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NFL's easiest, hardest jobs: Todd Gurley's burden

Ezekiel Elliott is wrong. The Cowboys running back doesn't have what he recently claimed was "one of the easiest jobs in America." Any NFL player works harder than, say, a tank-top model or hack sportswriter.

Elliott does have one of the easiest jobs in the NFL, however. He will be running behind a loaded offensive line with three of the best players at their respective positions: tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick. Elliott receives handoffs from perhaps the most underrated quarterback of this generation. Taking over as the Cowboys' starting running back in 2016 is like taking over the Cowboys' coaching job in 1994. Barry Switzer could do it.

It doesn't matter how much pressure Elliott is under to perform. Pressure is carrying an entire organization or making defenders miss behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive line was so good in 2015 that the Cowboys finished fifth in yards per carry despite 12 starts at quarterback by Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore. Darren McFadden went from being one of football's least effective runners three straight years in Oakland to a top-five rusher in Dallas. That's easy.

So Elliott's job is one of the best in football. What are some of the other easiest gigs? And what are some of the hardest?

Easiest jobs

Carolina Panthers cornerback: Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman's decision to send Josh Norman packing after a career year by the corner shouldn't have been so surprising. Gettleman changes defensive backs like Cam Newtonchanges headgear.

Gettleman replaced his entire starting secondary in 2014. Two years later, Tre Boston, Bene' Benwikere and Colin Jones are the only defensive backs remaining from that roster. Boston and Benwikere were late-round picks, while Jones is in the second year of a two-year, $1.86 million extension. Combined, the three will count for $2.2 million against the cap this year, which is less than 15 percent of Norman's signing bonus in Washington.

The Panthers can shuffle their secondary because their system sets up their players for success. The team's defensive front seven, led by tackle Kawann Short and linebacker Luke Kuechly, ranks among football's most talented groups. The pass rush ensures that the cornerbacks don't have to cover for long, while the linebackers excel in covering wide swaths of the field. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's scheme also allows the cornerbacks to play off-man coverage with plenty of deep-safety help, so they aren't beat deep.

When the secondary is viewed through this prism, it's less surprising that the Panthers are set to start a pair of rookies, second-rounder James Bradberry and third-rounder Daryl Worley, at cornerback. The defense has excelled with veteran castoffs and late-round picks because it's practically a cornerback-proof team. Perhaps the only surprise is that Gettleman drafted his starters so early.

Green Bay Packers head coach: This is no slight to Mike McCarthy, who is one of the best offensive coaches and play callers of the last decade. It is simply a recognition that he landed in football heaven.

Managing the transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers wasn't easy, but then again, it's a high-class problem to have too many all-time great quarterbacks. McCarthy was an unconventional choice for the Packers in 2006, given that the 49ers team for which he had served as offensive coordinator was coming off a 4-12 season. The man that could see McCarthy's potential? General manager Ted Thompson.

Getting to coach the most talented quarterback in football is good fortune. Working for one of the smartest, steadiest personnel men in football is good fortune. Landing with both for your first head-coaching job is winning the NFL lottery.

McCarthy earned his own street and deserves credit for seven straight playoff appearances. He has proven to be the right man for this Packers job, but it's worth considering that Rodgers and Thompson have helped to shield McCarthy from some valid questions about his game management and struggles in close contests.

New York Jets outside linebacker: Your job would be a lot easier, too, if Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson ran interference for you all day.

Rex Ryan never found a pure pass rusher during his time as Jets coach, and Todd Bowles is still looking for one. But it hasn't particularly mattered. The Jets have averaged a fifth-place finish in yards allowed since 2009 despite their best outside linebacker being ... Calvin Pace?

The Jets get away with this because their defensive line is so talented. Wilkerson, Williams and Richardson not only occupy blockers, they defeat them. It's a math problem for offenses. With so many double-teams up front, the linebackers find room to roam or overmatched running backs and tight ends to exploit. This is also true for inside linebackers like David Harris who get the space to make plays.

The Jets don't need great outside linebackers. Third-round pick Jordan Jenkins is likely to start, while second-year pro Lorenzo Mauldin is a nice Making the Leap candidate because of the guys in front of him. And if Jenkins and Mauldin don't pan out, no one will particularly notice. That's the definition of an easy job.

Hardest jobs

Los Angeles Rams running back: Coach Jeff Fisher encapsulated Todd Gurley's value to Los Angeles in a meeting with other coaches on the latest episode of "Hard Knocks."

"Just so everybody understands, defensively, that 30 [Gurley] doesn't need to f------ be hit in a 9-on-7 [drill]. OK? I don't want 30 tackled. We need 30. ... We need to treat him like a frickin' quarterback."

There isn't a non-quarterback who means more to his offense than Gurley does to the Rams. He has to run with the weight of a nondescript passing game, an inexperienced offensive line and a conservative coach on his back. Defenses can scheme to stop the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year because they know Fisher still treats the forward pass like an uninvited houseguest.

Since 2008, 320 players have recorded seasons with more than 800 receiving yards. Not a single one was a Ram. Without help around him, Gurley will face difficult down-and-distance situations. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff looks unlikely to provide immediate relief.

The truly special running backs can transcend the situations around them. Just ask Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders. Fisher knows that Gurley could be that kind of back if the Rams don't ruin it.

Indianapolis Colts cornerback: Take a defense with very little pass rush. Add in the fact that the unit has registered an average finish of 21st in yards allowed in the four seasons since the current regime took over, including 26th last season. Sprinkle in copious injuries and a scheme that asks cornerbacks to play aggressive man coverage. You have the recipe for your 2016 Colts cornerbacks. Toast.

Recent veteran signeeAntonio Cromartie will have his hands full early this season as he tries to replace Vontae Davis, who is recovering from an ankle injury. The Colts' taxing situation for cornerbacks helps to explain why Greg Toler, previously a solid starter, finished No. 111 out 118 qualifiers in ProFootballFocus' cornerback metrics last season. (Toler signed with Washington this offseason.) Two other Colts cornerbacks -- Darius Butler and Jalil Brown -- finished No. 90 and 95. (Davis was No. 25.)

Colts coach Chuck Pagano has taken to calling himself the "assistant secondary coach" this season. He knows this group needs all the help it can get.

San Francisco 49ers coach: The last 49ers coach lasted one season. The one before that was forced out after going 44-19-1 in four seasons. This is a hazardous position even before you look at the roster.

When coming up with this list, I considered making 49ers No. 1 receiver the toughest job because of the quarterback situation, the lack of receiver depth and the pace of games, not to mention practice. I also considered picking 49ers quarterback for the toughest job, because of current coach Chip Kelly's exacting standards, a shaky offensive line and the lack of weapons at receiver. You get the idea.

There is so much faith in Kelly as a mastermind that tight end Vance McDonald and receiver Bruce Ellington are seen as potential breakout players. Blaine Gabbert as a Week 1 starter at quarterback doesn't feel that insane. If Kelly could get Nick Foles to the Pro Bowl in 2013 or Mark Sanchez to begrudging, if fleeting, national respect in 2014, how hard could this be?

After his three-year Eagles tenure ended with his firing in December, Kelly probably felt he had no choice but to take this 49ers job. There was no guarantee that another gig would come along. There should be guaranteed Coach of the Year votes if he wins with this roster.

Chicago Bears quarterback: There is no lonelier American task than defending Jay Cutler. But let's really look at what's surrounding the Bears quarterback entering his eighth and possibly final season in Chicago:

1) After his most impressive season with the Bears, Cutler has yet another new offensive coordinator. Dowell Loggains has run one NFL offense, the 2013 Titans attack led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker.

2) Quarterbacks are heavily scrutinized everywhere. But there is something different about the public disdain that seems to follow Bears quarterbacks, and especially Cutler. It's strange, because even those Bears teams the fans can't stop talking about didn't exactly have great quarterback play.

3) Cutler's head coach, John Fox, has turned kneeling before halftime into an art form.

4) The Bears led the league in first-half run percentage and percentage of runs while trailing in the second half, according to the Football Outsiders Almanac. Fox loves to run, but he doesn't truly have the talent in the backfield to do so with Jeremy Langford leading the way.

5) ProFootball Focus ranked the Bears' offensive line 30th entering the 2016 season, and that was before the team lost starting center Hroniss Grasu for the year. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie could be the shakiest tackle duo in football.

6) Yes, Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White and Eddie Royal are a promising trio at receiver. But if Cutler has been a "coach killer" in his career, this group could be a quarterback killer. They combined for 18 games last year. Jeffery has proven immensely talented but unreliable, which is one reason the Bears haven't signed him to a long-term deal. White had one big season in college and still looks raw by all accounts after missing his rookie season last year to injury. This group has just enough name value to create unrealistic expectations.

7) The Bears' young defense also doesn't figure to be good enough to make up for any offensive inconsistency.

Add it all up, and Cutler is going to take the brunt of the blame for a tough situation. He will surely bear much of the responsibility and may not appear to care. That's why defending Jay Cutler also remains one of the hardest jobs in football.

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