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Who is East Carolina's Greatest Running Back?

Who is a better running back as an East Carolina alum? Chris Johnson? Earnest Byner? Or is there another running that rushed for the Pirates that was better than both?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

East Carolina has a very good history of getting players from college to the NFL with several very good running backs coming along the way. Some are incredible college players that just cannot make it in the NFL because of size, injuries, or other reasons. With that in mind, who is the best running that the East Carolina Pirates have ever seen?

  • Earnest Byner: While a Pirate, Byner rushed for 2,049 yards on 378 carries for a very impressive 5.4 yards per carry average. Byner was named as an Honorable Mention All-America selection in 1983 and ranks 11th on East Carolina's all-time rushing list. He was selected in the 10th round of the 1984 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns where he played 14 seasons in the NFL with three teams (Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens). His best success was as a Redskin in rushing for 3,950 yards in five seasons with the club. Byner was elected to two Pro Bowl selections and ended his career with 8,261 rushing yards and 56 TDs. Byner is currently 40th all-time in rushing yards. In 2001, he was named one of the 70 greatest Washington Redskins of all-time and was inducted in to the Ravens Ring of Honor.
  • Chris Johnson: Johnson was a First-Team All-America selection by Pro Football Weekly, a two-time All Conference USA selection with the Pirates, and the all-purpose yard average national (FBS) statistical leader in 2007 (227.7 ypg). The speedy Johnson was East Carolina's all-time kickoff return (2,715) and all-purpose yards (6,993) leader. He led Pirates in rushing as a freshman, sophomore and senior. 125 receptions and 1,296 receiving yards. Ended his career third on school's all-time rushing charts (2,982) and sixth on receptions list (125) and was selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft (pick 24 overall) by the Tennessee Titans where he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection from 2008-2010. Johnson was a First-Team All-Pro and AP NFL Offensive Player-of-the-Year in 2009 after becoming the sixth player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. Currently has 8,628 rushing yards and 51 TD, good for 36th all-time in rushing yards in NFL history.
  • Tony Collins: The Pirates' all-purpose yards leader for three consecutive seasons. First-Team All-South Independent honors in 1979. He currently ranks ninth on the school's single-season and career rushing charts and its career points scored list. His 100-yard kickoff return against Florida State in 1980 still ranks as the longest in school history. The New England Patriots selected Collins in the second round of the 1981 National Football League Draft. His 4,647 rushing yards and 32 TD rank him 149th all-time in rushing yards in NFL history.
  • Vonta Leach: Leach came to ECU as a linebacker and was honored as a freshman at that position. However, Leach moved to fullback as a junior. Leach became a three-time All-Pro in the NFL ranks. Was first given All-Pro status in 2010 while a member of the Houston Texans, his first of three All-Pro selections.11 year NFL player and one of the best blocking backs in the NFL throughout his entire career.
  • Junior Smith: East Carolina's all-time career rusher with 3,745 yards. Three straight 1,000+ yard seasons (1,037/'92, 1,352/'93, 1,204/'94), the only Pirate running back to accomplish that feat. Could not find a home in the NFL but did play professionally with the Shreveport Pirates and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League in 1995 and 1996.
  • Carlester Crumpler, Sr.: Crumpler was a two-time Honorable Mention All-American and 1972 Southern Conference Player-of-the-Year after rushing for a then school-record 1,309 yards, which currently ranks fifth on ECU's all-time charts. Concluded his career as the Pirates' all-time leading rusher with 2,889 yards, but is now fourth all-time. Crumpler was selected in the fourth round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills where he played four seasons and rushed for 979 yards.
So, who is the best? Is it the most recent in Johnson and his exploits at ECU and in the NFL or is it Byner and his ability to last so many seasons in the NFL after a great college career, or do you go in a different route and pick Leach, a blocker that would never put up good stats but was essential to several running backs having career years? Tell me who is the best of all time to carry the ball for East Carolina.