Who's King of the NFL Running Backs?
The Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell? If you could only have one of these phenomenal running backs to line up in your backfield, who would it be?
J.R. Gamble's Pick: Ezekiel Elliott
There are a lot of dudes in the NFL who can put up stats, but if you just look at the stats you never really grasp what lies beyond the numbers. While you surely can’t knock anyone who says Le’Veon Bell has become the most multi-faceted and productive back in the NFL since entering the league out of Michigan State in 2013, Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has not only out-rushed Bell this season, he's proved to be an effective receiver and the impact he’s had on the Cowboys can’t be duplicated by any other player in 2016.
When deciding which back is better, obviously Bell's been in the NFL longer and his career provides a larger sample size. Bell also plays on a team with Antonio Brown, who can be considered the best wide receiver in the game and led the NFL in 2015 with 2,074 all-purpose yards.
With all due respect to Dez Bryant, Elliott has been somewhat of a one-man wrecking crew and doesn’t have to share touches with a player who matches Brown’s dominance. He carried Dallas with Romo out and when Dez was out early in the season.
The Steelers are a respectable 9-5 this season, but Bell's presence hasn't made them Super Bowl contenders yet. On the flip side. look no further than Sunday night's fourth quarter as an example of Zeke's championship-caliber impact. With Dallas hanging onto a 23-20 lead with just under six minutes left, Zeke takes the ball, hits a hole through the right side and bounces for 40 yards deep into Tampa Bay territory to set up the game-clinching field goal. Dallas' dominating young gun finished the game with a career-high 159 yards on the ground.
Elliott's rapid development has undoubtedly made life much easier for first-year signal caller Dak Prescott.
Elliott emphatically introduced himself to the NFL during the Cowboys' record nine-game winning streak this season. Imagine if this was last season, when Darren McFadden was toting the rock on the first-strong squad. He’s a serviceable back who broke the 1,000 yard mark in 2015, but he wasn’t putting it on guys like Zeke. Would Prescott and Co. be as formidable? I think not.
Bell gets busy, but being that Zeke is a rookie and already putting up comparable stats, I’d expect him to be the superior player in a year or two. So right now I’d give Zeke the edge on potential.
His 157-yard outing against Green Bay in Week 6 (on a 5.6-yard-per-carry average) made Elliott the first player since Lil Wayne's homie Chris Johnson in 2009 and just the 11th player ever to rush for at least 130 yards in four straight games.
Elliott also broke the great Tony Dorsett’s team rookie rushing record -- back in November. Ironically, Dorsett had previously owned the record with 1,007 yards in 1977 to help lead the Cowboys to a 12-2 record and a win in Super Bowl XII, something that Elliot’s arrival has made a real possibility for Cowboys fans this season.
What separates Elliott from the pack right now is the pressure cooker he plays in as the No. 1 pick for America’s Team and the burden he carries as a rookie playing with a rookie QB.
If you don’t agree with my reasoning then let’s go to the almighty salary for value assessment. This season, Ezekiel Elliott earned $3,340,170 more than Le'Veon Bell. I’m just saying...He should. He's a bigger star already. And one with staying power.
Looking forward, Dallas can count on Zeke to average five yards per carry and get downfield for monster gains in the passing game. His 83-yard TD is the longest reception among the two backs and despite Bell’s 72 snags, defenses don’t devises game plans just to stop him. Elliott however, is the first focus of every defensive coordinator’s Sunday strategy when meeting the Cowboys.
If you don’t stop Elliott, then Dallas wins as they did 26-20 on Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Bucs to remain two games ahead of the surging Giants in the NFC East.
Despite the pressure, the rookie has been the most consistent rusher in the game and if not for a 236-yard burst against the Bills, Bell’s rushing stats would be significantly less than Elliott’s.
Zeke The Freak may not be the No.1 all-purpose NFL back by much right now, but as far as ceilings go, his is higher than any other pigskin-toter in his class. We might as well anoint him now.
Ricardo Hazell's Pick: Le'Veon Bell
Comparisons are a part of what makes sports fun. Fans love to compare team against team, era against era, coach against coach. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell, any comparison to contemporary backs comes up short, even with someone as explosive as Dallas Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott. To compare a rookie to someone who has done it consistently since entering the draft in 2013 is something of an insult. However, for the sake of the argument, lets get it in.
When I read my colleagues arguments in favor of Elliott, I see so much flowery language sprouting here and there that it is only a matter of time before the stench of fertizlier wafts across my nostrils.
"Championship caliber pedigree"? Word?
Pardon me, but anytime someone mentions a current Dallas Cowboys player and the word "championship" in the same sentence I have to immediately check the flex capacitor on my time traveling Delorean to see what year it is. It's still 2016 and not 1992, right? Okay. Just making sure.
So, since it's 2016, and we're comparing apples to apples, Le'Veon Bell is already over a thousand yards rushing, having compiled 1,146 after missing the first four games of the season. Despite that, he's only 405 yards behind Elliott, who has started every game this year. Additionally, Bell has caught 72 passes for 601 yards. Comparatively, Elliott has caught 21 passes for 351 yards.
Also, Le'Veon is averaging 4.8 yards per carry compared to Zeke's 5.0 yards per carry. Bell currently has 1,747 total yards from scrimmage. Elliott has 1,902 total yards going into Week 16. That's only 155 less yards from scrimmage than Elliot with four fewer games.
Yet, we're asking who's better? Word? Such disrespect. We've heard how the Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in the National Football League since the preseason. You know where Pro Football Focus ranked the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coming into the season? 14th! That's barely above average in the 32 team NFL.
Maybe at the end of next season I'll concede that Elliot is better than Bell if he remains on his current arc, but right now all neon signs and detour arrows point to Le'Veon Bell as the better all-around running back. He's a better pass catcher out of the backfield, more elusive in space, is just plain faster in a straight line and around the edge. These factors give him the edge over the rookie, who I'll concede MIGHT be better between the tackles.
My colleague also stated that he believes these numbers are only the beginning for Elliott and that they're indicative of future superstardom. However, I would remind him that nothing is guaranteed in the National Football League. He's all over the place in that time traveling Delorean, boy, I tell ya what. He's saying "championship caliber" in describing Zeke as if the entire Cowboys franchise isn't a time bomb that's ticking exponentially louder as the playoffs grow near. Elliot is good, but he's still a Cowboy, and unless they win something soon he'll be indelibly marked with the star of mediocrity.
To further my point on the greatness of Bell, and why we need to not be so fast to crown a rookie as being better, I'll drop some numbers.
In his 46 career games, Bell has amassed 3,923 rushing yards and 1,990 receiving yards, for a total of 5,913 yards from scrimmage. That works out to an average of 128.5 scrimmage yards per game, the best yards from scrimmage average in NFL history! Better than Jim Brown, better than Marshall Faulk, Walter Payton, Terrell Davis and Barry Sanders.
Is there a mic to drop, a gavel to bang or a white flag to wave? Because this thing is over. We'll come back and argue this point again when we can look at his stats and say "Best in NFL history" when speaking of Ezekiel Elliott's prowess with the rock.