The history of quarterbacks for the Cardinals was troubling. The running backs have been slightly better since the Cardinals came to Arizona. Take a look. Who do you remember? Who don't you remember? Who is memorable? Who would you like to forget? I will list the players that started at running back or fullback.
1988 (7-9): Earl Ferrell, Stump Mitchell, Tony Jordan
Ferrell was the leading rusher with 924 yards on 202 carries and seven TDs. He started all 16 games at fullback. Mitchell (now the team's current RBs coach) started 14 games, 164 carries, 726 yards and four scores. Jordan started twice. His season totals were 160 yards and three TDs.
1989 (5-11): Earl Ferrell, Tony Jordan, Stump Mitchell, Tony Baker, Ron Wolfley, Vai Sikahema
Ferrell led the way again, but with only 502 yards. Wolfley got a start at fullback. Mitchell played only three games. Jordan started eight and Baker got a pair. Even Sikahema got a couple of starts. Only Jordan had more than 200 yards after Ferrell (211).
1990 (5-11): Johnny Johnson, Anthony Thompson, Ron Wolfley
This was the first year I remember completely. Thompson was a highly touted second round pick who just never found it. Johnson, that year's seventh rounder, was the star. Were it not for Emmitt Smith, who also was a rookie that year, Johnson would likely have won Rookie of the Year status.
1991 (4-12): Johnny Johnson, Anthony Thompson, Larry Centers
Johnson's play dropped from over 900 yards to 666. Thompson still struggled. We get the first look at Centers, who started at fullback twice. It was a bad year rushing.
1992 (4-12): Johnny Johnson, Ivory Lee Brown, Johnny Bailey, Larry Centers
Johnson played in only 12 games, but led the team with 734 yards and six TDs. I completely forgot about Ivory Lee Brown. He clearly was forgettable with 194 yards on 68 carries. Bailey started twice, but on the team for his return and third down abilities. He was second on the team with 233 yards.
1993 (7-9): Ronald Moore, Garrison Hearst, Larry Centers
Hearst was supposed to be the star. The team traded Johnny Johnson to the Jets to move up one spot and take Hearst with the third pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, despite the knee injury he sustained that year. He woudl play only in six games, but it was Moore to surprise everyone, rushing for 1018 yards and nine TDs. He was drafted in the fourth round that year and led the team in rushing. Hearst would be second with only 264 yards. Larry Centers begins to make his impact in the passing game, catching 66 passes to lead the team.
1994 (8-8): Ronald Moore, Larry Centers
Hearst played in eight games, but started none, carrying the ball only 37 times. Moore started all 16 games and led the team in rushing again, but this time with only 780 yards and four scores. Centers started five games at FB and led the team in receiving with 77 catches. Mark Higgs was on the roster and carried the ball 43 times, but I have zero recollection of him.
1995 (4-12): Garrison Hearst, Larry Centers
Hearst is finally able to make an impact. He started all 16 games and logged over 1000 yards (1070), but only found the end zone once. Centers rushed for 254 yards and two scores, but it was his work in the passing game again that caught eyes. He caught 101 balls for 962 yards, leading the team in both categories.
1996 (7-9): LeShon Johnson, Larry Centers, Leeland McElroy, Cedric Smith
The team parted ways with Hearst. This was the year of the McElroy bust. Johnson led the team in rushing with 634 yards and three TDs. However, 214 of those came in one game when he set the team's single game rushing record against the Saints (a record that Beanie Wells would break in 2011). McElroy was taken by the Cards that year with the 32nd pick in the draft and he had fallen quite a bit. He was one of the Cards' greatest draft busts. He was benched by Week 5 and only amassed 305 yards on the season. Centers was still a stud. He rushed for 425 yards, but once again led the team in receptions with 99.
1997 (4-12): Leeland McElroy, Larry Centers, Ronald Moore, Cedric Smith
McElroy completes his bust status with only eight starts and 424 yards. Moore shows back up after some years away and gets 57 carries. There was a Kevin Bouie who carried the ball 11 times for 26 yards, but I don't remember him. Centerscarried the ball 101 times and caught 54 passes, which was a bad year for him. The receivers were productive that year, though, with both Rob Moore and Frank Sanders getting over 1000 yards.
1998 (9-7): Adrian Murrell, Mario Bates, Larry Centers
The team's playoff year was one in which they have a solid running back for the first time in years. Murrell rushes for 1042 yards and eight touchdowns. Bates starts one game in his place. He is used a lot at the goalline. He scores six times. Centers catches 69 passes. Michael Pittman joins the team and carries the ball 29 times.
1999 (6-10): Adrian Murrell, Mario Bates, Michael Pittman, Joel Mackovicka
The running game stinks. Murrell only gains 553 yards, which leads the team, but does not score a single touchdown. Bates scores nine time in 72 carries, as he would get all the goalline carries. Centers was no longer on the team, so Murrell catches 49 passes. Pittman starts twice. Mackovicka is the fullback and is used for only blocking. He touched the ball a total of 18 times.
2000 (3-13): Michael Pittman, Thomas Jones, Joel Mackovicka
Jones is the first round pick, but does not have the desired impact. Pittman outplays him, gains 719 yards and four scores, and he catches 73 passes to lead the team. Jones gains only 373 yards.
2001 (7-9): Michael Pittman, Thomas Jones, Joel Mackovicka
Pittman again keeps Jones off the field. He gains 846 yards and scores five times. He hauls in 42 catches, as well. Jones plays all 16 games, but starts only two.
2002 (5-11): Marcel Shipp, Thomas Jones, Damien Anderson, Joel Mackovicka
This is the year of the famous broken hand. Jones breaks his hand when it hits the edge of a counter top while going to answer the phone. It ends his season after starting nine games. He only gains 511 yards, though. Shipp leads the team with 834 yards and six scores. Anderson starts one game.
2003 (4-12): Emmitt Smith, Marcel Shipp, James Hodgins
Smith is brought in to put fannies in the seats, but he injures his shoulder. He starts only five games and gains only 256 yards. Shipp gains 830 yards but does not score a single touchdown. Hodgins is the fullback and only touches the ball 16 times.
2004 (6-10): Emmitt Smith, Larry Croom, Obafemi Ayanbadejo
Smith, at age 35, leads the team with 937 yards and nine touchdowns in the final season of his storied career. He misses one game and a guy named Larry Croom gets the start. There is also another guy, Troy Hambrick, who gets 63 carries, second most on the team. Ayanbadejo? The fullback.
2005 (5-11): Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington, Obafemi Ayanbadejo
Arrington is drafted, but is not an impact player. he starts five games and gains 370 yards on the season. Shipp is the starter for most of the season (11 times) and is the team's rushing leader with 451 yards, but, for the second year in a row that he plays, he does not score a single touchdown. At this point, Shipp has not scored a touchdown since 2002. It is almost comical.
2006 (5-11): Edgerrin James
James is the big free agent signing and starts every game, having a good statistical season. He gains 1159 yards (the most by a Cardinals RB since coming to Arizona) and scores six time, but only gains 3.4 yards per carry. Shipp finally finds the end zone. he scores four times in 17 carries (he got those carries at the goalline). J.J. Arrington is relegated to just returning kicks. He carries the ball onoly 14 times all year.
2007 (8-8): Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith
Smith is the fullback and touches the ball only eight times. That is all he's worth mentioning for. he does start 10 times. Again, James is the workhorse and tops his 2006 numbers. He gains 1222 yards and scores seven times. His YPC increases to 3.8. He gets 324 carries, while the rest of the running backs combine for 42 carries.
2008 (9-7): Tim Hightower, Edgerrin James, J.J. Arrington, Terrelle Smith
The starts are split as Hightower overtakes James. Arrington even starts three times. Hightower leads the team in carries with 143, gaining 399 yards and scoring 10 TDs (but only 2.8 YPC), but James leads in yardage with 514. James play in the playoffs was steady and needed, giving the team the running game they needed late en route to the Super Bowl. Hightower scores the winning TD in the NFC Championship game against the Eagles.
2009 (10-6): Tim Hightower
After the team drafts Beanie Wells, James is let go. Hightower, though is the unquestioned starter. Wells and Hightower play pretty evenly. Wells ends up carrying the ball more and leads the team with 793 yards and seven scores, averaging 4.5 YPC. Hightower gains 598 yards and scores eight times (on 4.2 YPC), but also catches 63 balls. It is probably the best rushing attack the Cardinals have ever had.
2010 (5-11): Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling
Hightower remains the main starter, getting the call 13 times. He leads the team in carries (153), yards (736) and rushing touchdowns (five). Beanie disappoints with 397 yards and two scores. LSH starts twice.
2011 (8-8): Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Chester Taylor
Taylor only starts because both Wells and LSH are hurt against the Seahawks early in the year. Alfonso Smith gets 17 of he 30 carries that game. Beanie starts 14 games and has his finest year, playing most of the year on one healthy leg. He rushes for 1047 yards and 10 scores and sets the team single game rushing record against the Rams with 228 yards. LSH starts Week 17 against the Seahawks and gains 93 yards on 20 carries.
This is a disaster year. Beanie starts the year then gets hurt, only to return late in the year. He is largely ineffective, gaining 234 yards on 88 carries. His most memorable moment was fumbling in his own end zone without being tackled. Ryan Williams suffers a second consecutive season-ending injury. Powell plays decently, but LSH leads the team in carries and yards. He starts five times and has a couple of 100+ yard performances.
There you have it. The history of running backs. It's mostly a mess, like the franchise's history here. Go figure.