The Washington Huskies have enjoyed a remarkable couple of seasons on the way to their upcoming national championship game appearance against Michigan on Monday night. Washington is unbeaten at 14-0 in 2023, and a win over the Wolverines would give the Huskies their first national title since 1991.

This year’s journey to the big game has mostly been due to Washington’s dominant passing attack, but there have been plenty of running backs who have starred for the Huskies over the years. Now is as good a time as any to look back through the history books and rank the all-time top 10 Huskies running backs.

Who are the Washington Huskies running backs in 2023?

Leading the way in 2023 is Dillon Johnson. Since transferring from Mississippi State prior to this season, Johnson has registered his first 1,000-yard effort -- posting 1,162 yards and 16 touchdowns on an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. The move to Washington helped Johnson unleash his potential and could result in his becoming a national champion. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury toward the end of the Sugar Bowl, so his availability for Monday night is questionable.

The Huskies will be hoping Johnson can take the field because there isn’t much behind him on their depth chart. Fellow running backs Will Nixon and Tybo Rogers have each had more than 30 carries, but neither has passed the 200-yard mark yet.

Washington Huskies Running Backs History

The Washington Huskies have seen all kinds of running backs over the years -- from 5-foot-10 Myles Gaskin in the late 2010s to the bruising Joe Steele in the late 1970s. The record books are full of incredible achievements by Washington RBs, and most of them can be attributed to the running backs who you’ll find on our top 10 list below.

Famous Washington Huskies Running Backs

When it comes to former Washington running backs, Myles Gaskin will be the name most familiar to younger fans, because his remarkable four-season stretch with the Huskies broke several records. However, it could be argued that no running back had more of an impact on the program than Corey Dillon, who only needed one season to etch his name into University of Washington football history.

Dillon’s 1,695 rushing yards in 1996 are the second-highest single-season total by a Huskies running back, although Dillon is still 175 yards short of Bishop Sankey’s incredible, school-record 1,870-yard effort in 2013.

Chris Polk, Napoleon Kaufman, and Jacque Robinson are also among the Washington football running backs you can find in the school record books. Read on to see who gets the No. 1 spot on our list of the 10 all-time greatest Huskies RBs.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Washington Huskies Running Backs of All Time

  1. Beno Bryant

Seasons at Washington: 1989 to 1993

The first Washington running back on our list is Beno Bryant, a speed demon whose skills were obvious early in his college career. Not only was Bryant an agile rusher who could turn any carry into a long play, he was also a useful threat as a passer out of the backfield.

Bryant’s skills also made him a dangerous punt returner. Over his five-year career at Washington, Bryant corralled 148 punts and kicks, returning them for a total of 1,842 yards and four touchdowns. For his efforts as a punt returner, he was named to the 1990 All-Pac-10 Team as a return specialist.

It wasn’t just on special teams that Bryant could change a game. In 1991, he averaged six yards per carry for 943 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He was a standout performer on an offense that liked to spread the ball around and was a big part of the team managed to win that season’s national championship.

Bryant’s career UW stat line reveals a modest 1,741 career rushing yards, but no one should ever underestimate how important he was in contributing to one of Washington’s two national championships. He wasn’t able to transfer that success to the NFL, however, and ended up playing only two games for the Seattle Seahawks.

  1. Joe Steele

Seasons at Washington: 1976 to 1979

Joe Steele was a bruising running back who helped the Huskies regain their winning ways after a few years of mediocre play. A strong freshman season was followed by an impressive 865 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore, when Steele also contributed 210 yards and two scores as a receiver. He was named to the 1977 All-Pac-8 Team after a successful season that also saw the Huskies secure a surprise victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Steele improved again in 1978, posting an impressive 1,111 rushing yards, but he could only manage five touchdowns. His 110 receiving yards that season brought his career yards from scrimmage to 1,221 – a reflection of how important he was to the Huskies’ offense. He finished his junior year with what was then a Washington single-season for rushing yards and looked likely to post another strong year as a senior. However, that final season would be cut short after eight games because of a knee injury.

When he was healthy as a senior, Steele averaged 4.6 yards per carry for a total of 694 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also contributing 136 yards and another score in the receiving game. These were very impressive numbers during an era when college football stats typically didn’t jump off the page. Despite that, his name can still be found in the school record books nearly 50 years after he arrived on campus.

Steele’s 3,168 career rushing yards are the fifth-most in school history, while his 32 touchdowns are the fourth-most. Unfortunately, like Beno Bryant, Steele was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks but failed to get his professional career going. He was cut before playing a single NFL game.

  1. Rashaan Shehee

Seasons at Washington: 1994 to 1997

Rashaan Shehee’s college career was derailed by the arrival of fellow running back Corey Dillon, whose name will appear later in this list. Shehee had made a name for himself as a sophomore, when he rushed for 957 yards and 15 touchdowns on an impressive 5.8 yards per carry.

Dillon took over the primary rushing role in 1996, limiting Shehee to just 65 carries, but Shehee went right back to dominating after Dillon left for the NFL in 1997. In his final year with the Huskies, Shehee averaged 6.2 yards per carry for a total of 862 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. This took his career tally to 29 total touchdowns, the fifth-most in school history. His 15-touchdown season in 1995 remains the sixth-best single-season effort by a Washington player in terms of TDs.

The story of Rashaan Shehee’s career is one of what could have been. He was a very talented and productive player who had to yield his role to one of the greatest Washington running backs of all time. More on Corey Dillon later …

  1. Bishop Sankey

Seasons at Washington: 2011 to 2013

Bishop Sankey is the first running back on this list who still owns one of the school’s primary rushing records. His 1,870 yards as a junior in 2013 came on an impressive 5.7 yards per carry, and that single-season record has yet to be broken by anyone in a Huskies uniform.

Sankey also managed to rush for an incredible 20 touchdowns that season, adding 304 yards and one more TD as a pass-catcher.

Washington was unable to win any major victories during Sankey’s years at the school, but he played a key role in helping the team regain its good reputation after a disastrous 0-12 campaign in 2008. Former head coach Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the Huskies during this period, and he leaned on running backs Sankey and Chris Polk to get the team back to its winning ways.

It wasn’t just Sankey’s junior season that was impressive. He also starred as a sophomore, piling up a very handy 1,688 yards from scrimmage as well as 16 touchdowns. He was a truly versatile and dangerous running back, and his best game came at the 2012 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas. He rushed for 205 yards and caught six passes for 74 more yards that day to earn MVP honors.

His record-setting season in 2013 was his best, of course, featuring 2,174 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns. This was, unsurprisingly, good enough to earn him First Team All-Pac-12 honors and recognition as a Second Team All-American.

Sankey’s 3,496 career rushing yards are the fourth-highest total in school history, and his 37 touchdowns are the second-highest. As mentioned, his 1,870 rushing yards in 2013 remain a single-season record at Washington.

The Tennessee Titans selected Sankey in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He spent two seasons with that team but couldn’t establish himself as a full-time pro.

  1. Jacque Robinson

Seasons at Washington: 1981 to 1984

The late 1970s and early 1980s were a period of great success for the Washington Huskies football program, and running back Jacque Robinson was certainly a significant contributor to those teams. Robinson didn’t play much as a freshman in 1981, but he popped up in dramatic fashion late in that season.

His first real college action came in a bad-weather game, when he helped the Huskies grind out an important win over USC. He then accounted for almost 100 yards the following week against Washington State, before really making a name for himself in the Rose Bowl, where his 142-yard, two-touchdown performance against Iowa made him the first freshman to win that game’s MVP honors.

It was a perfect start to Robinson’s college career, and in 1984 he gave himself the perfect finish. After an excellent 901-yard, 13-touchdown season as a senior, Robinson claimed the Orange Bowl MVP award after rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. This made him one of only two players in history to be named the MVP of both the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl.

Apart from a relatively quiet junior season at Washington, Robinson was a very consistent performer for the Huskies who stepped up in the biggest moments. He finished his career with 2,300 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Selected by Buffalo in the eighth round of the 1985 NFL Draft, Robinson only played in three games as a professional when he joined the Philadelphia Eagles as a replacement player during the strike-shortened 1987 season.

  1. Greg Lewis

Seasons at Washington: 1987 to 1990

Greg Lewis’ name will forever be etched into the college football record books as the first player to win the prestigious Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to the nation’s best running back. The award was first presented in 1990 after Lewis’ senior year at UW, when he rushed for 1,407 yards on an average of 5.7 yards per carry. He also scored eight touchdowns and reached the 100-yard mark in 10 consecutive games during that remarkably consistent season.

In addition to being a lethal running back, Lewis was also second on the team in receptions and receiving yardage in 1990, catching 21 passes for 345 yards. He was a dual-threat nightmare for defenses, helping the Huskies to a 10-2 record in 1990. In addition to his Doak Walker, Lewis was named Washington’s team MVP, earned First Team All-America honors, and was honored as the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year.

The incredible 1990 season was Lewis’ last at Washington. What preceded it were a relatively quiet first two seasons, followed by 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1989. That junior-year performance set the stage for what was to come in 1990.

Lewis finished his college career with 2,678 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns in addition to 797 receiving yards and two TD catches. He ranks sixth in the school’s record books for career rushing yards and single-season rushing yards. That’s not a bad effort from someone who had only two seasons as a starter.

Selected by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round of the 1991 NFL Draft, Lewis lasted only two seasons in the league.

  1. Chris Polk

Seasons at Washington: 2008 to 2011

After an injury-riddled freshman year, running back Chris Polk became a model of consistency for the Washington Huskies. He rushed for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons between 2009 and 2011, improving his numbers each year.

In 2009, his first season as a starter, Polk rushed for 1,113 yards and five touchdowns while earning Freshman All-Pac-10 First Team honors. He then improved to 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010.

The thing that made Polk a very popular player with Washington Huskies fans was his ability to step it up in games against the Huskies' bitter rival, Washington State. His 284 yards against the Cougars in 2010 still stands as the second-best single-game rushing performance in school history. The fact that it came against the in-state rival made it even sweeter. Polk starred whenever he faced the Cougars, totaling 523 yards and six touchdowns over three consecutive wins against them.

Polk saved his best for last -- rushing for 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011 with an average of 5.1 yards per carry. His incredible consistency was crucial in helping the program turn around its fortunes after a dismal few years under Tyrone Willingham.

Over the course of his final two college seasons, Polk was recognized as a 2011 First Team All-Pac-12 player and a 2010 Second Team All-Pac-10 player. He finished his Huskies career with 4,049 rushing yards – the third-highest total in school history. He also ranks among Washington’s top 10 players for single-season touchdowns and rushing yards.

After college, Polk spent four years in the NFL. He was drafted by the Eagles and had three seasons in Philadelphia before moving to the Texans, where he could only manage a career-best 334 rushing yards in his final pro season.

  1. Corey Dillon

Season at Washington: 1996

For a long time, no one at Washington ever came close to Corey Dillon’s incredible 1996 season. That lone season he spent in Seattle was enough to make him a Huskies legend and claim the No. 3 spot on our list of UW’s all-time top 10 running backs. It was a year of insane production that saw Dillon break both school and NCAA records.

The reason Dillon only played one year of college football is because he had attended Garden City Community College and Dixie State College before coming to Washington. His junior college background did not prevent him from becoming a superstar at the major-college level. Indeed, in 1996 he set Washington all-time single-season records for rushing yards (1,695) and touchdowns (24). He also set NCAA records for single-quarter production, rushing for an all-time high of 220 yards and gaining 305 scrimmage yards in the first quarter of a Nov. 17, 1996, game vs. San Jose State.

Dillon went big in the postseason as well, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Colorado in the 1996 Holiday Bowl. Surprisingly, his incredible season only landed him Third Team All-America recognition, but it still ranks in Washington’s all-time top three for single-season rushing yards (No. 2) and rushing touchdowns (No. 1).

Corey Dillon’s skill set translated nicely to the professional game, where he had a successful 10-year NFL career. He got off to a very hot start in the pros, rushing for six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He earned trips to four Pro Bowls and landed a Super Bowl ring while playing for the New England Patriots.

There is no doubt that Corey Dillon had the most successful NFL career of any former University of Washington running back.

  1. Napoleon Kaufman

Seasons at Washington: 1991 to 1994

Napoleon “Nip” Kaufman’s college career had it all. He was a consistent producer, record breaker, and national championship winner. The national championship came in his 1991 freshman season, when Kaufman was mainly used as a kick returner. He did manage to familiarize himself with the college game that year, rushing for 307 yards and four touchdowns in the championship season. There is no doubt that the Huskies’ incredible team success in 1991 helped launch one of the greatest careers by a running back in Washington history.

Kaufman improved to 1,045 rushing yards in 1992, then 1,299 in 1993, before finishing up with 1,390 rushing yards in 1994. He was an elite performer with breakneck speed, combining consistency with continual growth and improvement. Across these years of dominance, he also rushed for 33 touchdowns and an incredible average of 5.7 yards per carry. He was unstoppable.

Not only did Kaufman win a national championship and record stats that have scattered his name all over the school’s record books, he was also a key player in one of Washington’s most memorable games -- the “Whammy in Miami.” It was the Sept. 24, 1994, game that saw the Huskies end Miami’s NCAA-record home winning streak at 58 games, as the Hurricanes suffered their first loss at the Orange Bowl in nine years.

Kaufman finished his career as Washington’s all-time rushing leader with 4,106 yards (a record since broken) and is one of only three Huskies running backs to have three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. His incredible Huskies career earned him three First Team All-Pac-10 honors, as well as the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year Award and Second Team All-America selection for 1994.

His big final season led to Kaufman’s becoming a first-round draft pick (18th overall) of the Oakland Raiders in 1995. He went on to spend six years in the NFL, where he couldn’t quite replicate the success of his college years. He did, however, rush for a career total of 4,792 yards and 12 touchdowns in the NFL, which included a 1,294-yard season in 1997.

  1. Myles Gaskin

Seasons at Washington: 2015 to 2018

If you want to see an example of consistency, look no further than the career of former Washington Huskies running back Myles Gaskin. Between 2015 and 2018, Gaskin rushed for no fewer than 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns in any season. His 5.6 career yards per carry indicate how dominant a rusher he was, and he also contributed 465 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver.

Gaskin’s skill was evident from Day One. He became the first true freshman Washington Huskies running back to rush for over 1,000 yards, also setting a UW freshman record with 14 touchdowns. To cap off that incredible 2015 season, he was named the MVP of the Heart of Dallas Bowl after rushing for 181 yards and four touchdowns in that game.

Another very strong year followed in 2016, before Gaskin led the Pac-12 with 24 total touchdowns and 21 rushing TDs as a junior in 2017. As a senior, his production dipped slightly, but he still averaged a healthy 4.9 yards per carry on his way to 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s a pretty impressive stat line for any player’s “worst” year in college.

What made Gaskin so amazing was his durability, which was even more impressive given his 5-foot-10, 193-pound frame. Despite his smaller stature, he missed only two of 54 possible college games. He was explosive and shifty but could also grind out a win, which made him an incredibly versatile player. Gaskin’s skills and consistency earned him either First or Second Team All-Pac-12 honors three consecutive years between 2016 and 2018.

Although his 1,268-yard senior season in 2018 was statistically his weakest, it was also the year in which his team had the most success. Gaskin led the Huskies to a conference championship and Rose Bowl victory that year in concluding his remarkable college career. He is still the only player in Pac-12 history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons and holds Washington’s career records for both rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns.

Gaskin’s 5,323 career rushing yards at UW are a whopping 1,217 more than Napoleon Kaufman in second place, and Kaufman’s former school record had stood for more than 20 years before Gaskin broke it. Gaskin’s 57 career touchdowns are 20 more than Bishop Sankey’s 37 TDs in second place.

Unfortunately, Gaskin’s statistical dominance did not carry over into the NFL. Selected by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of the 2019 draft, Gaskin struggled to make an impact at the NFL level. He spent four years with the Dolphins, and his best season came with Miami in 2021, when he rushed for 612 yards. He spent most of his 2023 season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad.

Parameters for Rankings

This list of the 10 best running backs in University of Washington history is based on each player’s specific contributions to the Huskies program. While players’ NFL accomplishments have been mentioned, they did not factor into the rankings.


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