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Top 5 Pro Canes: Running Backs

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The U has produced many a great runners, but which is considered the best based on their NFL career?

Denver Broncos vs Indianapolis Colts Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

This week in our State of the U Top-5 ProCane Ranking Series, we’re taking a look at running backs from the University of Miami. One of the main reasons that Miami is known as “The U” is because it has served as a factory for NFL stars of the future. The lineage of Hurricane RBs churned out every year for the NFL is prestigious.

Considering the competition that took place on Greentree Practice Field, ProCane backs entering the NFL have had to cut their teeth just to make it on the field in college. That competition on a college practice field helped embolden Miami rushers at the start of their pro career.

With all that in mind, how do you whittle down a list that features football royalty such as Edgerrin James, Melvin Bratton and Frank Gore to just five players? Well, somehow that mission was achieved — but whether we get a thumbs up or thumbs down will be at your discretion. Let’s start with the guys who just missed making the list.

Honorable Mentions

Willis McGahee — One of the most explosive backs to come from Miami, McGahee’s career is miraculous if you remember that horrific injury that saw the back tear his ACL, MCL and PCL ligament in his left knee. However, based on his collegiate production and prognosis of a full recovery, McGahee was selected in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. After missing the entire ‘03 season rehabbing from the injury, McGahee had a 10-year career carrying the rock for Buffalo, Baltimore and Denver before playing his final season with the Cleveland Browns.

Lamar Miller — An active player for the ProCanes, this graduate of Miami Killian High School has carved out a good career for himself. Drafted by the Dolphins in 2012, Miller became a productive back when the team decided to give him the ball. A threat as a runner and a good receiver out of the backfield, Miller emerged as an offensive weapon. The 28-year-old has rushed for 2,974 yards, eight touchdowns and earned a 4.1 yards-per-carry average as a member of the Texans over the past three season. Miller’s 678 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions on 92 receptions is also impressive.

Five

Chuck Foreman

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Walter Eugene Foreman, better known by the rest of the world as Chuck, was credited as a driving force behind the Minnesota Vikings’ offense. A first-round selection in the 1973 NFL Draft, Foreman quickly became the driving force of a team that was known as the home of the “Purple People Eaters” and Fran Tarkenton. As a rookie, Foreman rushed for 801 yards and caught 37 passes for 362 receiving yards. That production earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year. As productive as Foreman was as a runner, he was an even better receiver. Foreman’s 73 receptions in the 1975 season lead the entire NFL! Before Foreman walked away from the game, he would total 3,156 receiving yards on 350 receptions, with a nine yard-per-catch average. Impressive numbers even by today’s standards for a running back. Foreman finished with 5, 950 rushing yards and 53 TDs over his eight seasons in the NFL.

Chuck’s Career Totals:

Rushing Yards: 5,950

Rushing Touchdowns: 53

Receptions: 350

Receiving Yards: 3,156

TD Receptions: 23

Four

Clinton Portis

Before the appearances of “Dolomite Jenkins” and “Sheriff Gonna Getcha”, running back Clinton Portis was one of the more productive backs in the league. Drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Portis continued the trend of making a good early impression. In his rookie season on Mike Shanahan’s offense, Portis broke out onto the NFL scene in glorious fashion. Portis ran for 1,503 yards and 15 TDs at 5.5 YPC. As you can imagine, Portis ran away with AP Offensive Rookie of Year award. Portis would continue to do much of the same for the Broncos and Washington Redskins over the course of his nine year career. In a seven year span, Portis rushed for over a 1,000 yards in six seasons.

Clinton Portis rushed for 9,923 yards, 75 TDs and a 4.4 YPC average during his career. For perspective, Portis sits 32nd on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. The man from Laurel, Mississippi, also caught 247 passes for 2,018 receiving yards and five TDs.

Portis’ Career Stats:

Rushing Yards: 9,923 — 32nd on the NFL’s All-Time Rushing List

Rushing Touchdowns: 75

Receptions: 247

Receiving Yards: 2,018

TD Receptions: 5

Three

Ottis Anderson

Ottis Anderson

Anderson played in the NFL for 14 years! On longevity alone, that places him on the list. But the West Palm Beach, Florida, native was among one of the most productive members for both the St. Louis Cardinals — yep, the city indeed had a football and baseball franchise both named the St.Louis Cardinals — and the New York Giants. Anderson exploded onto the scene in his rookie season. In his NFL debut, the back came up one yard shy of the all-time first game rushing record with 193 yards. In his first year, Anderson would tally a whopping 1,605 rushing yards with eight trips crossing the goal line. In addition to his gaudy rushing totals that season, the rookie also hauled in 41 receptions for 308 receiving yards and two TDs. Anderson would win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award for the 1979 season. He also got a Pro Bowl nod and was named a First Team All-Pro. Anderson went on to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in five of his next six seasons, with the exception of the strike-shortened 1982 season. After finding himself in a rut between 1985 and ‘86, the Cardinals traded Anderson to the New York Giants, where he would become the workhorse of Bill Parcell’s offense. After rushing for 1,023 yards the ProCane would go on to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and his second Super Bowl ring after winning Super Bowl XXV MVP. Anderson would rush for 10, 273 yards, 81 TDs, four YPC, 3,062 receiving yards, 376 receptions and five TD receptions in his illustrious career.

Anderson’s Career Statline:

Rushing Yards: 10,273 — 30th on the NFL’s All-Time Rushing List

Rushing Touchdowns: 81

Receptions: 376

Receiving Yards: 3,062

TD Receptions: 5

Transparency: There are only two players left on the list and — to be honest — I was torn between the order of the final two. Both are beloved sons of the city of Miami. Each is recognized by their peers as being the standard at the running back position. I don’t think you could go wrong with having either one as your workhorse in the backfield, but as the famous line from 1986’s Highlander goes...

Two

Edgerrin James

You can’t talk about Miami running backs without putting Edge on that list. No player put out for the city of Miami quite like the man from Immokalee, Florida. The braids, gold teeth and punishing running style were all calling cards of James and South Florida running backs. James was the total package at the RB position. James rushed for 1,553 yards, averaging 4.2 YPC with a league-high 369 rush attempts on his way to 13 TDs. Oh, Edge also had 62 receptions for 586 receiving yards and four touchdowns. As is the trend in this article, James went on to win the 1999 AP Offensive Rookie of Year. That was pretty much the standard for the remainder of James’ career. He would go on to be named an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler four times!

One of the many qualities that made Edgerrin James one of the most talented backs in the league was his intelligence, patience and ability to capitalize on the subtleties of the game using them to his advantage. Even when James was in the twilight of his career with the Arizona Cardinals, Edge found a way to compensate for his deteriorating speed and acceleration with veteran savvy to gain optimal yardage.

James’ Career Statline:

Rushing Yards: 12,286 — 13th on the NFL’s All-Time list

Rushing Touchdowns: 80

Receptions: 433

Receiving Yards: 3,364

TD Receptions: 11

It’s just a matter of time before the Pro Football Hall of Fame acknowledges what UM supporters already know. Being on the “Edge” of enshrinement into the Hall of Fame hasn’t diminished his career to date. It’s only a matter of time before that old gold grill is matched will a golden bust.

One

Frank Gore

San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Before he ever stepped on the field in the NFL, RB Frank Gore was regarded among his peers as the best running back on campus at the University of Miami. This is a position group that had future stars such as Clinton Portis, Najeh Davenport and Willis McGahee. Yet it was Frank Gore many believed was the best of… well, the best!

Gore was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft. A staggering 14 years and 14,748 rushing yards later, Frank Gore is fourth on the NFL’s All-Time rushing list — Barry Sanders (15,269), Walter Payton (16,726) and Emmitt Smith (18,355) lead him. What separates Gore from the others is vision to watch the play develop, patience to wait for his blocks to be setup and balance after contact to gain every possible yard while avoiding the big shot so he can see the next play. Clearly there’s still plenty of gas left Frank’s tank since he will be playing his 15th season for the Buffalo Bills in 2019.

There may have been backs from The U that had better intangibles, but it’s hard to argue with the production and longevity that Gore has enjoyed throughout his career.

Gore’s Career Stats:

Rushing Yards: 14,748 — 4th on the NFL’s All-Time list

Rushing Touchdowns: 77

Receptions: 455

Receiving Yards: 3,796

TD Receptions: 18

Agree or disagree? As always let us know in the comment section.

IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!