He waited, and waited, and waited, but Ezekiel Elliott’s hard stance paid off and the Dallas Cowboys paid up.
He becomes the NFL’s highest-paid running back, signing a $90m extension, with $50m guaranteed as part of the six-year deal.
The $15m per year average takes him just above Todd Gurley on $14.375m, but to put it in context, the man who led the NFL in rushing yards is only the 55th best-paid player in the league.
Elliott still takes home less than Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins and Nick Foles. Zeke deserved to get paid.
He has raised the bar for his position, but who is the ‘next-man up’?
Over the next 12/18 months, one of these running backs has the explosive talent to change the game again and surpass Zeke’s contract.
NFL tip: Back Ezekiel Elliot to rush for over 1500 yards – 7/4
Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
No one is really sure how Cam Newton’s shoulder is going to hold up under the strains of the NFL, and if the Panthers want to get back to the Super Bowl, RunCMC needs to become the focus of their offence.
Already averaging $4.31m a year, McCaffrey’s contract is up in 2022. After finishing sixth in rushing yards in 2018, another impressive season should spark talks on a new blockbuster deal.
Expect the RB to surpass his totals from last year, going over 7.5 TDs and 1050 yards shouldn’t be an issue.
He’s older, he’s wiser, he is what running backs are going to become if they want to play longer in this league.
NFL tip: Back the Carolina Panthers to reach the playoffs – 7/4
Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints
This is now Kamara’s offensive. Drew Brees is still around, but if the Saints want to land the biggest prize in football, all roads lead through their explosive running back.
With Mark Ingram gone, it would be a shock if he didn’t break the 1000-yard marker, and improve on his 4.6 yards per carry on the ground. He may not exceed his 14-touchdown season of 2018, but double figures should be a given.
Becoming the Saints main 3rd down back will also increase his chances of surpassing his four receiving touchdowns.
Currently earning $964k per year, once his rookie contract is up, he could break all the records and lead the evolution of the running back position.
NFL Tip: Alvin Kamara to get both 1000 rushing and receiving yards – 16/1
Saqoun Barkley – New York Giants
With 1307 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and 721 yards in the air, just imagine what the second-year back could do with competent players around him.
We might not get to see what that looks like until Eli Manning, and maybe even Daniel Jones leave New York, but it would be such a waste if MetLife Stadium fails to witness the very best of Saqoun.
He’s a generational talent and one of the most explosive backs we’ve seen in years. It’s up to the Giants to put the pieces around him. The offensive line is better, and before his rookie contract expires in 2023, they have time to build the other options around him.
Every opposition gameplan will involve stopping him. Give them more reasons to worry and Barkley will take his game to another level. Then, and only then, would his next contract change the game.
NFL Tip: Back Barkley to rush for 1500+ yards and score 15 rushing TDs – 16/1
The Rest – Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones & James Conner
One belief amongst the decision-makers in the NFL is that running backs are easily replaced. Once one goes down or refuses to play (Hi, Le’Veon Bell), the next man up takes his place and no one notices the difference (enter James Conner).
Yet, when you compare 2017 to last year, Bell went for 300 more yards and had 18 more first downs. Not to mention the Steelers were 13-3, not 9-6.
If the Jets see a massive improvement with him beside Darnold, it should lead to a conversation about just how important running backs can be.
NFL Tip: James Conner to have 1000+ Regular Season Rushing Yards & 10+ Regular Season Rushing TDs – 9/4
Averaging 4.5 yards a carry, Conner has the ability to drive the Steelers to the AFC North title, but until it happens, he will always be replaceable. The same can be said for Jones at Green Bay and the Vikings RB1, Dalvin Cook.
Last year they averaged 5.5 and 4.6 yards per carry respectively, but both missed a large chunk of the season through injury. Jones has the chance to be a very dangerous weapon beside Aaron Rodgers and he has shown he has the potential to challenge guys like Kamara and McCaffrey, but until he plays a full season, he’s remains in the tier below.
Cook unleashed an 85-yard touchdown run in preseason, seeing his stock rise. If he continues to improve on his 305 receiving yards and scores double-digit touchdowns, he will be seen as a valuable asset beside Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, firing himself into the upper-echelon of running backs once his contract runs out in 2021.
NFL Tip: Bet on Dalvin Cook to rush for under 1025 yards – 17/20