Cincinnati Bengals: 30 greatest players in franchise history

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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James Brooks, Cincinnati Bengals
23 Oct 1988: Running back James Brooks of the Cincinnati Bengals moves the ball during a game against the Houston Oilers at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals won the game, 44-21. /

56. . RB. (1984-91). James Brooks. 19. player

  • 4x Pro Bowl (1986, 1988-90)
  • 3x 1,000-yard rusher w/Bengals (1986, 1989-90)
  • NFL leader in rushing yards per attempt (1986)
  • Cincinnati Bengals 40th Anniversary
  • Franchise record for yard from scrimmage in a season (1,773) in 1986
  • 1,344 carries for 6,447 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns w/Bengals

For a good while there, James Brooks was widely seen as the best running back in Bengals franchise history. Sure, Ickey Woods had the Ickey Shuffle and Pete Johnson had that outstanding 1981 All-Pro season, but Brooks’ body of work set him apart as the Bengals’ workhorse in the 1980s.

In college, Brooks played in the same Auburn Tigers backfield that produced fellow multi-time Pro Bowlers William Andrews of the Atlanta Falcons and Joe Cribbs of the Buffalo Bills. Brooks would be drafted by the then San Diego Chargers in 1981 and would play his first three professional seasons there.

Interestingly enough, Brooks would be traded for Johnson to the Bengals ahead of the 1984 NFL season. It was a tremendously lopsided deal, as Johnson played only three games with the Chargers that season and briefly with the Miami Dolphins before retiring that same year. Brooks would go on to have four Pro Bowl seasons with the Bengals and eventually be their all-time leading rusher.

His breakout season in the NFL would come in his second year in Cincinnati in 1985. Brooks’ carries increased to 192, as he rushed for 929 yards and seven touchdowns. The next season saw Brooks make his first career trip to the Pro Bowl. He went over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career in 1986, leading the league in rushing yards per attempt at an impressive 5.3.

Overall, Brooks would spend eight of his 12 professional seasons with the Bengals. He amassed 1,344 carries for 6,447 yards and 37 touchdowns. Three times did he rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. He still holds the franchise record for most yards from scrimmage in a season from his 1986 campaign with 1,773.

Sure, Johnson and Woods might have had better seasons in 1981 and 1988, respectively. Corey Dillon might have eclipsed Brooks as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. However, Brooks is to many Bengals fans the first name they think of when it comes to great running backs in Bengals history. No wonder he made the 40th Anniversary Team in 2007.