3 legendary NFL running backs who played in the wrong era


Baltimore Colts running back Lydell Mitchell (26) carries the football during the Colts 29-27 victory over the Detroit Lions on October 21, 1973 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by George Gelatly/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

NFL running back are required to do a lot more today than just toting the rock. These three standouts displayed plenty of versatility decades ago.

There was a revival of the running game in 2022, at least in terms of individual performances. This past season, 16 players ran for 1,000-plus yards, led by the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs and including Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields. In the two previous seasons combined (2020-21), there were a total of 16 rushing performances of 1,000 or more yards.

In 1985, San Francisco 49ers standout Roger Craig became the first player in NFL annals to total at least 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. That feat was duplicated in 1999 by the Rams’ Marshall Faulk. Twenty years later (2019), Christian McCaffrey managed that accomplishment while he was with the Carolina Panthers.

Well before Craig’s and the other’s accomplishments, there were at least three performers who stood out in terms of their ability to not only be outstanding runners but superb pass-catchers.

NFL running backs from the wrong era: 3. Lydell Mitchell

In 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers made former Penn State fullback Franco Harris a first-round pick. While he was with the Nittany Lions, he was less of a runner and more of a blocker for Lydell Mitchell. The latter was a second-round pick of the Baltimore Colts in ’72.

While Harris went on to be a workhorse for Chuck Noll’s team, Mitchell did a lot of everything for Baltimore. His nine-year career also included stops with the Chargers and Rams. He finished his NFL days with 9,737 yards from scrimmage and 47 touchdowns.

Mitchell and the Colts really caught everyone’s attention starting in 1975. It would not only be the start of three straight Pro Bowl appearances for the standout performer but three consecutive AFC East titles for the club. In 42 regular-season games over that stretch, Mitchell ran for 3,552 yards and 19 touchdowns, plus caught 191 passes for 1,719 yards and 11 scores. He led the NFL in touches from scrimmage in 1976 (349) and ’77 (372).


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