The 10 best running backs in the history of the LA Chargers

The real debate is around No. 10 through No. 2.
San Diego Chargers vs San Francisco 49ers - October 15, 2006
San Diego Chargers vs San Francisco 49ers - October 15, 2006 / Robert B. Stanton/GettyImages

The running back position may no longer be as important as it once was but it is still imperative to build a strong rushing attack to create a balanced offense. Just ask the LA Chargers, who struggled to run the ball consistently early in Justin Herbert's career.

The running back position used to be the second-most important position on the entire roster right behind the quarterback. As a result, there have been many all-time greats who put up numbers that this generation will never be able to replicate.

At least one of those all-time greats suited up for the Chargers and serves as a figurehead for what is a strong list of the franchise's best-ever running backs.

Criteria for selection:

Rushing statistics are the launching point for comparing these great running backs but they are not the end-all, say-all. This isn't a list that simply ranks the running backs in order of how many rushing yards or rushing touchdowns they finished with.

There are other factors as well. We are factoring in what kind of impact the running back had in the passing game as well as how they compared to their peers. Earning accolades such as Pro Bowls and All-Pros are important in this discussion.

There is also the fundamental impact a back has on a franchise that cannot be ignored. There is one running back on this list, in particular, who does not come even close in rushing stats but had such a massive impact on an important part of Chargers history that they made the cut.

The top 10 running backs in Chargers history:

10. Ryan Mathews

Ryan Mathews had a massive uphill battle the moment the Chargers drafted him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Mathews was tabbed as the guy to replace the No. 1 running back on this list and those were shoes he was never going to be able to fill for the Bolts.

That being said, Mathews still had a productive tenure with the team that had a Pro Bowl sprinkled in. He finished with over 1,000 rushing yards twice in tenure with the Bolts and if it was not injuries, he would rank even higher on this list.

9. Natrone Means

Natrone Means was the lead back for the Chargers during the team's only Super Bowl appearance in 1994. Means was an instrumental part of that Super Bowl team, too, as he had the best year of his career (and his only Pro Bowl nod) in 1994.

Means finished with a career-high 1,350 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns for the Bolts in 1994. Without him the Chargers would have never gotten past the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Divisional Round as his 24 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown were the difference.

Mathews finished with slightly better overall numbers than Means but Means' role on the only Super Bowl team in franchise history gives him the nod.

8. Lorenzo Neal

Lorenzo Neal is not a half-back but he is undeniably one of the most important running backs in Chargers history. Neal was the leading blocker for the best rushing offense in franchise history in the mid-to-late 2000s. He may not have been scoring himself but the Chargers could not have succeeded at that level without him.

The proof of Neal's dominance is in the accolades he received while he was with the Chargers. The veteran fullback was a three-time Pro Bowler in San Diego who was named a First-Team All-Pro in consecutive years in 2006 and 2007.

7. Keith Lincoln

If Neal deserves a spot on this list then Keith Lincoln deserves to be one spot ahead of him. Lincoln was a key member of the Chargers during their AFL days as he was one of the team's best offensive players the year they won the only championship in franchise history in 1963.

Lincoln was a half-back/fullback hybrid who does not have the same counting stats as some others on this list but was undeniably great for his time. That is evident from the fact that he was a two-time AFL All-Pro who received Offensive Player of the Year votes in both of those seasons.

Lincoln was essentially the first dual-threat weapon in franchise history and his prime from 1962 through 1966 was truly special for its time.

6. Chuck Muncie

From a pure counting-stats POV, it does not make much sense to put Chuck Muncie ahead of other backs on this list. After all, he ranks eighth in franchise history in rushing yards and has fewer than both Means and Mathews.

That being said, just like with Neal and Lincoln, Muncie's prime is impossible to ignore. Muncie has one of the most impressive seasons in franchise history as he finished with 1,144 yards and a league-leading 19 touchdowns in 1981.

Muncie's counting stats are also hurt by the lockout-shortened season in 1982 (where he earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl nod). Assuming he held the same averages over a 16-game season, Muncie would have finished with 1,011 yards and 14 touchdowns. No other back below Muncie was as good as he was in his prime for the Bolts.

5. Marion Butts

Marion Butts was the guy in the Chargers' backfield before Means took over in the 1994 season. From 1989 through 1993, Butts was one of the most productive running backs in the league and that ranks him quite high among the franchise's leaders.

Butts has the fourth-most rushing yards in franchise history. He did benefit from playing more games, as there are several players on this list who averaged more yards per game, but those numbers were also dragged down by his first and last season with the team.

In his two Pro Bowl seasons in 1990 and 1991, Butts finished with a combined 2,059 rushing yards, 208 receiving yards, and 15 combined touchdowns. It may not quite be Muncie's prime, but he did far more on top of his prime than Muncie.

4. Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon's Chargers tenure did not end on a good note as he became one of the most despised former Chargers by modern fans. It started with Gordon's contract dispute and subsequent holdout before peaking with Gordon outwardly taking a shot at the fanbase that once supported him.

Personal feelings aside, it is really hard to deny Gordon's place on the Chargers Mount Rushmore of running backs. He is fifth in franchise history in rushing yards and is only marginally behind Butts despite playing far fewer games.

He has the fifth-most rushing touchdowns, the fourth-most rushing yards per game and is one of the better receiving backs on this list. In addition to his rushing stats, Gordon picked up 1,873 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns with the Bolts. Gordon has the third-most combined touchdowns for a running back in franchise history.

3. Paul Lowe

The first running back in franchise history checks in at No. 3. Lowe was on the inaugural 1960 roster and nine seasons with the team through 1968. Lowe has the second-most rushing yards, the fourth-most rushing touchdowns and the fifth-most games played among Chargers running backs.

Lowe was an instrumental member of the Chargers who helped create a true 1-2 punch along with Lincoln. In his nine years with the team Lowe was a two-time AFL All-Pro, a two-time AFL All-Star and received AFL Offensive Player of the Year votes three times.

Obviously, his overall talent would not stand up to the running backs who are playing today but that should not discredit what he accomplished in the powder blue.

2. Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler did not leave the Chargers as a popular player thanks to his failed trade request and how he seemed checked out in his last season with the Bolts. While that left an ugly taste in the fanbase's mouth, it is still impossible to deny what he accomplished with the Bolts.

Ekeler finished with the third-most rushing yards in franchise history even if he did not eclipse many yards per game. Ekeler actually averaged the third-lowest rushing yards per game among the backs who rank in the top 10 in total rushing yards with 42.3. Being a back with a high yardage output was never his bread and butter.

Ekeler is the best dual-threat back to ever play for the Chargers as he was an endzone-finding machine who contributed both in the passing game and on the ground. Ekeler's 69 career touchdowns are the fourth-most in franchise history and the second-most among running backs. He has 22 more touchdowns than second place.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson

You did not click on this list to see who the No. 1 running back in franchise history was going to be. Anyone who has watched a single snap of Chargers football knows LaDainian Tomlinson is the greatest running back in franchise history and has a firm place on the Chargers' Mount Rushmore.

LT is one of the greatest running backs in league history who has the best singular season the NFL has ever seen out of a running back. With the NFL converting more and more into a passing league, nobody will ever match what Tomlinson did in his MVP season in 2006.

Tomlinson's legacy does laps around everyone else on this list and that is to no fault of their own. He has almost three times as many rushing yards as second place. This is one of the greatest players in NFL history we are talking about and it is very hard to see any running back ever coming close to challenging for the top spot on this list.

The 10 best running backs in Chargers history by rushing yards:



Years with Chargers

Rushing yards


LaDainian Tomlinson




Paul Lowe




Austin Ekeler




Marion Butts




Melvin Gordon




Ryan Mathews




Natrone Means




Chuck Muncie




Don Woods




Keith Lincoln