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 The role and value of the running back in the NFL
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Posted - 08/11/2018 :  04:38:49  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
as much as any position over the past decade with a league-wide trend favoring versatile players who can contribute equally to the passing attack as to the ground game.Todd Gurley embodies the postmodern ball carrier as well as anyone.After racking up 2,093 yards and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage last year for the Los Angeles Rams to bounce back from a rough 2016 season, Gurley is again off to a running start with 220 total yards and four touchdowns in his first two games. Arizona¡¯s perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson aptly summed up the strategy for containing Gurley prior to the Rams-Cardinals game last week.¡°Just be like flying missiles,¡± Peterson said, ¡°always hitting him and getting 11 hats on the ball.¡±With Le¡¯Veon Bell still waiting to sign his contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and resume his equally electric career, Gurley was ranked as the NFL¡¯s top running back by a panel of 10 football writers from The Associated Press. He received nine first-place votes.¡°With offensive guru Sean McVay using him in all the right ways, Gurley has established himself as not only the NFL¡¯s No. 1 running back but one of the league¡¯s finest offensive pieces at any position,¡± wrote the Washington-based Howard Fendrich. ¡°He shows how a running back can still matter in today¡¯s game.¡±The Rams gave Gurley 343 touches last season, his third in the league, but 64 of those were catches for a whopping 788 yards. Not only does this increased emphasis on throwing to running backs keep defenses off-balance, it can reduce wear and tear by cutting down on time running between the tackles. So the Rams had no qualms about giving Gurley a contract extension this summer worth $60 million, two years before he was eligible for free agency.¡°Gurley is proof No. 1 that drafting running backs high can be a very good idea,¡± said Barry Wilner, the AP¡¯s national football writer in New York.Bell, who took first billing in the rankings last season , finished second despite spending the first two weeks of the season at home and counting. The lowest he placed on any ballot was fourth.¡°Worth every penny he¡¯s holding out to get,¡± wrote the Philadelphia-based Rob Maaddi.Ezekiel Elliott, who led the league in rushing yards per game in each of his first two years with the Dallas Cowboys, was close behind Bell for third place.¡°Just look at how much Dallas struggled during Elliott¡¯s suspension last year,¡± said Josh Dubow, who¡¯s based in the Bay Area.Rounding out the top 10: Alvin Kamara (fourth, New Orleans Saints), David Johnson (fifth, Arizona Cardinals), Kareem Hunt (sixth, Kansas City Chiefs), Saquon Barkley (seventh, New York Giants), Leonard Fournette (eighth, Jacksonville Jaguars) Melvin Gordon (ninth, Los Angeles Chargers) and LeSean McCoy (10th, Buffalo Bills).Hunt, who had to share the rookie spotlight last season with Fournette and Kamara, was the only one outside the top three who appeared on all 10 ballots. McCoy, who turned 30 this summer, was the only one older than 26 on the list. He was fourth in the NFL last year in yards from scrimmage, behind Gurley, Bell and Hunt.Barkley was the lone rookie on the list, a testament to his potential despite playing in only two professional games. The Denver-based Arnie Stapleton ranked him second, the same spot where Barkley was taken in the draft this spring ahead of quarterback Sam Darnold of the New York Jets.¡°The average lifespan of an NFL running back is much shorter,¡± Stapleton said, ¡°but what a life it could be for the Giants with Barkley leading the way.¡±The rankings:1. Todd Gurley, Rams2. Le¡¯Veon Bell, Steelers3. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys4. Alvin Kamara, Saints5. David Johnson, Cardinals6. Kareem Hunt, Chiefs7. Saquon Barkley, Giants8. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars9. Melvin Gordon, Chargers10. LeSean McCoy, Bills___ IRVINE, Calif. (AP) ¡ª While Aaron Donald¡®s second consecutive contract holdout drags deep into training camp, Todd Gurley and the rest of the Los Angeles Rams¡® offense have identified a silver lining to the persistent absence of the NFL¡¯s defensive player of the year.¡°We were talking about that last night,¡± Gurley said with a grin. ¡°We were like, `Literally, if A.D. was here, he would (mess) up the whole practice.¡¯ Because it¡¯s like, you get the handoff and he¡¯s right there. A guy like that you have to sit him back and tell him to tone it down a little bit just so you can get some good reps.¡±Although Donald¡¯s menacing presence looms large in his teammates¡¯ minds, he sometimes seems a distant figure to the Rams, who have completed their entire offseason program and all but the final few practices of training camp without their All-Pro defensive tackle. His teammates check Twitter and ask each other for news about the negotiations, but significant updates have been scarce.Donald is holding out while seeking a contract that would make him one of the NFL¡¯s highest-paid players regardless of position. The Rams and Donald¡¯s representation have made almost no public pronouncements about the state of their negotiations, and coach Sean McVay dutifully provides daily updates about the talks despite having no new information almost every day.Something appeared to move last week when general manager Les Snead said the sides were ¡°in the same ZIP Code, area, ballpark,¡± and McVay expressed optimism about increased momentum.But until a significant move happens, the Rams will wait: Ndamukong Suh will continue to practice without his new teammate alongside him, while Gurley and Jared Goff will continue to practice without the threat of Donald looming just across the line.¡°We¡¯ve talked about that for two offseasons now,¡± Goff said. ¡°It¡¯s not nice not having him here, (but) it¡¯s nice being able to get off some good plays and not have to worry about him ruining the play, I think is a better way to put it. Yeah, we miss him and hope he comes back soon.¡±The Rams have designs on Super Bowl contention after their breakthrough year under McVay, and they downplay the notion that Donald¡¯s continued absence will hurt their plans in any significant way. Donald didn¡¯t rejoin the Rams last season until the day before their opener, and he still had no problem fitting into new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips¡¯ scheme once he returned to the field in Week 2.With a full year of Phillips¡¯ coaching behind him, Donald should know what to do from the moment he arrives. McVay also said the Rams aren¡¯t worried about Donald being in top physical shape, since they know he is working out aggressively at home in Pittsburgh.Yet the Rams obviously would prefer to build their defense around several weeks of work and film study with Donald. McVay acknowledged he speaks to Donald regularly, but the coach largely exchanges pleasantries and inquires about Donald¡¯s family instead of asking about contract talks.When Donald reports, McVay laughs at the notion it would disrupt anything about the defending NFC West champions¡¯ preparations.¡°That would be a disruption that would be more than welcomed right now,¡± said McVay, who had been disappointed with his club¡¯s focus in practice earlier in the week.The Rams have already showed their willingness to ink long-term contracts during this offseason when they signed Gurley and receiver Brandin Cooks to lengthy, lucrative deals.Donald missed a reporting deadline last week that consigns him to restricted free agent status in the upcoming offseason, but neither side appears to be worried about it. The Rams have always said they would prefer a long-term deal with Donald, but they also have the option of using their franchise tag on him in 2019.Until Donald and the Rams figure out a way forward, Gurley will continue to burst through the line at practice without worrying about Donald ¡ª and McVay will continue to answer questions about the negotiations in each of his daily media briefings.¡°I don¡¯t really know anything else,¡± the second-year coach said with a laugh.¡ª¡ª
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