Conventional NFL wisdom says you shouldn’t make expensive investments in running backs, and we can argue if the Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants made the right call with their star backs.
But it’s undeniable that Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley are two of the best in the game.
The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants face off on Monday night, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app. It’s a rare game between two teams that have built around a running back. That’s not the norm in a league that values passing and has devalued running backs.
Barkley and Elliott are undeniably great, but which one is better?
Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott among the best
Barkley and Elliott were the rare running back prospects each selected in the top five of the draft. Elliott was the fourth pick of the 2016 draft, ahead of future All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Barkley was the second overall pick of the 2018 draft, famously going ahead of quarterback Sam Darnold.
Both players have been quite productive:
Barkley (21 games): 80 rushing yards per game, 5.0-yard average, 42 receiving yards per game, 7.8 yards per catch, 0.86 touchdowns per game
Elliott (47 games): 98.9 rushing yards per game, 4.6-yard average, 29.3 receiving yards per game, 8.6 yards per catch, 0.85 touchdowns per game
Elliott has more total yards per game, but has played with a much better offensive line. Barkley is a tremendous receiver, but Elliott can catch the ball too. Elliott shattered a career high with 77 catches last season.
Elliott has two rushing titles, and might have had a third had he not been suspended at the start of the 2017 season (Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards per game that season). Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 total yards from scrimmage in his first NFL season last year.
It would be hard to pick one over the other. And they both will be facing off in NFC East games for a while. Barkley is 22 years old and Elliott just turned 24.
Cowboys, Giants built around their backs
The Cowboys signed Elliott to a six-year, $90 million contract after a holdout through the preseason. That speaks to how the Cowboys value him. Presumably, Barkley will surpass that. He was one of the best running back prospects in many, many years, and has lived up to that billing.
In a better situation, perhaps Barkley could win some rushing titles like Elliott has. Barkley has an unrivaled skill set, but it’s hard to argue with Elliott’s consistency and production. He’s the rare running back who rarely comes off the field and never seems to get injured or wear down.
There will be plenty of interest in Monday night’s game from fantasy football players. Barkley and Elliott were early first-round picks in most drafts. They had the fourth- and fifth-highest selling NFL jerseys last season. In a league with teams trying to fill running back spots with bargain options, these two superstars stand out.
It’s hard to pick just one.
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