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Emmitt Smith reigns as top Cowboys running back

Earlier this week we carved the four faces that belong on the Cowboys' Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks. Picking the final four was more than just looking at the stats. So when it comes to picking the top four running backs of all time, what's the metric?

Total yardage is a huge factor of course. Which makes the top two pretty obvious picks: and . But there is more to the position than just yards gained.

There are plenty of other to add into the equation. Which makes picking our third and fourth backs just a little more difficult. Yardage alone says — designated a post-June 1 cut on Wednesday — and take the final two spots.

But do they?

Emmitt stands alone

Emmitt Smith is not only the Cowboys all-time rushing leader, he's also the NFL's all-time rushing leader. It isn't a far-fetched statement to make that Emmitt's record of 18,355 yards will never be broken. Even with the extra game per season played in today's NFL.

Cowboys Headlines - Happy Birthday To Emmitt Smith From Cowboys Nation

The nearest active players to Emmitt are (8,355) and Elliott (8,262). Neither are on a pace to catch him. At 17,162 yards, Emmitt will forever hold the Cowboys' franchise record.

Beyond the yardage, Emmitt could dominate a game. On more than one occasion he single-handedly carried the Cowboys to victory.

Emmitt Smith is clearly the first player we put on our rushing Mount Rushmore memorial.

Touchdown Tony

Dorsett currently sits at second with 12,036 yards. He's 10th overall all-time in the NFL with 12,739 yards rushing. He currently holds both the Cowboys' and the NFL's record for longest touchdown run at 99 yards.

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That 99-yard run might be one of the most iconic regular season plays in NFL . Playing against the Vikings in Minneapolis, with only 10 Cowboys on the field, Dorsett broke through the line of scrimmage and galloped for the record-setting score.

If you were watching the game, just seconds before, Howard Cosell had just remarked that Dallas was mistakenly thinking they could just turn it on whenever they wanted. Seconds after the score he would remark that maybe they could.

Dorsett was a big part of the Cowboys success in the late 70s and early 80s. He is clearly in the second slot on our mountain.

To Zeke or not to Zeke

Here's where it gets tricky. The numbers say Elliott in third and Perkins (6,217 yards) in fourth. But not so fast.

Neither back has propelled their teams to an NFL championship. Although Perkins at least got Dallas to back-to-back NFL title game losses to the Packers in 1966-67.

Because of that, I put Perkins in the third slot. Sorry folks, if you're a Zeke fan, it just gets worse from here.

The Moose

As stated above, it isn't just total yards that determines who gets enshrined on out monument. One back who isn't even in the Cowboys' Top 10 in rushing yards clearly earns a spot in our final four.

Daryl “Moose” Johnston.

Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys Need Daryl Johnston Type Fullback
7 Sep 1997: #48 of the carries the football during the Cowboys 25-22 loss to the at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport

Playing 11 seasons at , Johnston racked up 2,227 yards and 14 touchdowns in 151 games. numbers? No.

But do the Cowboys win three Super Bowls in four years without the Moose? Does Emmitt pass Walter Payton as the all-time rushing leader without the Moose?

No and no. Case closed and sorry Zeke, you'll have to settle for fifth.

All the little things Johnston did that contributed to the 1990s Cowboys success demands his placement in the final spot.

The Honorable Mentions

The Cowboys have had a plethora of running backs worthy of honorable mention. Certainly Elliott and Perkins, along with , , and . , Preston Pearson, , and Walt Garrison also come to mind.

But we can't overlook Herschel Walker. He only posted 3,491 yards in 53 games played for the Cowboys. His role in the 1989 — that Vikings fans still call The Big Steal — deserves at least an honorable mention.

Richard Paolinelli
Richard Paolinelli
Richard has covered sports at all levels - from local, prep, college, and professional - since 1984. He has been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys since 1969. Since retiring as a full-time sports writer in 2013, he has written and published several novels, two dozen short stories and two sports non-fiction books.

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