While the Patriots have been mostly known for their passing game since they came into prominence, there has been some great running backs as well. Here I attempt to rank the best Patriots running backs of all time, based on how good and important they were in their time with the Pats.
Blount in probably not the first name that pops into your head. But he was one of the most important factors in two of the Patriots’ Super Bowls. The big man was a star athlete at Taylor County High School, being named All-State Second Team for football as a senior. He was also a star track and field athlete, exhibiting his immense strength and speed. He was only considered a two star recruit by many, leading him to go to East Mississippi Community College. At EMCC, he made a name for himself and became the #1 ranked RB and 12th overall prospect. This earned him a transfer to the Oregon Ducks. While he was great with the Ducks, he earned multiple suspensions due to behavioral and weight issues, including punching a fan.
Undrafted, he signed with the Titans, and when he was waived he signed with the Buccaneers. He proved why he was once considered the best at his position, rushing for over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns while being selected to the All-Rookie Team. He failed to follow that up again, and two years later he was traded to the Patriots. In his first stint, Blount put up a solid 772 yards and seven touchdowns. In the playoffs he performed even better, but the Pats still got eliminated early on. He signed with the Steelers in the offseason, but due to behavioral trouble he got released 11 games in.
Once again, the Patriots wanted his talents. In five games he produced 281 yards and three touchdowns, pushing the Pats over the hump. In the playoffs he once again performed great, and was crucial in the Super Bowl victory. The next year, in only 12 games, he ran for 703 yards and six touchdowns. He finally reached the height of his rookie year in 2016, where he rushed for over 1,000 yards. He even was named the 80th best player on NFL’s Top 100 after another Super Bowl win. Blount finished his Pats career #10 in rushing yards, #5 in touchdowns, and #1 in yards per attempt among the top 10 rushing yards leaders. Oh yeah, and with TWO Super Bowls.
4. Antowain Smith
Largely underrated through his career, Antowain had some great seasons and spectacular playoff performances. His rise was fast and surprising, as he didn’t even play football until his senior year in high school. He enrolled in East Mississippi Junior College, and was named a JUCO All-American Running Back. Two years later he transferred to the University of Houston. At Houston, Smith compiled 1,847 and 19 touchdowns in just 21 games, and even had six touchdowns in one game (a school record). He was drafted in the first round by the Bills, and in his first year rushed for 840 yards and eight touchdowns. He followed that up with a 1,124 yard campaign, but then kept falling off each of the next two seasons. Antowain fell out of favor with the coach, and joined the Patriots right as the dynasty was about to begin.
His first season with the Pats was his best, as he ran for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the playoffs he was relied on to give the passing game breaks, and he did just that rushing for over 200 yards in three playoff games including the Super Bowl victory. While the Patriots didn’t repeat in 2002, Smith was still effective, with almost 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Even in 2003 as he was nearing the end of his career, he put up well over 600 yards in the regular season. Then in the playoff run that ended with a championship, he contributed 252 yards and two touchdowns. Antowain finished his career with the Patriots as top ten in rushing yards, seventh in rushing TDs, and third in yards per game (all rankings at the time he left New England).
3. Jim Nance
A throwback compared to the others, Jim Nance is the oldest on this list. He was a power runner, that was for sure. As a wrestler, it is said the PIAA added the heavyweight class to accommodate him as the heaviest class at 185 pounds. Nance went to Syracuse and tied the school record for career touchdowns, and even scored in ten straight games. He was a late 19th round pick by the Boston Patriots in the AFL draft, and a fourth round pick in the NFL draft. Luckily, he chose the Patriots.
His rookie season was quiet, but in his sophomore season he stormed into the spotlight. He rushed for 1,458 yards and 11 touchdowns, becoming the ONLY AFL player to ever rush 1,400 yards in a season. Nance also won the MVP award, a pro bowl selection, and an All-Star appearance. He followed that up with a 1,216 yard season, another Pro Bowl and All-Star selection. After that season he never really reached the same heights, but was still a solid over 550 yard and four touchdowns per season producer.
He is currently second on the Patriots all time yards list, and first on the rushing touchdowns list. The only reason I don’t have him higher is that he played for the AFL most of his career, and it was 40 years ago. Back then there was little to no passing game, making it easier to get insane rushing stats. But at the same time, he more than deserves a spot on the list.
2. Corey Dillon
Dillon only played three seasons with the Pats, but he did rush for over 1,000 yards per season. Dillon was a multi-sport star in high school, getting drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1993. Though as you know, he chose to stick with football. He started his college football career at Garden City Community College in Kansas. He rushed for 1,165 yards and 16 touchdowns that season, before switching schools to Dixie State College. There he played even better, producing 1,899 yards and 20 touchdowns and was named JC Offensive Back of the Year by College Sports Magazine. Once again he switched schools, now going to the University of Washington. His aggressive running helped him set school single-season records for rushing yards(1,695) and touchdowns(24).
Dillon was selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 1997 draft, the fifth RB taken. While he was extremely successful in all but his last season with Cincinnati, the team never did better then 8-8. He had over 1,100 yards in each of his first six seasons, as well as a fair collection of touchdowns. By his seventh season the Bengals believed his prime was over and traded him to the Patriots for a second round pick. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they were mistaken. Dillon rushed for over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to a pro bowl selection. In the playoffs he rushed for almost 300 yards and two touchdowns, winning the Patriots their third Super Bowl. While his yard production would fall, he would still be good for 12 or more touchdowns in each of his last two seasons.
He was a Patriots player for only three years, yet he is in the record books. He currently ranks eighth in yards, third in touchdowns, tied second in yards per carry among top ten rushers, and second only to #1 on this list in yards per game.
1. Curtis Martin
To those who haven’t seen him run, this may be a shocking pick. While he only played three seasons with the Pats like Dillon, Curtis Martin is easily the most talented player on this list. He played one season of high school football, rushing for 1,705 yards and 20 touchdowns. While it was brief, his high school career attracted the attention of the University of Pittsburgh. His college career was unfortunately plagued with injuries, but he showed enough to get drafted by the Patriots.
In his first year with the team, Martin would put up an impressive 1,487 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. This earned him Rookie of the Year and the Pro Bowl. His second season he dropped off a bit, but still posted 1,152 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the playoffs that year he would run for 267 yards and five touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough for a Super Bowl victory. His third and final season was great once again, rushing for 1160 yards and four touchdowns. When he left the Patriots, he gave one last parting gift; the Jets first and third round pick in the 1998 draft.
His success would continue with the Jets, as he would become the best running back in Jets history. He would later get inducted into the Hall of Fame, second ballot in 2012. Patriots-wise, Martin is fourth in rushing yards, seventh in touchdowns, and first in yards per game. He is first quite simply because he did all that in just three seasons. He is the only Patriots Hall of Famer who has played significant time as a running back. While all of these players are talented, Curtis Martin is at the top of the best Patriots running backs of all time.