With Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboysreaching an agreement on a deal, the Chargers' fifth-year running back looks to be the lone RB who could miss significant time due to a holdout. Over the weekend, Los Angeles gave Gordon's representatives the liberty to seek a trade, as general manager Tom Telesco will not negotiate a new deal for the running back until after the season. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport previously reported the Chargers offered Gordon a deal worth $10 million per season and would not budge.
Man, this whole ordeal is unfortunate. The Chargers are right in the thick of their Super Bowl window, with an aging quarterback in Philip Rivers who's playing some of his best football, and they need their star back to remain a contender. The Chargers might think Gordon, who has logged 1,079 touches since 2015 (behind only Todd Gurley), is just a guy, but they're in for a rude awakening without him. Gordon has recorded at least 1,300 scrimmage yards and hit paydirt 12 times in each of the last three seasons. Running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will fit the bill in the Chargers' backfield for a while, but I don't think they'll be able to sustain a high level of production for an entire season.
1) Houston Texans: The Texans just made a pair of major trades, so why not make another one? Houston hasn't fielded a consistent run game in years, and it shouldn't expect anything different with Duke Johnson starting in place of the injured Lamar Miller. Having made just three starts over the last three seasons, Johnson will likely split carries with Carlos Hyde, who's on his fifth (!) team in the past three years after last week's trade between Kansas City and Houston. Behind an improved offensive line, Gordon would be a major threat in both the run and pass games -- and he'd pair well with Deshaun Watson. This is the move that Houston needs to make in order to be a true contender.
2) Atlanta Falcons:Devonta Freeman is one of the most productive running backs when he's healthy, but Atlanta's RB1 has missed 16 games over the last two seasons due to injury. His injury history's concerning, as is the shaky offensive line. The Falcons did add guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary in this year's draft, which should help, but they need a dynamic, consistent back who can demand eight-man boxes to free up the dangerous passing attack. Gordon can be that guy. He'd certainly make the unit a pick-your-poison offense that defenses would routinely struggle to stop. The reason Atlanta could trade for Gordon is because it has a potential out on Freeman's contract after the 2019 season. It could be the perfect time for the Falcons to make a huge move.
3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs' ground game ranked 29th in 2018. That's not going to cut it if Bruce Arians wants to make a move to the top of the NFC South. The Bucs' rushing attack currently features Peyton Barber (871 yards in '18) and Ronald Jones II (44 yards as a rookie last year), and neither is a downhill runner, which is what this offense desperately needs. The jury is still out on whether or not Jones can be that guy, but if he's not, Gordon could be the bell cow Arians' offense needs. Gordon's ability to catch out of the backfield and be a hard-nosed runner between the tackles would relieve Jameis Winston of a ton of pressure and give the offense much-needed balance.
Entering the 2019 NFL season, former All-Pro running back and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew examines all RBs and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the Ground Index rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2019 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.
Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. Now, let's get to it. Entering Week 1, here is MJD's pecking order:
**2018 stats:** 16 games | 261 att | 1,307 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 11 rush TDs | 91 rec | 721 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
There is a reason Barkley is the top pick in most fantasy football leagues. He totaled a league-high 2,028 scrimmage yards in 2018 and topped off his first season with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. If there is one sure thing this season, it's that Barkley will again be the focal point of Big Blue's offense.
**2018 stats:** 15 games | 194 att | 883 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 14 rush TDs | 81 rec | 709 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
I can't wait to see how Kamara does in his first full season as the Saints' starting RB. Over the past two seasons, Kamara has been one of the most productive and efficient running backs in the NFL, and he couldn't be in a more perfect offense for his skill set. Sean Payton's creativity will allow the two-time Pro Bowler to run all over defenses in 2019.
**2017 stats:** 15 games | 321 att | 1,291 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 85 rec | 655 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Expect Bell to be an absolute terror in Adam Gase's offense after sitting out all of 2018. The last time Bell played a full season, in 2017, he racked up nearly 2,000 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. He's also bound to show out for his fantasy football owners after issuing an apology in July for missing last season. Oh, boy -- this is about to get good!
**2018 stats:** 15 games | 304 att | 1,434 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 77 rec | 567 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
No. 21 is back in the building, having inked a six-year, $90 million contract extension that makes him the highest-paid back in the NFL. Zeke is the crucial piece in Dallas, as he boasts the fifth-highest average for rushing yards per game (101.2) by a player in his first three seasons in NFL history. He also became more of an asset in the pass game last season (career-high 77 catches) and should continue to improve in that aspect.
**2018 stats:** 16 games | 219 att | 1,098 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 107 rec | 867 rec yds | 6 rec TDs
McCaffrey is so underappreciated in this league. After accruing just shy of 2,000 scrimmage yards, the Panthers back wasn't even a Pro Bowler. There is something seriously wrong with that. McCaffrey was close to joining the 1,000/1,000 club a year ago, and he has a real chance to do that in his third NFL season.
**2018 stats:** 14 games | 256 att | 1,251 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 17 rush TDs | 59 rec | 580 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
To some people out there (I won't name names), Gurley enters the season with questions. What those people shouldn't question? He leads all running backs in most major metrics since 2015, including carries, rush yards, touches, scrimmage yards and scrimmage TDs. And he was one of the most productive backs in the NFL a year ago. His value to the Rams is second to none, as the team is 17-1 in the McVay era when Gurley has at least 20 touches and just 7-8 when Gurley has fewer than 20 touches. That tells me McVay is going to get Gurley his touches -- maybe not more than he had last season, but he'll get 'em.
**2018 stats:** 14 games | 237 att | 1,168 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 43 rec | 296 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Mixon was fourth in rushing yards (1,168) a season ago, and the Bengals' offense looks poised to run through its running back again this season, especially with the injury to A.J. Green. Not to mention, first-year head coach Zac Taylor, a former student of Sean McVay, should positively impact the offense and know how to utilize his talented, young running back.
**2018 stats:** 16 games | 192 att | 996 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 20 rec | 149 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
With Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry demanding attention from defenses, it will be hard for opponents to load the box against the Browns. That will give Chubb a big advantage and the opportunity to earn a lot of yards on the ground (he averaged a robust 5.2 ypc last season), especially if he can make just one guy miss. Expect Chubb to surpass the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his second pro season.
**2018 stats:** 11 games | 133 att | 615 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 40 rec | 305 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
**2018 stats:** 13 games | 209 att | 931 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 7 rec | 50 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Michel is coming off an impressive postseason performance that saw him log 71 carries for 336 yards and a rookie-record six rushing TDs in three games. He's earned the right to be the Patriots' bell cow during the regular season and should see a lot of action in Josh McDaniels' offense.
**2018 stats:** 10 games | 118 att | 641 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 32 rec | 213 rec yds | 1 rec TD
There's a lot of hype surrounding the Lions' second-year running back, and I'm buying it. Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a rookie and will get the rock plenty with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell calling the shots. Bevell's past success in Seattle (2011-17) and Minnesota (2006-10) is promising for Johnson and the run game.
**2018 stats:** 12 games | 133 att | 728 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 26 rec | 206 rec yds | 1 rec TD
In 2018, Jones led the Packers in carries (133), rush yards (728) and rush TDs (eight), even while splitting carries with Jamaal Williams. More impressive is the fact that Jones led all qualified NFL running backs (100 attempts or more) with 5.5 yards per carry. His effectiveness as a runner and receiver out of the backfield should bode well in Matt LaFleur's offense.
**2018 stats:** 13 games | 215 att | 973 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 55 rec | 497 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Conner took full advantage of his opportunity in 2018 and ranked sixth in the league with 113.1 scrimmage yards per game. Although reports suggest the Steelers will have a committee of backs getting in on the action, there is no question Conner will get the bulk of the touches behind a stout offensive line.
**2018 stats:** 16 games | 215 att | 1,059 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 15 rec | 99 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Henry enters the 2019 season as one of the hottest backs in the league. In the final quarter of the 2018 campaign, the former Heisman Trophy winner averaged 146.3 rushing yards per game. Henry comes into his fourth NFL season with more confidence than ever, and he should know the Titans will run their offense through him.
**2018 stats:** 8 games | 133 att | 439 rush yds | 3.3 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 22 rec | 185 rec yds | 1 rec TD
After a disappointing season for Fournette and the Jaguars, the third-year back has rededicated himself to football. He's down 20 pounds and refocused on building off his 2017 campaign, when he racked up 1,040 rush yards and 10 total TDs. This could be a make-or-break season for the former No. 4 overall pick, so I suspect he'll approach it as such.