The greatest backfields in NFL history

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

January 18th, 2022

Even though players and coaches around the National Football League will tell you it’s a passing league, there’s a certain appeal to having a 1-2 punch in the backfield. Sometimes it’s for a change of pace, and sometimes it’s because both running backs are simply too talented to keep off the field.

History is full of strong backfield tandems, and we're here today to count down the top five dynamic duos of all time. Let’s dive in!

5. Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

You won’t find two more different players on this list. Dunn was a shifty, blend-in back who could impact the game in a variety of ways. There was no such mystery about Alstott, who ran downhill and was not averse to running through defensive linemen at will.

Together, these two combined to make seven Pro Bowls, and it’s a near-certainty that one wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the other.

4. Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson (Los Angeles Raiders)

Oh, what might have been. Allen was one of the most consistent backs in the game. Jackson was a non-stop highlight reel who made every play must-see TV (he made the 1990 Pro Bowl as Allen’s backup, which is pretty insane when you think about it). Jackson’s 1991 hip injury brought this partnership to an abrupt end.

3. Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier

In the 1970’s, Pittsburgh was best known for its Steel Curtain defense. However, its 1-2 punch of Harris and Bleier kept its offense going when Terry Bradshaw was still finding his footing in the league. In 1976, each back rushed for 1,000 yards, marking just the second time in history that had happened.

2. Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung

The duo dubbed "Thunder and Lightning" by Green Bay Packers fans left plenty of opposing defenses wondering how they could get that offense off the field. Taylor and Hornung helped lead Vince Lombardi’s Packers to five championships, including a win in the very first Super Bowl. They each won an MVP trophy, and they provided different threats in Lombardi’s "power sweep" scheme.

Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976, while Hornung got the call in 1986.

1. Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell

Jim Brown and anybody with a pulse would probably make this list. Add in that Mitchell was a Hall of Famer in his own right who had no problem playing a complementary role to one of the best football players of all-time, and you have the top entry on our list.

Consider this: Mitchell gained 500 yards or more in each of his four seasons in a Browns uniform, and Brown still won four rushing titles. Mitchell was traded to Washington in 1962, where he was moved to wide receiver and led the NFL in receiving yards in back-to-back years.