NFL's most valuable running back: Ezekiel Elliott? Le'Veon Bell?

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  • By NFL.com
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Week 2 of the NFL preseason is here! That means more of the league's star running backs -- with the exception of Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, who has not reported to camp yet -- are in line for snaps. Friday's slate features potential matchups of David Johnson vs. 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara, and Devonta Freeman vs. 2017 rushing champ Kareem Hunt. Then Todd Gurley's Rams, Ezekiel Elliott's Cowboys and Leonard Fournette's Jaguars are among the 14 teams taking the field on Saturday.

This talented group has elevated the value of the running back position over the last few years. So, who is the most valuable running back in the NFL today?

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LaDainian Tomlinson: One thing sets Todd Gurley apart from Le'Veon Bell

I'm going with Todd Gurley. He's a threat everywhere on the field, something you can't say about most backs.

I know what you're thinking: What about Le'Veon Bell? Yes, he's phenomenal and a threat in both the Steelers' run and pass games. BUT ... Bell gets caught in the open field. That's the one knock I have on him. Gurley's open-field speed makes him a home run hitter at any time.

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Charley Casserly: Ezekiel Elliott's running ability is second to none

It's a tough call between David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. With today's running backs, you have to consider versatility. And not just a guy's running talent and pass-catching ability -- you have to consider if he can line up in multiple positions. You also have to look at the quarterback and receivers he plays with, because that largely influences the defenses he sees.

Taking all of that into account, I choose Zeke. In each of his first two NFL seasons, he's averaged the most rushing yards per game (108.7 in 2016 and 98.3 in '17) -- and he's largely done so against stacked boxes. The Cowboys don't have much in the pass-catching department these days, unlike the Steelers (Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster), Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald) and Rams (a fleet of viable wideouts). While Elliott hasn't logged as many receptions as the other backs in consideration here, he's still a definite weapon catching the ball out of the backfield.

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Steve Wyche: David Johnson can cover up most of Arizona's offensive weaknesses

David Johnson is still one of the best backs in the league despite sitting out nearly the entire 2017 season. He's most definitely the most valuable. He can really lift up a less-talented offense and cover up weaknesses. Earlier this offseason, Johnson said he feels stronger than ever and is aiming to become the third player to earn at least 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same campaign. I think he can do it.

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Akbar Gbaja-Biamila: The most valuable RB is the one who's not in camp

The guy who immediately comes to mind is Le'Veon Bell. A dual-threat in the run and pass games, Bell has averaged more rushing yards per game, receiving yards per game and scrimmage yards per game than any other back (min. 30 games played) since 2013. He creates opportunities with his patience, gains so much YAC (yards after catch) and is better in open space than most backs. For a player who gets a ton of touches, Bell is one of the more durable running backs. So for all of these reasons, I have to go with the Steeler.

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Willie McGinest: Without Zeke, the Cowboys don't have much on offense

The most valuable running back to his team has to be Ezekiel Elliott. Without him for six games in 2017, Dak Prescott struggled simply because the Cowboys didn't have enough weapons outside to survive. A year later, the offense is down two of its high-profile pass catchers in Jason Witten (retired) and Dez Bryant (released). This offense officially runs through Zeke.

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Michael Robinson: Bell and Gurley can do it all, yet the Rams RB takes the cake

In my opinion, it's either Todd Gurley or Le'Veon Bell. Both players can catch out of the backfield, can block and are three-down backs. Bell has great vision and is a phenomenal runner against zone because of his patient running style. Gurley is a gap-scheme runner and is so explosive. That said, both of these guys can do it all, but Gurley gets the edge because he's a tad younger.

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