Best Running Quarterbacks in NFL History
We are only a few generations removed from the idea that great NFL quarterbacks had to be strictly pocket passers — guys willing to stand in the pocket and take the big hit, no matter what.
Thank goodness not everybody always felt that way. Thank goodness for the outliers. And thank goodness for today's NFL, where a quarterback who can run as well as he can throw is worth his weight in gold.
Dating back almost 100 years, we've had NFL quarterbacks who could run. In today's day and age, you'd be hard-pressed to find an elite quarterback who can't change a game with his legs. Heck, some of the most thrilling plays in NFL history have come when a quarterback decides to tuck it and run.
Here's a look at the best running quarterbacks in NFL history based on rushing yardage.
20. Alex Smith — 2,604 Rushing Yards
Born: May 7, 1984 (Bremerton, Washington)
High School: Helix High School (La Mesa, California)
NFL career: 15 seasons (2005-07, 2009-18, 2020)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers (2005-2012), Kansas City Chiefs (2013-2017), Washington Redskins (2018, 2020)
Career highlights: NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2020), three-time Pro Bowl (2013, 2016, 2017)
Career rushing stats: 174 games, 550 carries, 2,604 yards, 15 TD
Bottom line: The thought of Alex Smith running with the ball is bound to conjure up memories of when he broke his right leg during a game in 2018 and almost had to have it amputated as a result. Somehow, Smith returned in 2020 for a final season and was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith's reputation as an elite running quarterback dates back to his high school days at Helix High in La Mesa, California, where he shared the backfield with future Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. He then continued at the University of Utah, where he led the Utes to an undefeated season as a senior in 2004 as he rushed for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. Smith was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers — 23 picks ahead of Aaron Rodgers — and picked up the bulk of his NFL rushing yards in the latter half of his career.
*All stats are current through the end of the 2022 regular season.
19. Kordell Stewart — 2,617 Rushing Yards
Born: Oct. 16, 1972 (Marrero, Louisiana)
High School: John Ehret High School (Marrero, Louisiana)
NFL career: 11 seasons (1995-2005)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (1995-2002), Chicago Bears (2003), Baltimore Ravens (2004, 2005)
Career highlights: Pro Bowl (2001), AFC Offensive Player of the Year (2001)
Career rushing stats: 99 games, 506 carries, 2,617 yards, 32 TD
Bottom line: Kordell Stewart authored one of the most iconic moments in college football history at Colorado with his hail-mary touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook to beat Michigan in 1994 — he also increased his rushing total each of his four years in college, capping things off with 639 rushing yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.
Stewart earned the nickname "Slash" over his first two seasons in the NFL because the Pittsburgh Steelers used him in so many different ways. He took over as the full-time starter at quarterback in 1997 when he rushed for 437 yards and 11 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,037 of his 2,617 career yards from 1997 to 2001.
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick — 2,625 Rushing Yards
Born: Nov. 24, 1982 (Gilbert, Arizona)
High School: Highland High School (Gilbert, Arizona)
NFL career: 17 seasons (2005-21)
Teams: St. Louis Rams (2005-06), Cincinnati Bengals (2007-08), Buffalo Bills (2009-12), Tennessee Titans (2013), Houston Texans (2014), New York Jets (2015-16), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017-18), Miami Dolphins (2019-20), Washington Football Team (2021)
Career highlights: None
Career rushing stats: 166 games, 574 carries, 2,625 yards, 21 TD
Bottom line: Ryan Fitzpatrick set the NFL record by starting for nine different teams over his 17 seasons. He's also the only quarterback in NFL history to both pass and run for a touchdown for eight different teams.
Fitzpatrick rushed for over 400 yards in each of his last two seasons at Harvard and was named Ivy League Player of the Year in 2004. He recorded the highest reported Wonderlic score in NFL history and was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Fitzpatrick didn't become a full-time starter until his fourth season — by then, he was with the Cincinnati Bengals — and led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing that season with 60 carries for 304 yards.
17. Daunte Culpepper — 2,652 Rushing Yards
Born: Jan. 28, 1977 (Ocala, Florida)
High School: Vanguard High School (Ocala, Florida)
College: Central Florida
NFL career: 11 seasons (1999-2009)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings (1999-2005), Miami Dolphins (2006), Oakland Raiders (2007), Detroit Lions (2008-09)
Career highlights: Three-time Pro Bowl (2000, 2003, 2004), two-time NFL All-Pro (2000, 2004)
Career rushing stats: 105 games, 514 carries, 2,652 rushing yards, 34 TD
Bottom line: Daunte Culpepper began to tap into his full rushing potential his final two years of college at UCF, rushing for 901 yards and 17 touchdowns over his last two seasons before he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 11 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
Culpepper took full advantage of having a deep receiving threat in Randy Moss when he took over as the full-time starter in 2000, rushing for over 400 yards each of the next five seasons. The one problem? Dude fumbled, like, constantly. Culpepper had double-digit fumbles in four consecutive seasons from 2000 to 2003 and set the NFL single-season record with 23 fumbles in 2002. Yuck.
16. Bobby Douglass — 2,654 Rushing Yards
Born: June 22, 1974 (Manhattan, Kansas)
High School: El Dorado High School (El Dorado, Kansas)
NFL career: 10 seasons (1969-78)
Teams: Chicago Bears (1969-75), San Diego Chargers (1975), New Orleans Saints (1976-77), Green Bay Packers (1978)
Career highlights: None
Career rushing stats: 91 games, 410 carries, 2,654 yards, 22 TD
Bottom line: Bobby Douglass went from being a high school star in tiny El Dorado, Kansas, to leading his home-state Kansas Jayhawks to unprecedented heights — a Big Eight championship in 1968 when he was also an All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist. Douglass, 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, played 10 seasons in the NFL and established himself as one of the league's greatest running quarterbacks at that time.
Douglass had his best season in 1972 when he set the NFL single-season rushing record with 968 yards and eight touchdowns on 141 carries — in a 14-game season. His NFL records stood for 34 years and his franchise record stood for 50 years until it was broken by Justin Fields in 2022.
15. Greg Landry — 2,655 Rushing Yards
Born: Dec. 18, 1946 (Nashua, New Hampshire)
High School: Nashua South High School (Nashua, New Hampshire)
NFL career: 15 seasons (1968-81, 1984)
Teams: Detroit Lions (1968-78), Baltimore Colts (1979-81), Chicago Bears (1984)
Career highlights: NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1976), NFL All-Pro (1971), Pro Bowl (1971)
Career rushing stats: 146 games, 430 carries, 2,655 yards, 21 TD
Bottom line: Who in the world is Greg Landry? One of the NFL's greatest running quarterbacks, that's who.
Landry rushed for over 500 yards in 1971 and 1972 with the Detroit Lions, making NFL All-Pro in 1971, which was his only Pro Bowl selection. He was also voted NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1976. Landry's rep as a running quarterback dated back to his days at UMass, where he was a three-year starter, led his team in rushing in 1965 and 1967, and was a two-time All-Yankee Conference selection.
14. Jim Harbaugh — 2,787 Rushing Yards
Born: Dec. 23, 1963 (Toledo, Ohio)
High School: Palo Alto High School (Palo Alto, California)
NFL career: 15 seasons (1987-2001)
Teams: Chicago Bears (1987-93), Indianapolis Colts (1994-97), Baltimore Ravens (1998), San Diego Chargers (1999-2000), Carolina Panthers (2001)
Career highlights: NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1995), Pro Bowl (1995)
Career rushing stats: 177 games, 561 carries, 2,787 yards, 18 TD
Bottom line: If you've watched current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh's painful limp as he walks up and down the sidelines, know that it was well-earned. Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the NFL for five different teams and sacrificed his body to the football gods the entirety of that time, rushing for over 200 yards eight different seasons and averaging 5.0 yards per carry for his career.
13. Josh Allen — 3,087 Rushing Yards
Born: May 21, 1996 (Firebaugh, California)
High School: Firebaugh High School (Firebaugh, California)
Colleges: Reedley CC/Wyoming
NFL career: 5 seasons (2018-present)
Teams: Buffalo Bills
Career highlights: NFL All-Pro (2020), two-time Pro Bowl (2020, 2022)
Career rushing stats: 77 games, 546 carries, 3,087 yards, 38 TD
Bottom line: You can't help but feel a little pity for defensive backs — and most linebackers — when 6-foot-5, 240-pound Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen decides to run the ball.
Allen has established himself as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks through his first five seasons after not receiving a single Division I offer out of Firebaugh (Calif.) High School. Allen's rushing numbers are on par with the greatest running quarterbacks in NFL history, as he's rushed for over 500 yards in four of his five seasons and over 700 yards in 2021 and 2022 alone.
12. Tobin Rote — 3,128 Rushing Yards
Born: Jan. 18, 1928 (San Antonio, Texas)
Died: June 27, 2000, 72 years old (Saginaw, Michigan)
High School: Harlandale High School (San Antonio, Texas)
NFL career: 17 seasons (1950-59, 1963-66)
Teams: Green Bay Packers (1950-56), Detroit Lions (1957-59), San Diego Chargers (1963-64), Denver Broncos (1966)
Career highlights: NFL champion (1957), two-time NFL All-Pro (1955, 1956), Pro Bowl (1956), AFL champion (1963), AFL MVP (1963), AFL All-Star (1963)
Career rushing stats: 149 games, 635 carries, 3,128 yards, 37 TD
Bottom line: The oldest player to make the list, Tobin Rote was a dual-threat quarterback before we even really knew what a dual-threat quarterback was. The San Antonio native and Rice University star would have seemed like a freak in the era he played in because of his size — at 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds, he was more in line with what today's quarterbacks look like.
The biggest testament to Rote's greatness would be his 1956 season with the Green Bay Packers. With the NFL still playing a 12-game schedule, he led the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns while also rushing for 398 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 29 total touchdowns were an NFL record until 2006 when it was broken by San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Rote's career also contains an interesting what-if — he spent three seasons in his prime playing for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts in the early 1960s.
11. John Elway — 3,407 Rushing Yards
Born: June 28, 1960 (Port Angeles, Washington)
High School: Granada Hills High School (Granada Hills, California)
NFL career: 16 seasons (1983-98)
Teams: Denver Broncos
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (1998, 1999), NFL MVP (1987), Super Bowl MVP (1999), Nine-time Pro Bowl (1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996-98), three-time NFL All-Pro (1987, 1993, 1996),
Career rushing stats: 234 games, 774 carries, 3,407 yards, 33 TD
Bottom line: John Elway's career was like watching two different, amazing players. Elway, who muscled the Colts into trading him away after picking him No. 1 in the 1983 NFL Draft, was a dual-threat quarterback for the first part of his career when he led the Broncos to three AFC titles (and three Super Bowl losses). In Elway's lone NFL Most Valuable Player season in 1987, he ran for a career-high 304 yards.
On the back nine of his career, Elway was something else entirely as a drop-back passer who won the first two Super Bowls in Broncos' history in his final two seasons. Ironically, Elway saw his career defined by a running play — his famous "helicopter" run to lift the Broncos to an upset of the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
10. Donovan McNabb — 3,459 Rushing Yards
Born: Nov. 25, 1976 (Chicago, Illinois)
High School: Mount Carmel High School (Chicago, Illinois)
NFL career: 13 seasons (1999-2011)
Teams: Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2009), Washington Redskins (2010), Minnesota Vikings (2011)
Career highlights: Six-time Pro Bowl (2000-04, 2009), Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team, Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame
Career rushing stats: 167 games, 616 carries, 3,459 yards, 29 TD
Bottom line: Donovan McNabb's career has been unfairly overshadowed by his terrible performance against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX — he threw three interceptions in New England territory and puked on the field at one point.
McNabb was a six-time Pro Bowler and just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30,000 yards, 300 touchdown passes, 3,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in his career alongside Fran Tarkenton, John Elway and Steve Young.
9. Aaron Rodgers — 3,466 Rushing Yards
Born: Dec. 2, 1983 (Chico, California)
High school: Pleasant Valley High School (Chico, California)
Colleges: Butte JC/California
NFL career: 18 seasons (2005-present)
Teams: Green Bay Packers
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2010), Super Bowl MVP (2010), four-time NFL MVP (2011, 2014, 2020, 2021), five-time NFL All-Pro (2011, 2012, 2014, 2020, 2021), 10-time Pro Bowl (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014-16, 2018-21), NFL 2010s All-Decade team, AP Athlete of the Year (2011)
Career rushing stats: 230 games, 719 carries, 3,466 yards, 35 TD
Bottom line: Aaron Rodgers and running the football don't exactly go together — he's thought of as a drop-back passer who wins games with his arm. But lest ye forget, the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player has averaged 6.2 yards per carry twice in his career and averages almost 5 yards per carry for his entire 18-year career.
Like several players on this list, there are some what-ifs when it comes to Rodgers' career stats because he spent his first three seasons on the Green Bay Packers as a backup to Brett Favre, one of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history.
8. Steve McNair — 3,590 Rushing Yards
Born: Feb. 14, 1973 (Mount Olive, Mississippi)
Died: July 4, 2009, 36 years old (Nashville, Tennessee)
High School: Mount Olive High School (Mount Olive, Mississippi)
College: Alcorn State
NFL career: 13 seasons (1995-2007)
Teams: Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans (1995-2005), Baltimore Ravens (2006-07)
Career highlights: NFL MVP (2003), NFL All-Pro (2003), three-time Pro Bowl (2000, 2003, 2005), Heisman Trophy finalist (1994), Walter Payton Award (1994)
Career rushing stats: 161 games, 669 carries, 3,590 yards, 37 TD
Bottom line: Steve McNair was the ultimate "sacrifice your body for another yard" type of quarterback when it came to running the ball, using his 6-foot-2, 230-pound body as a battering ram against opponents for the majority of his 13 NFL seasons.
McNair, the 2003 NFL Most Valuable Player, was a backup for his first two seasons in the NFL but rushed for a career-high 674 yards in 1997, his first year as a full-time starter. McNair rushed for over 400 yards five times in his first six seasons as a starter — including in 1999 when he only played 11 games.
McNair died in 2003 as the victim in a murder-suicide plot carried out by a former girlfriend. He was just 36 years old.
7. Fran Tarkenton — 3,674 Rushing Yards
Born: Feb. 3, 1940 (Richmond, Virginia)
High School: Athens High School (Athens, Georgia)
NFL career: 18 seasons (1961-1978)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings (1961-66, 1972-78), New York Giants (1967-71)
Career highlights: NFL MVP (1975), Two-time NFL All-Pro (1973, 1975), Nine-time Pro Bowl (1964, 1965, 1967-70, 1974-76)
Career rushing stats: 246 games, 675 carries, 3,674 yards, 32 TD
Bottom line: The first dual-threat quarterback to truly capture the public's imagination was Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, who shot to fame with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970s as he led them to three NFC championships … and three Super Bowl losses.
It would have been impossible to peg Tarkenton as the great running quarterback he would one day become when he came into the NFL in 1961 — he only rushed for 155 yards total in three seasons at the University of Georgia but then rushed for over 300 yards seven times in his first 10 seasons in the NFL.
6. Steve Young — 4,239 Rushing Yards
Born: Oct. 11, 1961 (Salt Lake City, Utah)
High School: Greenwich High School (Greenwich, Connecticut)
NFL career: 15 seasons (1985-99)
Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1985-86), San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)
Career highlights: Three-time Super Bowl champion (1988, 1989, 1994), Super Bowl MVP (1994), two-time NFL MVP (1992, 1994), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1992), two-time UPI NFC Offensive Player of the Year (1992, 1994), six-time NFL All-Pro (1992-95, 1997, 1998), seven-time Pro Bowl (1992-98), San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame
Career rushing stats: 169 games, 722 carries, 4,239 yards, 43 TD
Bottom line: If this were a subjective list of rushing quarterbacks, Steve Young would be much higher on this list — perhaps the best combination of a runner and a passer the NFL has ever seen. Young's career numbers are even more incredible when you consider the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player spent his first two pro seasons in the USFL with the Los Angeles Express, where he rushed for 883 yards and nine touchdowns, and was only a full-time starter once in his first seven NFL seasons.
Who knows what his career rushing total would look like had he been on the field instead of on the bench for all that time?
5. Lamar Jackson — 4,437 Rushing Yards
Born: Jan. 7, 1997 (Pompano Beach, Florida)
High School: Boynton Beach Community High School (Boynton Beach, Florida)
NFL career: 5 seasons (2018-present)
Teams: Baltimore Ravens
Career highlights: NFL MVP (2019), NFL All-Pro (2019), two-time Pro Bowl (2019, 2021)
Career rushing stats: 70 games, 727 carries, 4,437 yards, 24 TD
Bottom line: No quarterback in NFL history has ever run the ball like Lamar Jackson — a fitting arc for someone who grew up idolizing Michael Vick.
Through five seasons and just 70 career games, Jackson is already in the top-five career rushing quarterbacks in NFL history, although his number of carries already lines up with players who played much longer than he did.
Jackson was named the unanimous NFL Most Valuable Player in 2019, his first full season as a starter when he set NFL single-season records for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,206) and rushing attempts (176). He also already has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons — the only quarterback to ever do so.
4. Randall Cunningham — 4,928 Rushing Yards
Born: March 27, 1963 (Santa Barbara, California)
High School: Santa Barbara High School (Santa Barbara, California)
NFL career: 16 seasons (1985-95, 1997-2001)
Teams: Philadelphia Eagles (1985-95), Minnesota Vikings (1997-99), Dallas Cowboys (2000), Baltimore Ravens (2001)
Career highlights: NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1992), three-time NFL All-Pro (1988, 1992, 1998), four-time Pro Bowl (1988-90, 1998), Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame, UPI NFC Offensive Player of the Year (1990)
Career rushing stats: 161 games, 669 carries, 3,590 yards, 37 TD
Bottom line: In a different era — i.e., a less racist one — Randall Cunningham would have been a likely No. 1 overall draft pick out of UNL in the early 1980s.
Cunningham, 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, was one of the most popular players in the NFL in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He then experienced a career resurgence in the late 1990s with the Minnesota Vikings when he was named an NFL All-Pro in 1998.
What's probably most incredible when you look at Cunningham's career stats is that his 4,928 rushing yards aren't really indicative of what a great running quarterback he was because he led the league in sacks five times, including when he set the NFL record by losing 489 yards on sacks in 1986.
3. Russell Wilson — 4,966 Rushing Yards
Born: Nov. 29, 1988 (Cincinnati, Ohio)
High School: Collegiate School (Richmond, Virginia)
Colleges: North Carolina State/Wisconsin
NFL career: 11 seasons (2012-present)
Teams: Seattle Seahawks (2012-21), Denver Broncos (2022-present)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2014), nine-time Pro Bowl (2012-15, 2017-21), NFL All-Pro (2019), NFL Rookie of the Year (2012), Walter Payton Man of the Year (2021)
Career rushing stats: 173 games, 901 carries, 4,966 yards, 26 TD
Bottom line: Few star quarterbacks have seen their careers and reputations take as big of a hit in one season as Russell Wilson, who went from being talked about as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation to one of the most hated players in the NFL in one awful season with the Denver Broncos in 2022.
That shouldn't take away from the fact Wilson has always been able to change games running the ball dating back to high school and college and has been stunningly consistent throughout his NFL career in that vein — he's averaging almost 500 rushing yards per season over 11 seasons.
2. Cam Newton — 5,628 Rushing Yards
Born: May 11, 1989 (Atlanta, Georgia)
High School: Westlake High School (Atlanta, Georgia)
Colleges: Florida/Blinn CC/Auburn
NFL career: 11 seasons (2011-21)
Teams: Carolina Panthers (2011-2019, 2021), New England Patriots (2020)
Career highlights: NFL MVP (2015), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2015), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (2011), NFL All-Pro (2015), three-time Pro Bowl (2011, 2013, 2015), PFWA All-Rookie Team (2011)
Career rushing stats: 148 games, 1,118 carries, 5,628 yards, 75 TD
Bottom line: Cam Newton became the first player to win a national championship, Heisman Trophy and be the No. 1 overall pick in a single year when the Carolina Panthers selected him first in the 2011 NFL Draft — in large part because of his ability to run the ball.
Newton threw his 6-foot-5, 250-pound body around the field for almost the entirety of his 11 seasons in the NFL — which might be the cause of his precipitous dropoff in production in the second half of his career. But when Newton was on, he was almost unstoppable. He won NFL Most Valuable Player honors in 2015 and set NFL career records for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (75), career rushing attempts by a quarterback (1,118) and most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season (14).
1. Michael Vick — 6,109 Rushing Yards
Born: June 26, 1980 (Newport News, Virginia)
High School: Warwick High School (Newport News, Virginia)
College: Virginia Tech
NFL career: 13 seasons (2001-06, 2009-15)
Teams: Atlanta Falcons (2001-06), Philadelphia Eagles (2009-13), New York Jets (2014), Pittsburgh Steelers (2015)
Career highlights: NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2010), four-time Pro Bowl (2002, 2004, 2005, 2010)
Career rushing stats: 143 games, 873 carries, 6,109 yards, 36 TD
Bottom line: It wasn't just how fast Michael Vick could run — it was how he did it that made him such a must-watch during his 13-year career. Vick's athletic gifts were so remarkable that not only was he one of the fastest players in NFL history, he also had one of the strongest arms of all time, which made him a no-brainer as the No. 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft.
If you want evidence of exactly what Vick could do with his legs, his 46-yard touchdown run to beat the Minnesota Vikings in overtime in 2002 might be the best thing we can offer up. We can only wonder what Vick's career rushing numbers would look like if he hadn't spent two years in federal prison in the prime of his career.