards each of his first three pro seasons, establishing himself as one of the best return men in the league. He also played occasionally on offense, often serving a role as the team's third-down back.

Harper played eight years with the Jets between 1977 and 1984, and despite never topping 400 rushing yards in a season, he still ranks 18th in Jets history in total rushing yards. He found even more success as a receiver, hauling in 50 catches for 634 yards in 1980.

Harper's legacy will live on in the form of Fireman Ed's famous No. 42 jersey, as the undersized back out of Englewood, NJ will always hold a special place in the hearts of many Jets fans who grew up in that era.

17. LaDainian Tomlinson

LaDainian Tomlinson will go down as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, but the Pro Football Hall of Famer's time with the Jets isn't often talked about when discussing his legendary career.

That's because Tomlinson spent just two years with the Jets in 2010 and 2011, helping the team earn a spot in the AFC Championship Game as their lead back alongside the young Shonn Greene.

Tomlinson rushed for 914 yards and added 52 catches for 368 yards as a receiver in his lone season as a starter in New York before the wheels fell off in 2011. Still, he was a big reason why the Jets were able to reach the AFC Championship Game in 2010.

Tomlinson doesn't have the longevity of even individual accomplishments (with the Jets) that others on this list do, but he was an important piece in one of the NFL's best rushing attacks during the franchise's most recent successful run. That earns him a place on this list.

16. Scott Dierking

Drafted in the same legendary class that brought the Jets Joe Klecko, Wesley Walker, Marvin Powell, and Dan Alexander, Scott Dierking's name isn't often brought up when discussing the best running backs in franchise history.

But Dierking quietly put together a solid run with the team, spanning seven years between 1977 and 1983. Diereking's best days in green and white came between 1978 and 1980 when he led a very capable Jets running game alongside Clark Gaines and Kevin Long.

The former fourth-round pick actually ranks 13th in rushing yards in Jets history ahead of some notable names still yet to be mentioned on this list. His longevity is a big reason he ranks so high.

Dierking may not have been the most prolific running back of his era, but only a dozen Jets have rushed for more yards than he has. He deserves a spot on this list.

15. Breece Hall

How do you even rank a player like Breece Hall? Hall is undoubtedly one of the most talented running backs in Jets history, and he's almost certain to continue climbing these rankings in the coming years.

That said, at the time of writing, Hall has played just 24 games with the Jets and has completed one full season. That one season, however, was one of the best by a running back in recent team history.

Hall's 1,585 scrimmage yards in 2023 ranked fourth in the entire NFL behind only Christian McCaffrey, Tyreek Hill, and CeeDee Lamb. His 4.8 yards per carry ranks third-best in franchise history, and he's accomplished that feat with abysmal offensive line and quarterback play.

The future is bright for a player who the Jets hope could finish his career near the top of this list. For now, Hall slots in at No. 15 with a chance to climb a few spots with another stellar season.

14. Brad Baxter

It's easy to overlook players from those early 1990s Jets teams, which is why someone like Brad Baxter tends to get forgotten in Jets history. Baxter's career numbers warrant a spot on this list, however.

Baxter caught on with the Jets in 1989, taking over as the team's starting fullback in 1990. He rushed for 2,462 yards over the next four years and even led the entire AFC in rushing touchdowns with 11 in 1991.

Baxter's role in the Jets' offense was greatly reduced following the hiring of Pete Carroll in 1994, and he quickly fell out of favor with new head coach Rich Kotite the following year.

The 1995 season would be his last with the Jets as he soon lost his job as the team's starting fullback to the next player on our list. Baxter still ranks 12th all-time in rushing yards as a member of the Jets.

13. Richie Anderson

Richie Anderson has a strong case to be the best fullback in modern Jets history. A sixth-round pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, Anderson played a part-time role early in his Jets career, often contributing more as a receiver than a runner.

Anderson's most notable NFL season came in 2000 when he broke out for a franchise-record 88 catches for 853 yards and two touchdowns — still the most by a Jets running back in a single season.

That performance helped earn him a spot in the Pro Bowl, and he'd go on to play another two years with the Jets, hauling in 40+ catches each year. He finished his 10-year Jets career ranked first among running backs in career catches.

While that number would eventually be surpassed by the great Curtis Martin, Anderson's contributions as a passer and blocker (for Martin) make him a memorable and important part of those Jets teams in the '90s and early 2000s.

12. Chris Ivory

Chris Ivory was a talented and productive running back during his three years with the Jets between 2013 and 2015, and you can make a case he deserves to be ranked even higher on this list.

Ivory was traded to the Jets during the 2013 NFL Draft, and he proceeded to rush for 2,724 yards and 16 touchdowns over three years with the organization. That includes a standout 2015 season that saw him make his first and only career Pro Bowl.

Ivory led the AFC in rushing in 2015, racking up 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns on that talented 10-6 Jets team that narrowly missed the playoffs. Unfortunately, his team's lack of overall success and his overall short tenure are why he doesn't rank higher.

But fans shouldn't overlook Ivory's impressive three-year stint with the Jets. He was one of the better running backs in football and a featured part of the Jets' offense for a few years.

11. Bill Mathis

We're going way back with this one, all the way back to the inaugural season of the Titans of New York in 1960. Bill Mathis was one of just four members of that original Titans team to win a Super Bowl with the renamed Jets in 1969.

Mathis was one of the organization's first star players. The former Clemson standout led the AFL in carries in 1961 and was named an AFL Eastern Division All-Star on two occasions with the team.

He also earned All-League (the equivalent of All-Pro) honors for the 1961 season that saw him rush for a team-best 846 yards and seven touchdowns. Mathis's role was diminished by the time the Jets won the Super Bowl in 1969, but he was still an important part of that team.

Mathis is one of only 20 players to play in all 10 years of the AFL's existence, and he spent that entire decade as a member of the Titans/Jets. Salute your elders — Bill Mathis was the Jets' first star running back.

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10. Shonn Greene

Shonn Greene was an integral part of the Jets teams that made consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010, and he served his role as a productive lead back in the years following those playoff runs.

A third-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Greene was a part of multiple two-headed monsters during his time with the Jets, helping lead a dominant Jets rushing attack alongside Thomas Jones in 2009 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2010.

Greene came through in the postseason too, averaging over 5.0 yards per carry in his six playoff games with the Jets. He would later rush for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons as the team's lead back in 2011 and 2012.

The hard-nosed Greene was never the flashiest of running backs, but he perfectly embodied that era of smashmouth Jets football. He ranks 11th all-time in rushing in franchise history.

9. Adrian Murrell

Adrian Murrell is a running back who never really got his due during his time with the Jets. The former fifth-round pick turned into a productive starting running back for the Jets, but he left the team just before things started to turn around.

Following a pair of uneventful seasons to start his career, Murrell saw an increase in playing time under Rich Kotite in 1995 and proceeded to take over as the team's starting running back in 1996.

Murrell rushed for 3,130 yards between 1995 and 1997, including a stellar 1,249-yard season in 1996. He remained the Jets' top running back upon the hiring of Bill Parcells in 1997 but was traded the following offseason and never made the playoffs with the franchise.

Murrell played five seasons with the Jets and ranks 10th all-time in rushing yards. Jets fans may not want to remember those horrid Rich Kotite years, but Murrell was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal roster.

8. Bilal Powell

In many ways, Bilal Powell was the Adrian Murrell of his era. Powell was never trusted to be the true every-down lead back in New York, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more reliable and steady running back in Jets history.

A fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Powell spent all nine of his NFL seasons as a member of the Jets and remarkably failed to appear in a single playoff game with the organization. He was a quiet staple of some of the worst Jets teams in recent history.

Powell's never topped 800 rushing yards in a season, but he was a consummate pro on and off the field and a paragon of consistency. He has the lowest fumble rate of any qualified running back in Jets history.

Powell's near-decade-long career with the Jets may be forgotten in time, but for a certain portion of fans who grew up watching him play, he will always be among the most respected and beloved Jets of his era.

7. Johnny Hector

Before Bilal Powell, there was Johnny Hector. A second-round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, Hector spent 10 years with the Jets, although he was never really relied upon to be the team's top running back.

That honor instead went to the great Freeman McNeil, who frequently received the majority of the praise. But Hector was an important part of those Jets teams as well, forming a talented two-headed monster alongside McNeil.

Hector ranks fifth all-time in rushing yards Jets history and actually finished his career with more total rushing touchdowns than his backfield-mate. Only Curtis Martin and Emerson Boozer found the end zone as a runner more than Hector.

McNeil is the '80s Jets running back who fans tend to remember, but Hector was one of the most underrated Jets players of his era. He's firmly a top-10 running back in franchise history.

6. John Riggins

John Riggins may be better known for his football contributions away from the Jets, but his time in New York was still successful. The future Hall of Famer made history when he became the Jets' first 1,000-yard rusher in franchise history in 1975.

Riggins made his first and only Pro Bowl as a member of the Jets that year before he controversially left in free agency. He'd go on to put together a Hall-of-Fame career in Washington, winning a Super Bowl in 1983 and earning a spot in the team's Ring of Fame.

Still, his Jets career is nothing to scoff at. Riggins ranks sixth all-time in rushing yards in Jets history, was a two-time team MVP, and made history with his 1975 season.

Riggins' Jets career will always be a case of "what could've been," but for what it's worth, he's still one of the best running backs to ever wear green and white.

5. Thomas Jones

Thomas Jones' time with the Jets was short-lived compared to many of the other players near the top of this list, but what he accomplished in his three short years with the organization warrants his placement.

Following an underwhelming first season with the Jets in which he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, Jones put together the best year of his career in 2008, rushing for 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He'd follow that up with an even more impressive 2009 season that saw him total 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to leading the NFL's best rushing attack to the AFC Championship Game.

Jones ranks seventh in rushing yards in Jets history despite only playing 48 games with the organization. His regular-season dominance and postseason heroics make him one of the five best running backs in team history.

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4. Matt Snell

There's no better way to cement your place in franchise history than by helping your team win a championship. That's exactly what Matt Snell did in 1969 when he rushed for a then-Super-Bowl-record 121 yards en route to Gang Green's first and only Super Bowl title.

Snell scored the game's only touchdown, taking a hand-off from Joe Namath four yards into the end zone to mark the first time an AFL team had led a game against an NFL team.

Snell's football career spanned from 1964 to 1972, during which he was named to four All-AFL teams, won AFL Rookie of the Year, was named an AFL All-Star on three separate occasions, and was eventually inducted into the Jets' Ring of Honor.

Injuries derailed Snell's career soon after that Super Bowl season, but he will forever be remembered as not only one of the best running backs/fullbacks in Jets history but as one of the franchise's most important players.

3. Emerson Boozer

You can really flip No. 4 and No. 3 on this list if you want, but we'll give the slight edge to Emerson Boozer, Matt Snell's backfield-mate during the Jets' Super Bowl season in 1969.

Boozer and Snell former one of pro football's most imposing backfields in the late '60s, with the former making the AFL All-Star team in his first season in the league in 1966. Unfortunately, a devastating leg injury forced Boozer to alter his playing time after the 1967 season.

Boozer transformed his game, becoming more of a power-based runner and honing his craft as a blocker. He was famously one of the lead blockers on Snell's historic Super Bowl touchdown.

Boozer would go on to play 10 seasons with the Jets, and he ranks third all-time in rushing and second behind only Curtis Martin in rushing touchdowns. He was rightfully awarded a spot in the Jets' Ring of Honor alongside Snell in 2015.

2. Freeman McNeil

A cornerstone of the Jets throughout the 1980s, Freeman McNeil finished his 12-year NFL career (all spent with the Jets) as the team's leading rusher at the time of his retirement.

McNeil and Johnny Hector formed one of the NFL's most formidable two-headed monsters, with the former often receiving the bulk of the accolades. The UCLA product became the first Jets player to lead the NFL in rushing when he totaled 786 yards in 1982.

In total, McNeil was named to three Pro Bowls, was selected as a first-team All-Pro, and became a member of the Jets' Ring of Honor following his retirement. He's also one of a select few running backs in NFL history to average over 4.0 yards per carry in each season of his career.

McNeil ranks second among all Jets running backs in total rushing yards and total carries, trailing only the No. 1 player on our list. His 144 career games played are also the most by a running back in Jets history.

1. Curtis Martin

Was this ever a doubt? Freeman McNeil was considered the best running back in Jets history...until Curtis Martin came along and broke every record there was to break. Martin is one of the most talented and productive players at any position in franchise history.

Signed away from the Jets' arch-rival New England Patriots with the infamous "poison pill" clause, Martin began his Jets career in 1998 and proceeded to serve as one of the NFL's best running backs all the way until his retirement following the 2005 season.

Martin was named to three All-Pro teams and three Pro Bowls with the Jets, setting new franchise records in pretty much every statistic. He holds the three highest single-season rushing marks in Jets history, including an NFL-best 1,697 yards in 2004.

Martin not only ranks first in rushing yards in Jets history by a hefty margin, but his 14,101 career rushing yards rank sixth all-time in NFL history. By every metric, he's one of the best running backs the sport has ever seen.

Curtis Martin is without a doubt the best running back in Jets history. We'll probably never see another player like him don the green and white again.

The 20 best running backs in NY Jets history by rushing yards



Years With Team

Rushing Yards


Curtis Martin




Freeman McNeil




Emerson Boozer




Matt Snell




Johnny Hector




John Riggins




Thomas Jones




Bilal Powell




Bill Mathis




Adrian Murrell




Shonn Greene




Brad Baxter




Scott Dierking




Chris Ivory




Clark Gaines




Kevin Long




Blair Thomas




Bruce Harper




Leon Washington




Johnny Johnson