Published: Aug. 20, 2019 at 11:03 a.m.
Updated: Aug. 20, 2019 at 01:02 p.m.

NFL's most valuable running back in 2019: Ezekiel Elliott? Todd Gurley?

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"Zeke who?"

That's what Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones jokingly said to reporters Saturday after rookie running back Tony Pollard had another impressive preseason outing. Ezekiel Elliott remains away from the team while he seeks a new deal.

Elliott's agent, Rocky Arceneaux, told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that neither he nor the two-time NFL rushing champ found the joke humorous.

"I didn't think it was funny and neither did Zeke -- we actually thought it was disrespectful," Arceneaux said.

On the heels of the latest twist in the Zeke-Cowboys drama, we thought it would be a good time to ask this question: Who is the most valuable running back in the league today?

NFC East personnel executives' focus is to stop Elliott
There are so many good running backs in the league right now, but I'm going to take Ezekiel Elliott. He does everything for the Cowboys' offense and is the one running back who demands a safety down in the box, which frees up the rest of his teammates to make plays. When I was a scout in the AFC North, our focus was drafting players who could stall or stop Ben Roethlisberger. Zeke is that type of player in the NFC East, according to my discussions with personnel execs in that division. The dynamic back is always in mind when those teams draft linebackers.
Rams, Giants possess irreplaceable players at the running back position
To me, the most valuable backs right now are Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley. Both of these guys are versatile, but the Rams' star is the ideal running back, possessing all the desired traits when it comes to size and ability. Gurley can play in any system and dominate in the pass game or on the ground. When it comes to Barkley, the Giants possess a physical, powerful back who's just scratching the surface. Finishing with 2,028 scrimmage yards as a rookie, Barkley is so tough to bring down and has proven he can get the job done even with a porous offensive line. Take either player out of his respective offense, and the unit is half as good, at best.
Kamara makes the Saints' offense go
Before Alvin Kamara arrived, the Saints were stuck in 7-9 hell, finishing with that record for three consecutive seasons. Since his arrival in 2017, New Orleans has won back-to-back division titles and was thisclose to making the Super Bowl in both of those seasons. Kamara has been one of the most productive and efficient RBs in the NFL since entering the league, ranking in the top three in scrimmage yards (third, 3,146), scrimmage touchdowns (second, 31) and yards per touch (first, 6.6). His versatility allows the offense to do so much and keeps defenses off balance. He can line up in the backfield, slot or out wide, which benefits his (future Hall of Fame) quarterback Drew Brees and plays in the offense's favor.
Gurley, Zeke set the tone for their respective offenses
Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott are the most valuable running backs in the league because their offenses aren't nearly as effective without them. Look at the Los Angeles Rams over the last two seasons. They are 17-1 when Gurley has at least 20 touches in a game but just 7-8 when he has fewer than 20 touches. As for Dallas' star running back, he led the league with 381 touches last season and has been the NFL's leading rusher in two of his three pro campaigns. Zeke makes the entire Cowboys' offense better and offers tremendous help to quarterback Dak Prescott in the play-action passing game.
Just look at what McCaffrey did last season
McCaffrey was the Carolina offense in 2018. He became the sixth player in NFL history to lead his team outright in carries, rush yards, rush TDs, receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs in a season. That's insane. McCaffrey was the focal point of the offense with Cam Newton battling injury for much of the season. The third-year running back's talent level is off the charts -- he often makes cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties look really bad in coverage. In the run game, he's tough and physical with great vision. I can't wait to see what this kid does this year.
Dallas' offense MUST have its star running back
No offense is more dependent on its running back than the Dallas Cowboys. The unit goes as Ezekiel Elliott goes. He has the fifth-highest rushing-yards-per-game average by a player in his first three seasons (101.2) in league history. He's also the only player in the NFL with more than 1,000 touches since 2016. For everything Zeke's done -- and will do -- for The Star, he deserves every bit of a monster contract.
Giants' Saquon Barkley is just scratching the surface
Saquon Barkley is one of the most exciting players to watch right now. The second-year running back is a home-run hitter who is equally as dangerous as a wide receiver as a running back. It's a scary though but the dynamic, explosive player should build on his monstrous Offensive Rookie of the Year effort (261 carries, 1,307 yards, 11 TDs; 91 rec., 721 yards, four TDs). My only worry is what will the rest of the Giants' offense look like?
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