The Dallas Cowboys are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. This may have seemed like wishful thinking when quarterback Tony Romo got injured (what else is new?) during the preseason. However, as we inch closer to Week 11 of the 2016 NFL season, it’s clear that the 8-1 Cowboys are the team to beat in the NFC. Much of that has to do with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The NFL has seen its fair share of all-time great running backs, but rarely does a rookie enter the league and dominate right off the bat. This is exactly what Elliott is doing in 2016. Through the first nine games of his pro career, the former Ohio State Buckeye has 198 carries, nine rushing touchdowns, and leads the league in yards per contest (111.7) and total rushing yards (1,005). He’s so unstoppable that many even suggest he deserves MVP consideration. At this point, it’s hard to argue with them.
With a few weeks left in the regular season, Elliott has the chance to make rookie history. Barring any sort of setback, the Dallas Cowboys superstar will be in the position to challenge for the most rushing yards by a rookie in NFL history. Of course, he’d have to outrun these seven running backs first. And if you look at the list, that’s no easy task.
7. Barry Sanders
Rushing yards: 1,470
It didn’t take long for Barry Sanders to establish himself as one of the best running backs in the game. After the Detroit Lions selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1989 draft, Sanders rewarded their faith by carrying the ball 280 times for 1,470 rushing yards and 14 rushing scores as a rookie. Even more impressive, the future Hall of Famer compiled these numbers in just 15 games. No wonder he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and was named First-Team All-Pro.
6. Mike Anderson
Rushing yards: 1,487
The Denver Broncos drafted running back Mike Anderson out of Utah with the No. 189 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Little did they know he’d make a name for himself right off the bat. Anderson played in all 16 games (starting in 12), averaged 92.9 yards per contest, and finished his rookie campaign with 1,487 yards on the ground and 15 rushing scores. Not bad for a sixth-round pick.
5. Clinton Portis
Rushing yards: 1,508
Considering how quickly running back Clinton Portis adapted to the NFL game, it’s hard to believe he ever fell out of the first round. Then again, we doubt the Denver Broncos — who drafted him No. 51 overall in 2002 — complained. As a rookie, Portis averaged 5.5 yards per carry, 94.3 rushing yards per game, and compiled an impressive 1,508 rushing yards and 15 rushing scores. The former Miami Hurricane went on to make two Pro Bowls during his nine-year career. Oddly enough, his rookie season was not one of them.
4. Edgerrin James
Rushing yards: 1,553
Unlike the previous Miami Hurricanes running back on the list, Edgerrin James was named to the Pro Bowl his rookie year. After being taken by the Indianapolis Colts with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1999 draft, James quickly emerged as the ultimate workhorse. He started all 16 games, scored 13 rushing touchdowns and led the league in carries (369) and rushing yards (1,553). On top of that, James added 62 catches for 586 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions. For his efforts, the Colts all-purpose back earned First-Team All-Pro honors and was named the 1999 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
3. Ottis Anderson
Rushing yards: 1,605
Another standout running back from The U (there seems to be a lot of them on this list), Ottis Anderson entered the league in 1979 and made his presence known almost immediately. The running back for the then-St. Louis Cardinals, started all 16 games, amassed 331 carries, averaged 100.3 yards per contest, and finished the season with 1,605 rushing yards and eight rushing scores. Anderson earned the first of two career trips to the Pro Bowl and be selected First-Team All-Pro.
2. George Rogers
Rushing yards: 1,674
The New Orleans Saints selected former South Carolina running back — and Heisman Trophy winner — George Rogers with the first overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft. While the team went 4-12 that year, it’s hard to place any blame on the rookie back. He was, in a word, outstanding. Rodgers led the league in carries (378), yards per game (104.6), and total rushing yards (1,674). Throw in the fact that he also added 13 rushing scores, and it’s hardly a surprise that the Saints first-year star made the Pro Bowl and earned First-Team All-Pro honors.
1. Eric Dickerson
Rushing yards: 1,808
For all the outstanding seasons by rookie running backs over the years, it’s hard to imagine any eclipsing Eric Dickerson’s from 1983. The former SMU standout, taken by the Los Angeles Rams with the No. 2 overall pick, burst onto the scene and took the rest of the NFL by storm. Dickerson started all 16 games, rushed for 18 scores, and led the league in carries (390), yards per game (113.0), and rushing yards (1,808). His 2,212 total yards from scrimmage were also tops in the game. As you can imagine, his selection to the Pro Bowl as well as First-Team All-Pro honors were pretty much foregone conclusions.