Top 15 Running Backs in CFL History

By Mike Goodpaster

Fact checked by Simon Buffa

15) Willie Fleming

Fleming retired from the CFL and the BC Lions following the 1966 season. Fleming retired as a CFL All-Star in 1963, a three-time CFL Western Division All-Star, and was named the most popular BC Lions Player three times.

Fleming still holds the record for longest touchdown run of 109 yards.

14) Ron Stewart

Stewart rushed for 5,690 yards on 983 attempts and tallied 42 touchdowns in his career. He capped his 1960 season by winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian Award and by setting the CFL record for rushing yards in one game with 287 against the Montreal Alouettes on October 10, 1960. His totals were 139 rushes for 1,020 yards that year. Stewart was voted the winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s top male athlete of the year.

13) Joffrey Reynolds

In 2008, Reynolds led the CFL in rushing with 1310 yards (on 227 carries, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns.) The Calgary Stampeders became the Grey Cup Champions, defeating the host Montreal Alouettes, 22-14. On July 24, 2009 in a game against the B.C. Lions he rushed for 131 yards and surpassed Willie Burden as the Stampeders number 4 all-time rusher.

During the 2011 season, Reynolds’ production began to curtail and he was eventually replaced as the team’s starting running back. On January 23, 2012, in the following off-season, he was released by the Stampeders after they could not secure a trade for him.[Reynolds is the Calgary Stampeders all-time rushing leader with 9,213 yards.

12) Kelvin Anderson

He earned the nickname “Earthquake”. Anderson’s eight consecutive 1,000 yard seasons began in 1996 with the Calgary Stampeders. In 2000 he played in 15 games for Calgary, and ran for 1,048 yards and scored six touchdowns. He caught 34 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns, and captured the Eddie James Memorial Trophy as the Western Division’s top rusher. In 2001 he was named a Western All-Star for the fifth consecutive season, and was named a CFL All-Star for the third time in his career, and ran for a career-high 1,383 yards and six touchdowns. Anderson also caught 48 passes for 433 yards and nine touchdowns.

11) Lovell Coleman

The Calgary Stampeders would be his home team for 8 seasons, from 1960 to 1967. Coleman would rush for a 6234 yards over this time, second only to Stampeder great Earl Lunsford. The highlight of his time in Calgary was the 1964 season, when he rushed 260 times for a league leading 1629 yards (6.3 average per carry.) This won him the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award. His 1965 season was nearly as good, rushing 249 times for 1509 yards (6.1 average) but the only other time he led the league was in 1963, with 1343 yards. He was an All Canadian all star each of these years.

He holds the Stamps record for most rushing yards in one game, with 238 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on September 15, 1964. He also rushed for 224 yards against the Edmonton Eskimos on August 18, 1965.

Coleman would move on in 1968 to the powerhouse Ottawa Rough Riders, where he would win his first and only Grey Cup. He finished his career in 1970 playing 16 games for the British Columbia Lions.

10) Willie Burden

The Calgary Stampeders would be Burden’s home for eight seasons, between 1974 and 1981. He thrilled fans in his first season, rushing for 541 yards on 94 carries, but it was in his second season that he broke team and league records. He set a new CFL single season rushing record, running 332 times for 1896 yards. He also set a CFL record with 2,127 yards from scrimmage and led the league with 2,387 all-purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns. His best day was November 2 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, when he tied Lovell Coleman’s team record of 238 yards in a game. Burden was rewarded with the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award and All Canadian All Star honours in 1975. His 1975 record of ‘most rushing yards in the first 5 games of a season’ was beaten by Kory Sheets in 2013. Burden was also named an All WestAll Star in 1977.

Upon his retirement, Burden had rushed for 6,234 yards, fifth best in Stampeders history after Kelvin Anderson, Earl Lunsford, Lovell Coleman and Joffrey Reynolds.

9) Norman Kwong

went on to play for the Calgary Stampeders from 1948 to 1950 and, after a trade, the Edmonton Eskimos from 1951 until his retirement in 1960. Nicknamed the “China Clipper”, Kwong was the first Chinese Canadian to play on a professional Canadian football team. A powerful fullback, in 11 years of recorded statistics Kwong rushed for 9,022 yards for an average of 5.2 yards per carry and scored 93 touchdowns. He won the Grey Cup four times during his career (1948, 1954, 1955, and 1956). Kwong was a Western Conference all-star running back and three-time winner of the Eddie James Memorial Trophy, in 1951, 1955 and 1956. He was named the Schenley Most Outstanding Canadian in 1955 and 1956. He was named Canadian Athlete of the Year in 1955.

8) Earl Lunsford

In his career, he rushed 1199 times for 6,994 yards, a 5.8 yard average, and 55 touchdowns, with his longest run being 85 yards. He is the Stampeder all-time rushing leader with 55 touchdowns and 28 100-yard games and is second among Stampeders for all-time rushing yards.

7) Charles Roberts

In his 8-year tenure he established himself as one of the premier running backs in the Canadian Football League, earning the nickname “Blink” for his amazing quickness and agility. He led the league in rushing yards in 2006 with 1609 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning a nomination as the East’s Most Outstanding Player. Off the field he experienced highs and lows. The enigmatic back missed team flights, led the league in all-purpose yards, pondered retirement, led the league in rushing yards, publicly criticized some decisions, and signed a long-term big money deal to remain as the face of the Bombers.

Through the 2006 season, Roberts rushed for 8,091 yards in just six seasons with the Blue Bombers. He also tallied up 2,732 receiving yards and 57 touchdowns.

On September 2, 2007 Roberts passed Leo Lewis to become the Winnipeg Blue Bombers all-time leading rusher. He is also fifth all-time in CFL career rushing totals.

6) Pinball Clemons

Known as more of a return man and receiver, people forget what a excellent running back Clemons was.

His diminutive size and extraordinary balance allowed him to bounce between defensive players much like a pinball inside a pinball machine. During home games, The Who song “Pinball Wizard” would play on the P.A. each time Clemons was involved in a great play. In his first game with the Argonauts, Clemons was named the player of the game. In 1990, Clemons received the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award after setting a single season record for all-purpose yards (3,300).

5) Dick Shatto

Shatto was the all-time leader for the most combined (rushing and receiving) yardage with 13,642 yards that came on 1322 carries and 466 receptions. Presently he still ranks in seventh place, and he is still third among running backs, passed only by George Reed and Mike Pringle. His most productive season was 1960 when he carried the ball 122 times for 708 yards with a touchdown and caught 53 passes for 894 yards with ten more majors for a total yards from scrimmage of 1,602.

When it comes to total yardage, that also includes return yardage from punts, kickoffs and missed field goals, as well as yards from scrimmage, Shatto accumulated a total of 15,725 yards. That put him second all-time in 1965 and since then he has dropped to only seventh place.

Interestingly Shatto never surpassed 1,000 yards in a season either rushing or receiving. However he did average 1,136 yards per season in yards from scrimmage. His best seasons in running the ball came in 1958 and 1959 when he tallied 969 and 950 yards respectively. The former was a team record at the time according to official statistics. Also he never led the CFL or the Eastern Conference in rushing yards. Shatto’s 6,958 rushing yards remains to this day an Argonaut team record and at the end of his career he was sixth all-time. He provided the Argos with 16 100-yard rushing games.

4) Johnny Bright

Though Bright played strictly defense as a linebacker in his first year with the Eskimos, he played both offense (as a fullback) and defense for two seasons (1955–1956), and played offense permanently after that (1957–1964). He, along with teammates Rollie Miles,Normie Kwong, and Jackie Parker, helped lead the Eskimos to successive Grey Cup titles in 1954, 1955, and 1956 (where Bright rushed for a then Grey Cup record of 171 yards in a 50–27 win over the Montreal Alouettes). In 1957, he rushed for eight consecutive 100-yard games, finishing the season with 1,679 yards. In 1958, he rushed for 1,722 yards. In 1959, following his third straight season as the Canadian pro rushing leader with 1,340 yards, Bright won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award, the first African-American or African-Canadian athlete to be so honored.

Bright rushed for 10,909 yards in 13 seasons, had five consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, and led the CFL in rushing four times. While Bright is currently 15th on the All-Pro Rushing list, his career average of 5.5 yards per carry is the highest among 10,000+ yard rushers (Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown is second at 5.2 yards per carry). At the time of his retirement, Bright had a then-CFL record thirty-six 100-plus-yard games, carrying the ball 200 or more times for five straight seasons.

3) Leo Lewis

During his 11-year career in the CFL he rushed for 8,861 yards with a 6.6 yard average. He also was a remarkable kick-returner, averaging 29.1 yards on kickoff returns in his CFL career.

Bud Grant, legendary Blue Bombers’ (and later head coach of the Minnesota Vikings), considered Leo Lewis the best player he had ever coached, whether in Canada or the United States. Lewis was voted one of the CFL’s top 50 players (#29) in a poll conducted by Canadian sports network TSN.

His career rushing total of 8,861 yards stood as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber record for 41 years until it was passed by Charles Roberts in 2007. His career totals in return yardage, and yards per carry, still stand as Blue Bombers records.

2) George Reed

Reed signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders where he starred for 13 years from 1963 until 1975, 203 games in all. By the time he retired, Reed held career records in rushing yards (16,116), rushing touchdowns (134), and touchdowns (137). Reed’s rushing yards total has since been surpassed by National Football League stars Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, and, in 2004 by CFL star Mike Pringle. Pringle tied Reed’s total of 137 career touchdowns, and George Reed still holds the CFL rushing for touchdowns record with 134.

George Reed was voted the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player for 1965 and in 1976 he was the inaugural winner of the Tom Pate Memorial Trophy for playing ability and community service. He was the MVP of the 54th Grey Cup of 1966, as Saskatchewan defeated Ottawa, his sole Grey Cup win.

1) Mike Pringle

Going into his third CFL season, Pringle had run the ball 82 times for less than five hundred yards, less than half a season’s work for a starting CFL running back. Despite his lack of carries, however, Pringle became the starting back in Baltimore two games into the 1994 season replacing Sheldon Caney. Pringle immediately responded to the opportunity. The 27-year-old went loose in Baltimore, running for a record 1,972 yards and thirteen touchdowns, narrowly missing becoming the first CFL running back to reach the elusive 2,000 yards rushing milestone. He did however set a CFL record with 2,414 yards from scrimmage. He even returned 38 kicks for 814 yards and, in his first CFL playoff appearance, rang up 165 yards in two playoff games to lead Baltimore to their first Grey Cup appearance, where they lost the 82nd Grey Cup to the BC Lions 26-23 on Lui Passaglia’s last-minute 38-yard field goal. It is widely heralded as one of the best CFL games ever.

It was in 1997 that Pringle once again took his place as the CFL’s best running back. His 1,775 yard season was his worst in a full season as a starter, but it was still an extremely strong season. With the Alouettes lacking in playoff success and their attendance at Olympic Stadium flagging, Pringle was one of the team’s few bright spots in a disappointing year. But for the 1998 season, the Als moved permanently to the smaller Percival Molson Stadium, where they regularly drew sellout crowds. They came to watch the Alouettes, especially Pringle, and he would not disappoint.

Pringle’s 1998 CFL season stands out with Doug Flutie’s 48-touchdown 1994 season, as one of the greatest CFL seasons an offensive player ever had. Pringle ran for only nine touchdowns but nobody in the league much cared: the story was his 2,065 rushing yards that year, a CFL record by a considerable margin. Pringle became the first, and so far only, man in CFL history to run for over 2,000 yards. He also tied his CFL record with 2,414 yards from scrimmage. At 31 years old, Pringle had hit his prime with a bang, and though he would never approach 2,000 yards again, he continued to be an elite back for several years.

He finished with 16,425 career rushing yards and 20,254 total yards from scrimmage, both CFL records. He also finished tied with George Reed with 137 career touchdowns. Pringle led the CFL in rushing yards six times during his career.

Posted by permission. Read the original article in The Grueling Truth.