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VOTE: Rutgers Football’s most talented backfields ever

Martin and Edwards in good company, do you think they compare to all-time greats at RU?

Syracuse Orange v Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Leonard was an unselfish member of solid backfield.
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

With news that Gus Edwards and now Robert Martin are both on NFL rosters, it validated what most Rutgers fans are aware, the 2017 edition of the Scarlet Knights had legitimate running back talent. To be on an NFL roster, one usually requires enough physical talent to even compete with the elite athletes at the sport’s highest level. Of course the rules are different now than they were say ... in the 1920s with offseason roster limits and just because a player did not pursue the NFL doesn’t mean he couldn’t have played if he wanted too (Bill Austin comes to mind). There’s also plenty of talented players who may have been at their best in college, perhaps injuries prevented them from continuing their football careers.

Looking back at times in Rutgers Football history, below are the teams that had multiple players that ended up on NFL rosters after their careers ended. This list does not count players who received only a tryout, like Paul James in recent memory. It’s also possible I missed some players in other leagues, for example Bruce Van Ness played in the CFL, perhaps another pro RB also was on the banks during the same time.

2017: Robert Martin (UDFA), Gus Edwards (UDFA)

Even you were born this week and missed last season (like my niece), there’s plenty of social media to inform you about what these guys did on the banks.

2014: Martin, Sam Bergen (UDFA), Michael Burton (Detroit Lions 5th round, 2015 draft)

This group was bolstered by Martin’s fellow freshman Josh Hicks and the team’s lead back before he was injured, the aforementioned Paul James. Bergen played multiple positions at RU and saw more time in 2015 at fullback after Burton was drafted.

2011: Burton, Jawan Jamison (Washington Redskins, 7th round, 2013 draft), Joe Martinek (UDFA)

The biggest name in this group was actually Savon Huggins, but Jamison was the reason Martinek was moved to fullback as Leonard did several years earlier.

2009: Martinek, Jack Corcoran (UDFA)

Corcoran became the team’s fullback after Leonard graduated and was only an offseason member of the Houston Texans.

2006: Brian Leonard (St. Louis Rams, 2nd round, 2007 draft), Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens, 2nd round, 2008 draft)

This is only the second tandem that both had their names called on Draft Day, and they both were significantly higher picks. Rice still holds virtually every school rushing record, Leonard’s legend is still borderline mythical.

Terrell Willis
Willis was a electric as a kick returner and runner.

1995: Terrell Willis (UDFA), Bruce Presley (UDFA), Ezra Johnson (UDFA)

Presley and Willis rotated as a “Thunder and Lightning” combo before the term went viral. Willis (2nd) and Presley (4th) both have more career rushing yards than Leonard who is 5th all-time at Rutgers. Johnson was good enough that the staff did not elect to make Presley a fullback. Despite the talent, none ever carried the ball in an NFL regular season contest.

1992: Presley, Craig Mitter (UDFA)

Mitter was the team’s lead back, but Presley made himself known in the Big East win over Pitt as a freshman.

1986: Albert Smith (UDFA), Vernon Williams (UDFA)

Both players rushed for over 100 yards in a win over Cincinnati in 1985 and played in the famous tie against #3 Florida (tweet of article below). Williams was a bigger back for the time (210 pounds) but Smith had more college success (7th all-time in rushing yards, 8th in touchdowns). Neither player ever played an NFL regular season game. In Smith’s defense, he was cut by the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Football Giants. Many OTB readers hope if Robert Martin has the same fate, so do the G-men.

1949: Jim Monahan (Dallas Texans, 25th round, 1952 draft), Robert D’Amato (UDFA), Herman Hering (Green Bay Packers, 28th round, 1950 draft)

None of the players accumulated NFL stats. Monahan is most remembered for setting the record for longest run in Rutgers football history at the time (89 yards against Temple).

1931: Nick Prisco, Jack Grossman, Les Horton

Grossman was a superb athlete who played three years in the NFL (one All-Pro) as well as professional baseball and professional soccer in Latin America. Prisco also played a full NFL season.

1926: Stanley “Tex” Rosen, George Fraser

Rosen started two games for the Buffalo Bisons in 1929.

1923: Henry Benkert, Carl Waite

Benkert (4) and Waite (3) both had multi-year NFL careers as starters, with Henry twice an All-Pro. Benkert was the star at RU with a 200 yard game to his credit, having left the banks tied with Howard Talman for most career rushing TDs (16).


Which running back corps had the most talent in Scarlet Knight history?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    2014: Five guys all had a ton of talent and stats back it up.
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    2011: You try to tackle Jamison or Martinek!
    (1 vote)
  • 90%
    2006: Um, how is this not the only choice?
    (331 votes)
  • 4%
    1995: The question is physical talent, right?
    (18 votes)
  • 0%
    1949: Gold rush 100 years later.
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    1923: These guys played O and D, imagine them today!
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Other: And I promise to comment why!
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    2017: I’ll be the one who say I told you so in five years.
    (2 votes)
366 votes total Vote Now