Published: July 14, 2017 at 08:41 a.m.
Updated: July 14, 2017 at 08:50 a.m.

Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliott: Best all-around running back?

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As the July 17 deadline approaches for Le'Veon Bell and Pittsburgh to reach a long-term deal -- or proceed with the franchise tag attached for 2017 -- the Steelers star is fielding strong support from a man who knows quite well what life is like for a do-everything back:

"I hope he gets the deal he deserves," Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson told the MMQB. "I hope it's going to be the type of deal that cornerbacks get and quarterbacks get."

Game recognize game? Indeed. Both backs eclipsed 1,200 yards rushing last season -- and they were also huge weapons in the passing game: Johnson led all running backs with 80 receptions, while Bell finished second with 75. Simply put, these are two of the most well-rounded backs in recent memory. In fact, Johnson paced the NFL in all-purpose yards (2,118) in 2016 and Bell ranked No. 3 (1,888). (The NFL's leading rusher, rookie Ezekiel Elliott, held down the two spot with 1,987 all-purpose yards.)

Bell and Johnson are Swiss Army Knives in the backfield, guys whose spectacular versatility keeps defensive coordinators up at night. And this brings one question to mind:

Who is the best all-around running back in the NFL today?

Nobody provides more all-around dominance than Le'Veon Bell (when he's healthy)
There are a lot of good all-around running backs in the league. Atlanta has two multi-purpose guys in Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, New England got a huge Super Bowl performance from James White, and then there are guys like LeSean McCoy and David Johnson.

But the best all-around back is Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell -- when he's healthy. He can run in between or outside the tackles, make defenders miss in the open field and is a huge weapon out of the backfield.
David Johnson does it all, week in and week out
David Johnson is the best all-around running back in the NFL as we stand here today, partly because he suits up every Sunday. Le'Veon Bell might be the guy if you have to choose an RB for one game, but only once has he played a full 16-game slate (thanks to injuries and suspensions). If the Cowboys get Ezekiel Elliott more involved in the passing game (which should be expected), then this could change. He is probably the best pass blocker of the bunch.

Yet, the kinds of routes Johnson runs -- and the agility he shows running those routes -- makes him such a formidable presence in the Cardinals' offense. Bruce Arians gets the most out of him -- much like Bell benefits from the presence of Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' passing game, and Elliott from a top-flight offensive line.
Ezekiel Elliott is the best RUNNING back
I'm voting for Ezekiel Elliott. David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell are both excellent backs, but I believe Elliott is the best runner of the three -- and that's the most crucial aspect for me. Not that Zeke doesn't provide anything in the passing game; he can catch the ball and make plays after the catch, no doubt. But taking handoffs and flashing his rare blend of speed, power and agility is where he truly shines.

I think Johnson is the best receiver of the three, but again, I consider a back's ability to run the football the most important characteristic of all.
I'm a big fan of Arizona's do-everything back (OK, for somewhat selfish reasons)
I have to go with David Johnson. He's been healthy for the most part and is a major threat in the run and pass games for the Cardinals' offense. He runs angry and hungry. Plus, he single-handedly won my fantasy football league for me last year when I thought I had no chance.
It's really tight, but Bell gets the nod over Johnson
For me, it's a close race between Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson. I think Bell is a little more elusive and a better route runner. If I had to rank these two guys in terms of the league's best all-around backs, I would put Bell at 1A and Johnson at 1B.
Johnson edges out Bell due to one critical factor
This is extremely close, but I'll give the edge to David Johnson. A converted wide receiver, Johnson is a natural pass catcher out of the backfield (though Le'Veon Bell is no slouch either). Johnson's power is another notch in his favor, but ultimately his availability tips the scale for me. Bell has missed 16 games in the last two seasons (including two playoff bouts), while Johnson has played in all 32 NFL contests in his young career.

As they say, sometimes a player's best ability is his availability.
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