The Houston Oilers / Tennessee Titans franchise has been synonymous with great running backs spanning the last four decades.
With the exception of Houston’s “Run N Shoot” pass happy days of the early 90’s, most of the franchise’s success (in both cities) was tied to the legs of a productive workhorse back.
Three men sit atop the franchise’s all time leading rushing list…
- Eddie George
- Earl Campbell
- Chris Johnson
Will DeMarco Murray join this group to complete the Mount Rushmore of greatness?
Earl Campbell was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1978, and all he did in his rookie season was lead the league in rushing en route to becoming the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and AFC Offensive Player of the Year.
The next season he went on to become league MVP, and the Luv Ya Blue era was officially in full swing.
Campbell played just seven seasons in Houston and finished with five Pro Bowl bids, three Offensive Player of the Year awards, three rushing titles, and a host of other awards…with a final stop in Canton Ohio as a Hall of Fame inductee.
Campbell retired as the franchise’s all time leading rusher with 8,574 yards and 76 touchdowns. His number 34 is retired by the Titans.
Ten years after Campbell’s retirement the Houston Oilers struck gold once again by drafting Eddie George in 1995. A player whose power and physical style of play was strikingly similar.
Like Campbell, George also went on to become the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. And like Campbell, George was the face of the franchise and focal point of the offense during the franchise’s transition years of the late 90’s.
Once the move to Nashville was complete, George became the face of the city during the team’s glory years of the early 2000’s.
In eight seasons George earned four Pro Bowl bids, two first team All Pro honors, and a second team All Pro honor.
Most importantly, he eclipsed Campbell and is now the Titans’ reigning all time rushing leader with 10,009 yards to go along with 64 career rushing touchdowns.
Chris Johnson was drafted in 2008 as part of the rebuild from the post-George era, and like his predecessors, his impact was immediate.
Johnson rushed for 1,228 yards with 10 total touchdowns in his rookie season, finishing second to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
What’s often forgotten is the fact that Johnson split equal carries with LenDale White that season, and only played in 15 games.
As the full-time starter in 2009, Johnson went on to rush for over 2000 yards on his way to becoming the Offensive Player of the Year. His record-breaking 2,509 yards from scrimmage stands today.
Johnson played just six seasons in Tennessee, but amassed a whopping 7,965 yards in rushing alone.
While Murray wasn’t drafted by the Titans, he arrived in Nashville with his own duffel bag of accolades…
The 2014 NFL rushing leader and Offensive Player of the Year had two Pro Bowl bids under his belt prior to joining Tennessee in 2016, and added a third last season when he led the AFC with 1,287 rushing yards.
Like Campbell, George, and Johnson, Murray showed last season that he is capable of being the workhorse back of a run-dominant offense.
He averaged 80.4 yards per game on 4.4 yards per carry last season compared to Campbell’s career average of 94.2 and 4.3, George’s career average of 78.2 and 3.7, and Johnson’s career average of 83.8 and 4.6.
Right on par, the only questions now is consistent longevity.
If Murray simply duplicates his 2016 season for the next two years he will move up to fifth on the franchise’s all time rushing list, and at age 29, that is certainly an attainable goal.
Murray may in fact put up the numbers to make him worthy of franchise greatness, but the three before him led their team to the playoffs…something he would need to do as well.