All-Time Career Rushing Yards

All-Time Career Rushing Yards


March 1, 2019
Mike Hart

One of the fun things at Michigan over the years has been watching Michigan’s running backs run over, around, and through the Wolverines’ opponents. Here are the guys who have been the best at it, along with a couple quarterbacks mixed in.

  1. 5,040 – Mike Hart (2004-2007)
  2. 4,495 – Denard Robinson (2009-2012)
  3. 4,472 – Anthony Thomas (1997-2000)
  4. 4,393 – Jamie Morris (1984-1987)
  5. 4,178 – Tyrone Wheatley (1991-1994)
  6. 3,861 – Butch Woolfolk (1978-1981)
  7. 3,696 – Chris Perry (2000-2003)
  8. 3,317 – Rob Lytle (1973-1976)
  9. 3,072 – Billy Taylor (1969-1971)
  10. 2,900 – Gordon Bell (1973-1975)
  11. 2,810 – Tim Biakabutuka (1993-1995)
  12. 2,751 – Lawrence Ricks (1979-1982)
  13. 2,624 – Harlan Huckleby (1975-1978)
  14. 2,622 – Karan Higdon (2015-2018)
  15. 2,554 – Ricky Powers (1990-1993)
  16. 2,550 – Russell Davis (1975-1978)
  17. 2,440 – Ron Johnson (1966-1968)
  18. 2,343 – Ed Shuttlesworth (1971-1973)
  19. 2,290 – Fitzgerald Toussaint (2010-2013)
  20. 2,247 – Tony Boles (1987-1989)
  21. 2,235 – De’Veon Smith (2013-2016)
  22. 2,206 – Stan Edwards (1977-1981)
  23. 2,176 – Rick Leach (1975-1978)
  24. 1,995 – Chuck Heater (1972-1974)
  25. 1,986 – Clarence Williams (1995-1998)

30 comments

  1. Lanknows
    Comments: 4288
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Mar 01, 2019 at 4:02 PM

    No YPC?!?

    I remain intrigued that none of those guys did anything substantial at the NFL level despite their college production. Even the best pro (Wheatley) broke 1,000 yards only one time, averaged under 4 ypc most years, and eventually moved to FB (back when the NFL had those).

    To be fair, some of the backs were ground up by heavy utilization and weren’t healthy at the next level. But some of that is just how RBs were used back then.

    For my money, the two backs that had the most talent and NFL potential as rushers were Tony Boles and Biakabatuka. Boles story is an interesting one… Biakabatuka had an OK career but dealt with injuries.

    Michigan’s produced NFL all-pros (or close to it) at every other position I can think of. The only explanation I can think of is that it was all those elite OLs over the years who deserve the credit, not the RBs. Count up the all-pros and HOFers on the OL…

  2. Avatar
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    WindyCityBlue
    Mar 02, 2019 at 1:01 PM

    What astounds me is how badly this program has recruited and developed running backs recently. Since Mike Hart left, we haven’t had one great season from a running back, and we’ve only had two guys even crack a thousand yards, and not by much.

    • Avatar
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      je93
      Mar 02, 2019 at 1:32 PM

      See Lanknows points on OL. That’s a HUGE contributor

      • Avatar
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        WindyCityBlue
        Mar 02, 2019 at 2:34 PM

        Our offensive lines between 2004 and 2007 were nothing special.

        • Avatar
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          je93
          Mar 02, 2019 at 2:54 PM

          Our OL from 2008-18 were awful, except for 2011 & 18. Both years the OL was good but not great, and enough to help produce a 1000yd Back

          *you could argue 2016 & 17 weren’t awful, but still below avg OL

          • Avatar
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            WindyCityBlue
            Mar 03, 2019 at 8:53 AM

            The point was that a great running back like Mike Hart was able to be very productive, even with an Oline that was nothing special. We’ve hadn’t had one RB even close to that good since, which is hard to understand at a program like this.

            • Lanknows
              Comments: 4288
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              Lanknows
              Mar 03, 2019 at 11:50 AM

              Deveon Smith was kinda similar. Not quite as good but excelled at dealing with would-be tacklers and had to overcome a lack of speed. Half the carries but 4.5 vs 5.0 yards per carry despite playing through coaching transitions and behind one of the worst OLs in Michigan history.

            • Lanknows
              Comments: 4288
              Joined: 8/11/2015
              Lanknows
              Mar 03, 2019 at 3:10 PM

              Hart was exceptionally durable but he missed 5 games in 2005. If he was a great impact player you’d expect a big drop off, especially given how unexceptional his backups were, but here are the rushing stats for the lead backs in those 5 games:

              Max Martin 26 carries for 117 yards
              Max Martin 16/91
              Kevin Grady 18/62
              Kevin Grady 14/94
              Jerome Jackson 24/105

              That season was a big influence on my theory that running backs don’t matter.

  3. Lanknows
    Comments: 4288
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Mar 03, 2019 at 11:42 AM

    I know this will come off as a hot take but oh well…my opinion.

    Hart was exceptional for is ability to stay healthy under such a record-setting workload. His size and shifty running style contributed to that. He was charismatic and entertaining off the field. A fan fave at a high profile position.

    Hart was a good college back but he really lacked speed. Did nothing in the NFL. Got a massive load of carries in part because the other RBs on the roster in that era were nobodies. Derrick Greens all the way down.

    As for the guys around him. Running behind Jake Long for 4 years was pretty fortunate. Plenty of all-conference awards and even a Rimington award along the way. Carr let the OL depth wither but let’s not exaggerate. It was a dropoff from OL U that Bo created and Mo continued, but there was still a lot of talent and program continuity.

    Perhaps just as important was being in an offense with Chad Henne, Braylon Edwards, Mario Manningham, Steve Breaston, etc. Deveon Smith should have been so lucky.

    In short – Hart’s overrated, like every other Michigan RB.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 4288
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      Lanknows
      Mar 03, 2019 at 11:42 AM

      Exceptions: Tony Boles and Tom Harmon are properly rated.

    • Avatar
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      WindyCityBlue
      Mar 03, 2019 at 12:13 PM

      He got far more yards than any other running back in the history of the program, and did it with less speed than pretty much everyone who is even close to him, and he’s overrated? Okey-doke.

      Not even sure why the NFL is relevant to his career at Michigan. Very few great college running backs have great NFL careers.

      • GKblue
        Comments: 267
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        GKblue
        Mar 03, 2019 at 2:00 PM

        WCB – “He got far more yards than any other running back in the history of the program, and did it with less speed than pretty much everyone who is even close to him, and he’s overrated?”

        For perspective I watched a video on Hart to refresh my memory. What stood out to me was he had no quit. You could count on yards after contact and second effort from him. He was noted for his ball security and excelled at the draw plays and catching the short pass out of the backfield.

        I think he did what his team needed him to do well and exceeded the expectations many had of him coming out of high school. Was he ever my favorite RB? Nope, but give credit where it was due he came through for us. If he would have had break away speed… oh man!

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 4288
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        Lanknows
        Mar 03, 2019 at 2:16 PM

        Kinda funny to see you going to bat for a 3-star recruit…

        Hart had 1015 compared to Wheatley had 688 and Biakabatuka 448. Combined, they barely pass him, so no – those guys didn’t come close in carries. As for YPC both had 6.1 and Hart had 5.0.

        Hart’s like Cal Ripkin — what stands out is the durability. You have to be pretty good to last that long but far from the best.

        Others:
        I don’t think much of Thomas (went down easy, played behind an NFL OL) or Morris (lack of NFL success) either. The 70s guys were before my time.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 4288
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        Lanknows
        Mar 03, 2019 at 3:12 PM

        “Very few great college running backs have great NFL careers.”

        True for every position.

        • Avatar
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          WindyCityBlue
          Mar 04, 2019 at 9:43 AM

          Which doesn’t answer the question of why NFL success is relevant to whether someone was a great college RB

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 4288
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 04, 2019 at 11:55 AM

            It’s an indicator of ability beyond the singular context.

            When there is a trend of M RBs looking great at the college level and doing nothing in the NFL while many M OL have long successful careers…

    • Avatar
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      je93
      Mar 03, 2019 at 12:19 PM

      I’m surprised by this hottake. Move some names/positions around, and you just agreed with posters who love DRob, but don’t think he was a good QB

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 4288
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Mar 03, 2019 at 3:00 PM

        The production speaks for itself. He had an excellent career. I’d put him in the top 10 all-time at his position. We’ll never see a player with his unique skillset again.

        The above applies to both, IMO.

        One key difference is how their careers are framed. Nobody is out here saying things like “Mike Hart is not a good RB” or “Mike Hart couldn’t get it done against tough defenses” [Which BTW he averaged 2.4, 1.7, 6.2, 3.4 in his 4 games against OSU].

        Nobody has spent a decade wondering if every QB recruit is the “next Denard Robinson” or joking about “Denard Robinson but accurate”.

        Another difference is the level of impact – which, granted, is about position – compared to level of fame.

        Denard carried an offense to a top 10 level without much NFL talent beyond the OL. Hart had some of the best offensive talent ever to play at Michigan around him – at WR, QB, OT – yet never played on even a top 25 unit. Sure, coaching is a big part of that, but it still reflects the limitations of Hart’s impact.

        • Avatar
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          je93
          Mar 03, 2019 at 4:41 PM

          Your initial hottake applied the same logic fans have regarding DRob, yet for years you have talked down to – and occasionally – vilified those who don’t agree with you

          I find that interesting. A six paragraph response does little to change the impression left

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 4288
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 03, 2019 at 4:57 PM

            You already said that. Your impression didn’t change when presented with a logical argument buttressed by some data – nothing new there either.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 4288
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 03, 2019 at 4:59 PM

            Like I said, if someone says “Mike Hart isn’t a good RB”, I’ll argue with them.

            • Thunder
              Comments: 2812
              Joined: 7/13/2015
              Mar 03, 2019 at 10:43 PM

              “Good” and “elite” and “not good” and “mediocre” are all subjective. You could make an argument that Hart wasn’t a good running back because he did not find success in the NFL, as long as your terms for being a good running back included some sort of professional success. You could also argue that a player must be considered good if he’s a school’s all-time leading rusher. The definition of “good” needs to be defined.

              I think your requirements for a QB being “good” are different than mine.

              When I think of something like this, I always go back to, “So-and-so is one of the best.” Okay, what does that mean? Does that mean he’s #14 out of a total of 15? Does that mean he’s in the top 50%? Does that mean he’s in the top 5 of everyone ever? It’s all semantics.

              • Lanknows
                Comments: 4288
                Joined: 8/11/2015
                Lanknows
                Mar 04, 2019 at 11:56 AM

                I agree.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 2812
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Mar 03, 2019 at 10:19 PM

      I’ve been saying for years that Hart was essentially overrated because of his lack of explosiveness, and you argued with me. So I can’t really disagree with anything you’re saying (EDIT: but I don’t know why it took you so long to say it).

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 4288
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Mar 04, 2019 at 12:15 PM

        I don’t remember arguing that point. Maybe you did a great job convincing me.

  4. Avatar
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    Roanman
    Mar 04, 2019 at 7:29 AM

    What Hart lacked in explosion, and he was pretty lacking in explosion, he more than made up for with …. … …..

    Vision! That eternal, undefinable attribute of great running backs. And yes Hart was a great collegiate running back. Hart not only had his own vision, but seemingly snuck into De’veon Smith’s bedroom when Smith was a small boy and stole his.

    That Hart struggled in the pros where even the big guys are fast, and for the most part the fast guys are big, really should have no bearing on a ranking of Michigan running backs.

    As an aside, Leroy Hoard who I don’t think cracked 1,800 yards would be near the top of my list of great Michigan running backs.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 2812
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Mar 04, 2019 at 7:56 AM

      I do love this Leroy Hoard tribute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFwWyRSjqio

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 4288
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Mar 04, 2019 at 12:14 PM

      Undefinable and eternal are good adjectives. I think it gets used as a crutch in debates pretty often because it’s totally subjective.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 4288
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Mar 04, 2019 at 12:19 PM

      Hoard was one of the best at the next level.

      According the link below the best M RBs in the NFL were:

      1. Ron Johnson
      2. Hoard
      3. Wheatley
      4. Thomas
      5. Woolfolk
      6. Biakabatuka
      7. Vincent Smith

      https://www.pro-football-reference.com/schools/michigan/

      Just joking on #7

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