In the first couple of years as the Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis had major issues with two of the team’s best players on each side of the ball. Linebacker Takeo Spikes wouldn’t be talked into staying with the club in the 2003 offseason, while running back Corey Dillon was at odds with the club until his eventual trade in 2004.
Enter one Rudi Ali Johnson.
Much like the movie that bore his name (though spelled differently and about a different football player), “Rudi” was a common chant from fans within the confines of Paul Brown Stadium in the mid-2000s. Though he wasn’t a star with the team throughout an entire decade, he was a valuable member in the team’s renaissance in the early years of the Marvin Lewis era.
Notable statistics under Marvin Lewis:
Seasons with Cincinnati: 7 (5 under Lewis)
Rushing yards: 5,742 (Third in franchise history)
Rushing touchdowns: 48 (Second in team history)
Attempts: 1,441 (second in team history)
Yards per carry: 4.0
Pro Bowls: 1 (2004)
Single-season rushing yards record holder: 1,454 in 2004; 1,458 in 2005
Reasons he makes the list:
Consistency: Johnson was a pillar of reliability in the mid-2000s. His averages of 1,295 yards and over 11 touchdowns from 2003-2006 would have been among the best in the NFL in any era.
From 2004-2006, Johnson had 12 touchdowns every season and averaged 1,407 rushing yards as the team’s unquestioned starter in the span. He also had over 335 carries in each of those three seasons, proving he was a workhorse in an offense that also had an explosive passing attack.
Taking of the baton from the great Corey Dillion: Though Dillon is largely-viewed as the best running back in team’s history, his volatile relationship with the club was well-known. Dillon had just one year with Lewis as the head coach in Cincinnati and it was his least-productive one as a pro—hence the way being paved for Johnson.
No. 32 had big shoes to fill, but his averages of 1,295 yards and over 11 touchdowns from 2003-2006 was just what the Bengals offense needed. Though he went a bit unheralded in the era in which guys like Edgerrin James, Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin and others in the AFC, Johnson was a highly-productive back for nearly half a decade.