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Rudi Johnson: The forgotten Bengals running back

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When you think of the great running backs in franchise history, is Rudi Johnson in the discussion?

Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Watching Cincinnati’s win over the Detroit Lions, a nearby observer made a startling point: “Rich Braham wasn’t that great.” Wait, stop. What? Apparently the observer wasn’t impressed with something Russell Bodine had done. Naturally the conversation gravitated toward Braham, who, for me, is the measure of all centers that play football in Cincinnati. Let me preface all of this and say that this observer isn’t ignorant by any means. For 15 years he held season tickets, watched the best games during the Carson Palmer era, and a few depressing years during the Dick LeBeau era and a few after Palmer retired/traded to the Oakland Raiders. His point was that Braham was a good, solid, and dependable center, but the team’s inability to find, scout, and develop, a quality center has elevated Braham’s status.

The combination of Willie Anderson, Braham, Levi Jones, Eric Steinbach, and Bobbie Williams was the best offensive line configuration since Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, Max Montoya, Bruce Kozerski, Bruce Reimers, and Joe Walter started for the 1988 Bengals during Cincinnati’s Super Bowl XXIII run.

Braham was part of an offensive line that helped Carson Palmer rain deadly bombs from the sky and opened running lanes for Rudi Johnson, who is one of the more forgotten record holders in recent memory. Johnson owns the team’s records for most yards rushing in a single-season (1,458 in 2005), the second-most yards (1,454 in 2004), and his 5,742 yards rushing is third-most in team history. Rudi has more touchdowns (48) than Corey Dillon (45) in 26 fewer games, and is second to the legendary Pete Johnson.

During a stretch between 2004-06, Johnson scored 36 rushing touchdowns and posted 4,221 yards rushing, which averages out to 1,407 yards/season, 87.9 yards/game, and 12 touchdowns each year. No Bengals running back has come close to those numbers:

Top Bengals Running Backs Since 2004

SEASON RUNNING BACK ATT YDS AVG RUSH TD
SEASON RUNNING BACK ATT YDS AVG RUSH TD
2004 Rudi Johnson 361 1454 4 12
2005 Rudi Johnson 337 1458 4.3 12
2006 Rudi Johnson 341 1309 3.8 12
2007 Kenny Watson 178 763 4.3 7
2008 Cedric Benson 214 747 3.5 2
2009 Cedric Benson 301 1251 4.2 6
2010 Cedric Benson 321 1111 3.5 7
2011 Cedric Benson 273 1067 3.9 6
2012 BenJarvus Green-Ellis 278 1094 3.9 6
2013 BenJarvus Green-Ellis 220 756 3.4 7
2014 Jeremy Hill 222 1124 5.1 9
2015 Jeremy Hill 223 794 3.6 11
2016 Jeremy Hill 222 839 3.8 9
2017 Joe Mixon 178 626 3.5 4

Eventually Johnson, with the idea of evolving into a quicker player with better acceleration, tried losing weight in 2006. Unfortunately, this hurt him because once his power began to fade, so did his production. Eventually injuries weakened his season in 2007 and he was released before the regular season in 2008.

Rudi isn’t mentioned as one of the franchise greats, but he was a perfect fit for the offense with which he played. An offense that included Richie Braham, one of Cincinnati’s badass offensive linemen and still the measure on how we compare new centers today.