When Atlanta selected Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Falcons made him just the latest in a long line of incredible former University of Texas running backs to move up to the pro level. From head coach Darrell Royal’s wishbone offense in the mid-20th century to Robinson’s performance in 2022, the Longhorns have enjoyed a host of talented players at the running back position.

With the team now priming itself for a successful College Football Playoff run, this is a good time to take a trip down memory lane and recall some of the best running backs in Longhorns history.

Who are the Texas Longhorns’ running backs in 2023?

The very talented Jonathon Brooks has been the No. 1 running back for Texas in 2023. His 1,139 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns have come on a healthy 6.1 yards per carry, and his best game was a 218-yard, two-TD performance against the Kansas Jayhawks. Only a sophomore, Brooks has played a big part in the Longhorns’ march to a 12-1 record, Big 12 title, and berth in the College Football Playoff.

Brooks is backed up by CJ Baxter, who has rushed for 595 yards and four TDs, and Jaydon Blue, who has 339 yards and two scores this season. The RB trio has helped the Longhorns average an impressive 189 rushing yards per game, which is the nation’s 22nd-best team performance in that category.

Texas Longhorns Running Backs History

The names of many great running backs can be found in the Texas football record books. Ricky Williams’ staggering four years as the team’s No. 1 running back puts him atop the career leader lists in all major rushing categories, but he is joined on those lists by several others who have achieved legendary status in their own right.

From D’Onta Foreman’s incredible 2,028-yard season in 2016 to Earl Campbell’s Heisman Trophy-winning year in 1977, the Texas Longhorns have been blessed with some incredible running backs in their history.

Famous Texas Longhorns Running Backs

Although all the Texas football players featured in the top 10 list below enjoyed incredible college careers, not all were able to replicate that success as professionals.

Ricky Williams’ and Earl Campbell’s Heisman Trophies make them the two most prominent running backs in Texas football history, and both went on to enjoy successful NFL careers. D’Onta Foreman and Jamaal Charles would be more familiar to younger NFL fans, although Bijan Robinson is looking to break out as a rookie in 2023. After being selected among the NFL Draft’s top 10 picks, Robinson has already become a popular name among those fans who play fantasy football.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Texas Longhorns Running Backs of All Time

  1. Chris Gilbert

Seasons at Texas: 1966 to 1968

Known for his speed and agility, Chris Gilbert enjoyed a very productive career at the University of Texas. He made history as the first player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive Southwest Conference seasons, as consistency was one of his finest attributes.

Gilbert was an instrumental player in many memorable Texas victories. His best season came in 1968, when he led the Longhorns to the Cotton Bowl and was a First Team All-America selection.

He also earned All-Southwest Conference honors in each his three seasons as a Longhorn, rushing for a total of 3,231 yards and 28 touchdowns. In addition, Gilbert proved his versatility by returning punts.

Unfortunately, Gilbert’s professional career started and ended before he could get any on-field action. He was drafted by the New York Jets in 1969 draft but never played in the NFL. He was, however, inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

  1. Roosevelt Leaks

Seasons at Texas: 1972 to 1974

Roosevelt Leaks was known for his physical running style and yards-after-contact ability. He was a powerful rusher who was so good at breaking tackles that he became one of the most feared college running backs of the early 1970s.

In his first season at Texas, Leaks rushed for more than 1,000 yards -- becoming just the second Longhorns running back to do it. The following year, he really let loose -- rushing for a career-high 1,415 yards and 14 touchdowns in a record-breaking 1973 season. His yardage was a Southwest Conference record, and he also set Texas records in most major rushing categories. His 342 yard-game against SMU that season remains the second-best single-game rushing performance in Longhorns history, and he ranks among the school’s top 10 for career yards (2,923) and single-season yards.

For his efforts in 1973, Leaks was recognized as a consensus All-American and an All-Southwest Conference player. He also finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, which was particularly significant at a time when only three African-American players had ever won the award.

Unfortunately, Leaks’ final season was hampered by injury woes. After taking a knee to the helmet, he required surgery and was never fully healthy during the 1974 season. He recovered in time for an NFL career, however, and was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the fifth round of the 1975 NFL Draft. Leaks spent more than five seasons with the Colts but never fully established himself in the pro game.

  1. Eric Metcalf

Seasons at Texas: 1985 to 1988

Eric Metcalf was a very talented and versatile weapon for Texas, excelling as a running back, wide receiver, and kick returner. He finished his Longhorns career with 2,300 rushing yards and 1,200 receiving yards, and his 12 receptions against Arkansas in 1988 rank fifth in school history for most catches in a single game.

Metcalf earned All-Southwest Conference honors in each of his three seasons as a Texas starter and was named the Southwest Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 1987. He is the only player in school history to lead Texas in total yardage in every year of his career, and he also leads all Texas RBs in every single receiving category.

His versatile talent helped him become a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1989. Metcalf excelled in the pro game, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl and two First Team All-Pro selections. In 1990, he led the NFL in kickoff-return yards.

  1. Steve Worster

Seasons at Texas: 1968 to 1970

Steve Worster was part of a rich period of Texas history when it comes to talented running backs. He was lucky enough to play under legendary head coach Darrell Royal and was the perfect player to execute the running back’s role in Royal’s wishbone offense.

Worster had an immediate impact on the team and became renowned for his physicality and relentless rushing style that quickly made him one of the nation’s most feared running backs. He spent three seasons with the Longhorns, helping Texas win two national championships. His bruising style of play was a key factor in the team’s success during this period.

His best season came in 1969, when he was a crucial part of Texas’ undefeated run to the national championship. His performance in the “Game of the Century” on Dec. 6, 1969, was one of his most iconic moments, as he wore down Arkansas to help Texas control the clock.

Worster finished his college career with 2,353 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns. He  helped Texas win three Southwest Conference titles and two national championships. Worster was recognized as a consensus All-American in 1970 and a First Team All-American in 1969. He has been inducted into both the Texas Longhorn Hall of Fame and Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.

Despite his success in college, Worster never made it to the next level. A contract dispute with the Los Angeles Rams, who had selected him in the fourth round of the 1971 NFL Draft, prevented him from ever playing a down in the NFL.

  1. D’Onta Foreman

Seasons at Texas: 2014 to 2016

D’Onta Foreman’s inclusion on this list is largely due to one remarkable season in 2016. His first two years were greatly limited by the fact that Texas had so much depth at the running back position, but Foreman made up for lost time as a junior. Not only did he become the first Texas rusher to break the 1,000-yard mark since Jamaal Charles in 2007, he also doubled that up by rushing for 2,028 yards.

His 2,000-yard season led the Big 12 in 2016, as Foreman averaged a very healthy 6.3 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns. He had an elite combination of speed and power, which made it nearly impossible to stop him. Against in-state rival Texas Tech on Nov. 5, 2016, Foreman exploded for 341 yards, which remains the third best single-game rushing performance in Longhorns history.

It’s no surprise that Foreman’s incredible 2016 season made him a consensus All-American and a First Team All-Big 12 player. He also won that year’s Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation’s top running back.

A shortage of touches during his first two college seasons is the only thing preventing Foreman from being ranked higher on this list. He decided to forgo his senior year at Texas and opted into the 2017 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Houston Texans.

Foreman initially struggled to establish himself in the NFL, but has recently had a couple of good years. His 914 rushing yards for the Panthers in 2022 were a career-high, and he is the third-leading rusher for the 2023 Chicago Bears.

  1. Cedric Benson

Seasons at Texas: 2001 to 2004

Cedric Benson was a model of consistency for the Texas Longhorns, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons. His career stat line includes 5,540 rushing yards and 64 touchdowns. Both numbers rank second in school history, alongside a host of other Texas Longhorns records that Benson owns.

His ability to make an impact as a freshman was impressive, as Benson displayed a blend of power and agility that helped him break tackles and earn yards after contact. He was a dominant player in each of his four college seasons, but it was his performance in 2004 that really stands out.

As a senior that season, Benson rushed for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns – the fourth-best single-season marks in Longhorns history. He received consensus All-America Honors that year as well as the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation’s top running back. His time as Texas’ No. 1 running back featured three bowl-game victories and awards that included Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2001 and First Team All-Big 12 honors in both 2003 and 2004.

Benson’s talent was obvious to NFL scouts, and the Chicago Bears made him a first-round draft pick in 2005. He was never able to recreate the magic of his college experience, although he did finish his NFL career with a respectable 6,017 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns over eight seasons. His best NFL season came with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009, when Benson rushed for 1,251 yards.

  1. Jamaal Charles

Seasons at Texas: 2005 to 2007

Running back Jamaal Charles was as explosive as they come -- always threatening to break off a big play. He made his mark right away as a freshman, helping Texas win the national championship in 2005. With both Charles and star quarterback Vince Young in their backfield, the Longhorns were a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Charles rushed for 878 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman, while also proving dangerous as a receiver. He was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and earned Second Team All-Big 12 honors, which is not a bad way for any player to begin a college football career.

Another 800-yard season followed in 2006 before Charles really broke out in 2007. As a junior, he rushed for 1,619 yards with an average of 6.3 yards per carry. On Oct. 28, 2007, he had 290 rushing yards against Nebraska -- the fourth-highest single-game total in Texas history – to help his team beat the Cornhuskers 28-25. Charles was a relentless performer that year, which ended with his 161-yard, two-TD Holiday Bowl effort against Arizona State. He was named to the 2007 All-Big 12 First Team, having already laid the foundations for a stellar NFL career.

Selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by Kansas City, Charles’ amazing NFL career included four trips to the Pro Bowl and two First Team All-Pro selections. His best season came in 2013 when he led the league with 12 rushing touchdowns.

  1. Bijan Robinson

Seasons at Texas: 2020 to 2022

Bijan Robinson is the most recent Longhorns starting running back to reach the NFL. His incredible college career helped him become a top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, and he has delivered on that promise with a strong rookie season for the Atlanta Falcons.

Robinson displayed a unique skill set from the start. As a Texas freshman, he contributed 899 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. He was also named the 2020 Alamo Bowl MVP after rushing for 183 yards and one TD on just 10 carries. Even better as a sophomore, Robinson rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2021 and earned First Team All-Big 12 recognition.

He saved the best for last, however. In 2022, Robinson rushed for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding 314 yards and two more scores as a receiver. He was a unanimous All-America pick and a First Team All-Big 12 player for the second straight year. He also won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top player at his position. After three seasons, he left Texas with career marks of 3,410 rushing yards, 805 receiving yards, and 41 touchdowns.

Robinson turned pro in 2023. With two games remaining in his rookie NFL season, he had rushed for 873 yards and four touchdowns, adding 373 yards and three scores through the air. The expectations for Robinson are high, and it will be interesting to see if he can become one of the NFL’s most successful former Longhorns.

  1. Ricky Williams

Seasons at Texas: 1995 to 1998

Ricky Williams’ name is well-known to all Texas fans, thanks to his record-breaking efforts and relentless production. His impact was felt from Day One, as he set a single-game school record for rushing yards by a true freshman with 95 in the Longhorns’ season-opener.

Four years of utter dominance followed, because Williams got better each year. His 1,052-yard performance as a freshman was followed by 1,320 yards as a sophomore and 1,893 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior. After three years, Williams had already put together a Texas career for the ages, having earned two mentions on the First Team All-Big 12 list, a unanimous All-America selection, and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year award for 1997. However, Williams was not yet done.

Rather than enter the NFL draft, Williams returned to Texas for his senior year, and the results were remarkable. His 2,124 regular-season rushing yards in 1998 remain the greatest single-season rushing performance in Texas Longhorns history. His year got off to the best possible start when he broke his own single-game touchdown record with six scores against New Mexico State. He became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 344 career points later in the season, while also breaking the NCAA Division I-A career all-purpose-yardage record with 7,206 yards.

The incredible 1998 season ended with Williams winning both the Heisman Trophy and Doak Walker Award. He was yet again recognized as a unanimous All-American and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. He still holds all major school records for running backs, and will go down as one of the greatest players in Texas Longhorns history.

Selected fifth overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 1999 NFL Draft, Williams had his best NFL season in 2002, when he led the league with 1,853 rushing yards, was named a First Team All-Pro, and went to the Pro Bowl. He ended his impressive NFL career in 2011 with 10,009 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns.

  1. Earl Campbell

Seasons at Texas: 1974 to 1977

It is a tough call between Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams for the No. 1 spot on our list of the all-time greatest Texas running backs. Both players enjoyed glittering college careers, but Campbell gets the nod here. He was known for incredible speed and power, and he made his presence felt right from the start of his freshman year, which ended with 928 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

Campbell broke 1,000 yards for the first time as a sophomore, running for 1,118 along with 13 scores in 1975. That effort earned him his first All-America recognition. Unfortunately, injuries hampered his junior season, but Campbell returned with a vengeance and had a senior year for the ages in 1977.

In his final season at Texas, Campbell led the nation with 1,744 rushing yards and 19 TDs. He capped the year off with a career-high 222 yards against Texas A&M to help the Longhorns complete 1977 with an undefeated regular-season record. Campbell was the key to his team, which won the Southwest Conference but lost out on a national title when the Longhorns fell to eventual champion Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

It was an incredible year for Campbell, and he earned numerous accolades as a result. The most prestigious award was the 1977 Heisman Trophy, as Campbell became the first Texas Longhorns player to win that award. A unanimous All-America selection, he also set several school records. In 1979, Texas retired Campbell’s No. 20 jersey, making him the first Longhorns player to receive such an honor. He would later be named to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Campbell’s NFL career was just as fruitful. Drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1978, he went over 1,300 yards in each of his first four seasons. He retired as one of the most successful former Longhorns running backs in the NFL, having led the league in rushing for three straight seasons from 1978 to 1980. During his career, he earned five trips to the Pro Bowl, was a three-time First Team All-Pro, and won three NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards. The crowning achievement was the NFL MVP award for 1979. His incredible career landed him in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

Parameters of Rankings

This ranking of the best running backs in Longhorns history is based on each player’s contribution to the Texas football program. Although players’ NFL accomplishments have been mentioned here, they did not factor into the rankings.


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