The Highest-Paid Running Backs in the NFL

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2018

The Highest-Paid Running Backs in the NFL

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    As running backs evolve in today's pass-first NFL, the value of the position has come under scrutiny.

    Some franchises are reluctant to extend long-term contract offers, weighing durability concerns with the potential of finding a replacement for less money. That's a contributing factor to Le'Veon Bell's holdout and subsequent decision to sit out the 2018 season.

    But several players are still paid handsomely.

    The list is based on total contract valuerather than picking out a single seasonand uses Spotrac data.

10. Dion Lewis

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Contract value: $19.8 million

    Dion Lewis is a classic never-give-up story.

    In 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles grabbed him in the fifth round. He totaled 71 touchesincluding kick returnsbefore getting shipped to the Cleveland Browns. A fractured fibula ended his 2013 season before it began, and Lewis didn't have an NFL home in 2014.

    Then, he caught on with the New England Patriots and showed his value. Lewis grabbed 85 passes over a three-year period and scampered for a career-best 896 yards in 2017.

    During the 2018 offseason, he joined the Tennessee Titans on a four-year contract worth nearly $20 million.

9. Ezekiel Elliott

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    Contract value: $24.9 million

    When the Dallas Cowboys used the No. 4 overall pick of the 2016 draft on Ezekiel Elliott, plenty criticized the decision. Valid or not as time continues, the Ohio State product excelled as a rookie.

    Elliott piled up NFL-best marks of 322 carries and 1,631 yards during that first season, tallying 15 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 32 passes for 363 yards and a score.

    Deservedly so, he was a first-team All-Pro.

    As "Zeke" plays out his rookie deal, he might slide out of the top 10. Once his second contract comes, though, he'll likely return.

8. Lamar Miller

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Contract value: $26.0 million

    Lamar Miller only knew Miami football. From high school to college to the NFL, he only suited up for a team in South Florida.

    But after he spent four seasons with the Miami Dolphins and notched 3,817 scrimmage yards and 22 touchdowns, the Houston Texans pried him away on a four-year, $26 million pact.

    Miller immediately became the featured back in Houston, posting his second career 1,000-yard season on the ground in 2016 and keeping that lead role into the 2018 season.

7. Leonard Fournette

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    Contract value: $27.2 million

    Injuries have overshadowed Leonard Fournette's sophomore season, but he put together a promising rookie campaign.

    In 13 appearances, the Jacksonville Jaguars runner collected 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. Fournette also grabbed 36 passes for 302 yards and a score while helping the franchise win its first division title since 1999.

    His rookie deal is fully guaranteed, so Fournette will receive all $27.2 million through the 2020 season.

6. Jerick McKinnon

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Contract value: $30.0 million

    Jerick McKinnon parlayed a few decent seasons as a complementary back into a massive deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

    A third-round pick in 2014, he accumulated 1,918 rushing yards and 142 receptions for 984 yards with 12 total touchdowns over a four-year span with the Minnesota Vikings. McKinnon then signed a contract valued at $30 million.

    Unfortunately for McKinnon and the Niners, however, a torn right ACL in preseason practice sidelined him for 2018.

5. Saquon Barkley

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Contract value: $31.2 million

    Saquon Barkley heard the same discussions that happened when Dallas snatched Elliott. Only this time, the New York Giants wrote down the versatile star's name at No. 2 overall.

    The early returns suggest he's worth it.

    Barkley is a rare bright spot in a flailing offense, gathering more than 1,000 scrimmage yards in his first nine NFL games. His unique combination of speed, strength and balance has been on full display and suggests a long, productive future.

    And at less than $8 million per season, the Giants could be getting a steal.

4. David Johnson

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Contract value: $39.0 million

    Only four players in NFL history have recorded 1,200 rushing and 800 receiving yards in the same year, per Pro Football Reference.

    David Johnson accomplished it during his second season.

    While powering his way to 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, the Northern Iowa product had 80 catches for 879 yards and four scores, earning first-team All-Pro recognition.

    Though a hand injury limited him to a single appearance in 2017, Johnson cashed in on his tremendous 2016 campaign when the Arizona Cardinals signed him to a $39 million extension through 2021 in September.

3. LeSean McCoy

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    Contract value: $40.0 million

    LeSean McCoy is nearing the end of a $40 million contract that began when he joined the Buffalo Bills in 2015.

    For six seasons, he was an integral piece of the Philadelphia Eagles backfield. McCoy posted four 1,000-yard years, leading the league in rushing touchdowns (17) in 2011 and yards (1,607) in 2013.

    But then, Chip Kelly sent McCoy to Buffalo. After an injury-shortened 2015 that ended with 1,187 scrimmage yards, he topped the 1,500-yard plateau in both 2016 and 2017.

    McCoy's contract expires after the 2019 season.

2. Devonta Freeman

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Contract value: $41.2 million

    2014 fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman had a quiet rookie season, managing just 473 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns on 95 touches as the backup to Steven Jackson. But once the veteran left, Freeman thrived.

    In 2015, he scampered for 1,056 yards and an NFL-best 11 touchdowns, securing 73 passes for 578 yards and three scores along the way. The next year, Freeman tallied a career-high 1,079 rushing yards with 54 catches for 462 yards and 13 total touchdowns.

    The Falcons had seen enough to make him a core piece of their future, signing Freeman to a $41.2 million extension in August 2017.

    Freeman registered 1,182 scrimmage yards in 2017 before foot, knee and groin injuries sent him to injured reserve in 2018.

1. Todd Gurley

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Contract value: $57.5 million

    Todd Gurley reset the market.

    He toiled in Jeff Fisher's anemic offense for two seasons yet still racked up 2,506 scrimmage yards and 16 touchdowns. Then, the arrival of Sean McVay unleashed a nightmare in the backfield.

    In 2017, Gurley ran for 1,305 yards and an NFL-best 13 touchdowns, and he added 64 catches for 788 yards and six scores. He propelled the franchise to its first division crown since 2003 and inked a $57 million extension during the offseason.

    Given how he's consistently torched defenses in 2018 with a league-leading 1,390 yards from scrimmage, there's no doubt Gurley is worth the money to the Rams.