Like the three-point shot in basketball, there was a time when a quarterback run was like seeing Big Foot in the wilderness. Ironically, the origin of the position was centered around the running the ball. Founded in 1920, the NFL didn't have a 2,000-yard passer until 1942 (Cecil Isbell), and it would be 18 more years before the league had its first 3,000-yard passer (Frank Tripucka).
Running quarterbacks have made a recent comeback, however. Two major quarterback rushing milestones occurred this past week, when Justin Fields set the single game quarterback rushing record and Lamar Jackson for fifth all-time in rushing yards for a quarterback. Not too far behind Jackson on the all-time list is Josh Allen, who is less than 300 yards away from becoming the 13th quarterback in league history to reach 3,000 career rushing yards.
Given the recent milestones hit by Fields and Jackson, we decided to rank the top-10 greatest runs in NFL history. Jackson, of course, cracked the list on the merits of his jaw-dropping run during his MVP season.
Here was the criteria used when making the list:
- Overall impressiveness of the run
- Distance of the run
- Quality of the opponent
- Impact on history
- Impact on player's career/legacy
Honorable mention: Manning's play-fake magic
You probably didn't expect to see a Peyton Manning run to be anywhere near the list. But this run, which nearly a decade later is typically included in Manning's career highlight reel, is an example of Manning's mastery of the play-action fake. It's also an example of how defenses did not fear Manning beating them with his legs, which he did on this play, to the shock of Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and the rest of the country.
Peyton Manning x Flash— Special Teams (@specialteamspod) June 16, 2020
In 2013, Manning set NFL records in touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477)
Remarkably, he had only one rushing attempt (not counting kneel downs) the entire season. One. This 2 1/2 inch TD run against the Dallas Cowboys in a 51-48 Denver Broncos Week 5 victory pic.twitter.com/g9KnkULIjS
The play marked Manning's only rushing touchdown during his historic 2013 season, a season that saw him set single-season records with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdown passes.
10. Steel Curtain snake bitten by Stabler
Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception doesn't happen if not for Ken Stabler's 30-yard touchdown run moments earlier that stunned the Three Rivers Stadium crowd hoping to see the Steelers' first ever playoff win. The Snake's score came after he replaced Daryle Lamonica, who was struggling to do much against Pittsburgh's vaunted Steel Curtain defense.
Forgotten NFL History:— Jarrett Bailey (@JBaileyNFL) May 7, 2021
Ken Stabler’s 30 yard gallop
Before The Immaculate Reception, there was Ken Stabler’s long TD run that gave the Raiders the lead with 1:13 left. A few plays later, Franco Harris catches the ball after it bounces off Jack Tatum and the rest is history. pic.twitter.com/Cl0f19UF1T
Stabler's score did not lead to a victory, as Harris' iconic touchdown sealed Pittsburgh's first playoff victory. But Stabler (who remained Oakland's quarterback from that point forward) and the Raiders would eventually get past Pittsburgh in the playoffs in 1976, denying the Steelers a shot at winning three straight Super Bowls in the process. Stabler led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl title and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
9. Stay classy, San Diego
Ron Burgundy wouldn't have been able to help the Chargers' defense in their attempt to stop Colin Kaepernick on his 90-yard run in 2014. One of the most notable moments on this run -- the second-longest by a quarterback in NFL history -- was All-Pro Eric Weddle freezing up as he tried to figure out his pursuit angle.
Two years earlier, Kaepernick set the postseason quarterback playoff single game rushing record by rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Packers.
8. Air McNair
A highly underrated player, McNair led the NFL in yards-per-carry average in 1997. The following season, he averaged a career-high 7.3 yards-per-carry. That average was boosted by his 71-yard, game-winning touchdown run against Tampa Bay's formidable defense in Week 10. McNair broke several tackles, including one his own backfield, before turning on the jets and out-running a defense that included three future Hall of Famers.
(1998) Steve McNair was absolutely uncatchable on this 71-yard TD run.— In The Showcase (@intheshowcase) November 15, 2020
Never forget how good he was. 🙌#stevemcnair #steve #mcnair #airmcnair #nfl #tennesseeoilers #tennessee #oilers #oilersnation #americanfootball #football #gridiron #run #touchdown #quarterback #sport #sports pic.twitter.com/EYsFIBi2kv
McNair's success ultimately led to more success for the Titans in 1999. He put on a clinic in the Rams' near upset of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, as his 64 rushing yards in that game remains the most for a quarterback in a Super Bowl. McNair won co-league MVP honors four years later.
7. Slash scorches Baltimore
The first of two Kordell Stewart touchdown runs that made the cut. Down 21-0, Stewart scored five touchdowns -- including this 74-yard, game-clinching score, as the Steelers came back to defeat the Ravens in Week 6 of the 1997 season.
Stewart entered the history books in 1997, becoming the first player in league history to throw for at least 20 touchdowns and run for at least 10 in the same season. Cam Newton (2015) and Kyler Murray (2020) have since joined Stewart in the 20-10 club.
6. Pryor makes history
A Pittsburgh native, Terrelle Pryor made history against his childhood team in 2013. The former Ohio State standout's 93-yard run against the Steelers remains the longest run by a quarterback in NFL history. After a a well-executed play-fake, Pryor out-ran Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu to paydirt.
October 27, 2013 🏴☠️🏈✍️🏻— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) October 27, 2021
QB Terrelle Pryor ran for a 93-yard touchdown versus the Steelers @ the Oakland Coliseum.
This is the longest TD run by a quarterback in NFL history. Also, it is the longest rushing play in #Raiders history. pic.twitter.com/MN6zBACXtC
While his run against Pittsburgh was the highlight of his NFL career as a quarterback, Pryor enjoyed a success as a 1,000-yard receiver for the Browns in 2016.
5. Slash slices Carolina
Prior to Pryor's run, Stewart's 80-yard touchdown run vs. Carolina on the final Sunday of the 1996 regular season stood as the NFL's longest run by a quarterback. Stewart's touchdown run came against a talented Panthers defense that featured Hall of Famers Sam Mills and Kevin Greene.
4. Vick's coming out party
Michael Vick had become a household name following his electric 1999 season at Florida State that was punctuated by his standout performance in the national title game. He reached superstar status, however, following his breakout season in Atlanta in 2002 that was punctuated by his game-winning touchdown run in Minnesota in Week 13. Vick's breathtaking speed and Barry Sanders-like elusiveness were both on display during the 46-yard score.
On this day 19 years ago, Michael Vick with one of the most dynamic plays of his career: a 46-yard TD run in overtime to defeat the Vikings.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 1, 2021
Vick had 173 rushing yards in that game, the most by any QB in a single game in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/nyaprCpIIa
Vick, who ended up leading the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game that season, became the first quarterback to run for over 1,000 yards in a season in 2006. His 6,109 career rushing yards is the most by a quarterback in league annals.
3. Young's unintentional masterpiece
Before he blossomed into a Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young served as Joe Montana's understudy. He got a chance to start on a few occasions during his early seasons in San Francisco, including during a key midseason game between the Vikings during the 1988 season. The 49ers trailed the Vikings late in the game before Young cobbled together one of the most bazaar runs in NFL history. The run was a testament to Young's athleticism and sheer will to find the end zone.
Young ran into the record books after he succeeded Montana as the 49ers' starting quarterback in 1992. Along with setting numerous passing records, Young ran for 43 touchdowns during his career while averaging a whopping 5.9 yards-per-carry.
2. Jackson's highlight run highlights MVP season
Similar to Vick, Jackson was a former college star whose breakout NFL moment came on a run during his first season as a full-time starting quarterback. Jackson's dazzling run took place during a blowout win over Cincinnati saw Jackson score four total touchdowns while compiling a perfect passer rating.
The touchdown run was part of an MVP season for Jackson that saw him lead the NFL in touchdown passes while also breaking Vick's single-season rushing record for a quarterback.
1. Elway's leap
No quarterback run has come at a bigger moment than John Elway's 8-yard helicopter run in Super Bowl XXXII. With the game tied and the Broncos facing a third-and-6 deep in Packers territory, Elway saw and opening and went for it. The 37-year-old then hurled himself in between several defenders before landing beyond the first down markers. The play not only set up Terrell Davis' go-ahead touchdown, it galvanized the underdog Broncos, who would ultimately upset the Packers while snapping the NFC's run of 13 straight Super Bowl wins.
Elway followed up his first championship by winning MVP honors in his final game, a 34-19 win over Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII.