Regardless of what style of an offense an NFL team has, the running game is very important to it. The running game can set up the pass, run out the clock, wear down a defense, and also be an effective offensive weapon too. The New England Patriots came into pro football in 1960, and over the years have had some great runners.
Who though has led the team in rushing for the season the most times? There is actually a tie in that category between Sam Cunningham and Jim Nance.
Sam Cunningham – 6 seasons
Sam Cunningham came out of USC as a highly drafted running back for the Patriots in 1973. He led the team in rushing that season, didn’t in 1974 when Mack Herron did, and then returned to be the team leader for five straight seasons, from 1975 to 1979. His best season was 1977 when he ran for 1,015 yards.
Jim Nance – 6 seasons
Jim Nance came out of Syracuse as the Patriots 19th round selection of the 1965 AFL Draft. He led the team in rushing from 1965 to 1970, six straight seasons. In 1966 and 1967, he was actually the league leader in rushing yards in the AFL, gaining 1,458 yards and 1,216 yards respectively. He would also lead the league in rushing attempts in three different seasons, 1966, 1967, and 1969.
Tony Collins – 4 seasons
Tony Collins played college football at East Carolina before being drafted in the 2nd round of the 1981 NFL Draft by the Patriots. He went on to lead the team in rushing four times. His best season was 1983 when he ran for 1,049 yards. Collins also holds the distinction of having the most seasons in between years in which he led the team in rushing. He would be the team leader for three straight seasons, from 1981 to 1983, then wouldn’t lead the team in rushing again until 1987.
Five players are tied in fourth place in this category, having led the Patriots in rushing for a season three times in their careers, they are: Craig James, John Stephens, Curtis Martin, Antowain Smith, and Corey Dillon.