NFC East: Rashard Mendenhall

PHILADELPHIA -- The good news for Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly is he doesn’t have to spend the next couple months traveling to high school kids’ homes and recruiting them.

The bad news?

"It’s a different league," Kelly said. "This isn't recruiting where you can go out and offer and try to get them to come. There's a selection in the draft process and we're not going to pick until the 22nd [spot in the first round]. There's 21 other guys that we may covet, but we don't have an opportunity to get them."

If a team drafted 22d every year and did well, it could be awfully good. Based on the last 10 years, drafting only players taken between No. 22 and No. 32 (the end of the first round), a team could have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Santonio Holmes, running backs Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson, linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, safety Brandon Meriweather and defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Sharrif Floyd.

You could do worse. Plenty of teams did do worse. Cleveland took two quarterbacks, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden, at No. 22.

Later we’ll look at some possible players the Eagles could consider at No. 22 in this year’s draft. For now, here’s a quick look at the 22nd pick in each of the past 10 NFL drafts, along with a few players that were on the board at the time (I didn’t go beyond the end of the first round out of fairness; just looking at first-round graded players):

2013: Cornerback Desmond Trufant from Washington, selected by Atlanta.

On the board: Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, WR/Returner Cordarrelle Patterson, defensive end Datone Jones.

2012: Quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State, selected by Cleveland.

On the board: Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Nick Perry, running back Doug Martin.

2011: Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo from Boston College, selected by Indianapolis.

On the board: Offensive lineman Danny Watkins, defensive end Cameron Jordan, running back Mark Ingram.

2010: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech, selected by Denver.

On the board: Wide receiver Dez Bryant, quarterback Tim Tebow, cornerback Devin McCourty.

2009: Wide receiver Percy Harvin from Florida, selected by Minnesota.

On the board: Offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Clay Matthews.

2008: RB Felix Jones from Arkansas, selected by Dallas.

On the board: Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson, cornerback Mike Jenkins.

2007: Quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame, selected by Cleveland.

On the board: Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, safety Brandon Meriweather, linebackers Jon Beason and Anthony Spencer, offensive tackle Joe Staley.

2006: Linebacker Manny Lawson from N.C. State, selected by San Francisco.

On the board: Offensive lineman Davin Joseph, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, running back DeAngelo Williams, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.

2005: Wide receiver Mark Clayton from Oklahoma, selected by Baltimore.

On the board: Cornerback Fabian Washington, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Roddy White.

2004: Quarterback J.P. Losman from Tulane, selected by Buffalo.

On the board: Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Jason Babin.

The Dallas Cowboys selected running back Felix Jones with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. The next two picks that day were running backs as well -- Rashard Mendenhall to the Steelers and Chris Johnson to the Titans. That year's second-round running backs were Matt Forte and Ray Rice. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to build draft boards.

Anyway, after five years as one of the worst kinds of NFL running backs -- the injury-prone backup -- Jones was cut loose by the Cowboys this offseason and has, as Adam Schefter reports, agreed to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Because the Eagles already have LeSean McCoy as their No. 1 running back and Bryce Brown -- who ran like a No. 1 last year when McCoy got hurt -- as a No. 2, you likely have questions about why they want Jones. I'm sure they'll explain it when asked, but here's my first stab at it:

New Eagles coach Chip Kelly wants to run the ball a heck of a lot, and it's entirely possible he'll find ways to get more than two running backs semi-regular carries. Eagles fans aren't used to this, but a lot of things are going to be different this year and this is one of them. Jones also offers some level of versatility, provided he can stay healthy. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He has big-play ability. And should things go wrong with McCoy and/or Brown, Jones has some experience (though you can question its quality) as a between-the-tackles starting running back as well.

So yeah, I figure Jones has a chance to make the Eagles as a No. 3 back and get some amount of work in games if he does. And remember that this is a new coaching staff that might have a different opinion of Brown than the old one did. Brown showed a lot of good things late last year, but he also showed a penchant for fumbling that likely leaves his spot on the depth chart somewhat less secure. There was a time when someone thought Jones was a first-round talent -- well ahead of backs who actually turned out to be. Surely, he's worth a May 14 flier for a team that's looking to run as many offensive plays as possible in 2013.

How you feeling? Giants-Steelers

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
11:00
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As the New York Giants prepare to host the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4:25 p.m. here at MetLife Stadium, here's one reason for Giants fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The Steelers are a much tougher team at home and are just 1-3 on the road this year. They're also banged-up at running back, with Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer unlikely to play due to injuries and Isaac Redman in line to start. At full strength and at home, the Steelers would be a threat to beat the Giants with a clock-killing, ball-control type of offense. And they'll still try to do that with Ben Roethlisberger and a short passing game that could take some of the starch out of the Giants' pass rush. But being on the road and undermanned will affect the Steelers' ability to run the kind of offensive game plan they want to run, and the Giants should be able to outscore them.

Cause for concern: On defense, the Giants rely on the ability of their front four to pressure and sack the quarterback. Roethlisberger, who's extremely mobile and adept at extending plays inside and outside the pocket, is very difficult to sack. Pittsburgh has allowed just 14 sacks so far this season, and a lot of that success is because of how slippery Roethlisberger can be behind the line while still keeping his eyes downfield to try to make a play. The Giants' defense faces one of its toughest and most unusual tests of the season in Roethlisberger and will have to be judicious in the way they rush the passer.

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' last-second loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.

What it means: A taste of their own medicine, as the Eagles lost the close game this time after the Steelers one-upped them on fourth-quarter drives. It was a sloppy game all around, and a tough loss in a tough place to play. But if you were waiting for the day all of the Eagles' mistakes were going to cost them one of these one-point or two-point games, Sunday was the day. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was impressive late, but he was awful enough in the first half to dig the Eagles a hole from which they could not escape.

Tale of two QBs: Vick was 7-for-12 for 70 yards in the first half, and he also rushed four times for 11 yards and lost two fumbles. Philadelphia trailed 10-0 at the half, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had just put on a clinic in responsible, efficient quarterbacking with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 7:21 off the clock. It was a study in critical contrast. But out of nowhere in the fourth quarter, Vick and the Eagles topped it with a 17-play, 79-yard drive that bled 8:18 off the clock and gave them their first lead of the game with 6:33 left to play. On the drive, Vick was 7-for-10 for 57 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek. The Eagles converted two fourth downs and two third downs on the drive, including a third-and-goal from the 2. Had they played offense this way all game, they may have actually won somewhat easily.

For the defense: Roethlisberger was able to find some things in the Eagles' secondary, showcasing what an important part pressure plays in the Eagles' defensive schemes. Nnamdi Asomugha is not winning consistently enough in man coverage, and Antonio Brown had some fun against the Eagles' defensive backs. Philadelphia also struggled to contain Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall in his first game of the season, and they were unable to make the stops they needed to make on the drive that moved the Steelers into field goal range at the end of the game. For the second game in a row, the Eagles did not record a sack.

What's next: The Eagles host the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Lions (1-3) have lost three games in a row and are coming off their bye week. It will be the second consecutive week in which the Eagles' opponent was off the week before.

How you feeling? Eagles-Steelers

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
10:00
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PITTSBURGH -- As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to face the Steelers here at 1 pm ET on Sunday afternoon, here is one reason for Eagles fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The Eagles have shown a great deal of toughness and resolve so far this year -- characteristics they appeared to lack during last season's disappointing start. So while Heinz Field is one of the least welcoming venues in the league, there's little reason to think this Philadelphia team can't handle the difficulties it and the Steelers present. So far this season, the Steelers' defense has just one interception and one forced fumble, which means they don't (so far, at least) appear to be a team poised to take advantage of the Eagles' biggest weakness. They aren't an easy team against which to move the ball this year, averaging 190 pass yards and 101 rushing yards allowed per game, but the Eagles have shown an ability to win tough, low-scoring games and should feel good about their chances to hang in as long as they can hold onto the ball.

Cause for concern: Any team stats the Steelers have put up this season have come shorthanded, as they've been without linebacker James Harrison and running back Rashard Mendenhall for their first three games and without star safety Troy Polamalu for the past two. All three of those players are expected back this week, which means the Steelers are getting healthy and should be well-rested coming off their bye week. The Eagles are still banged up on the offensive line, so if Harrison is going to boost the Pittsburgh pass rush, it could make life difficult for Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Steelers getting healthy for Eagles

October, 3, 2012
10/03/12
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The Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday will be in Pittsburgh to face a Steelers team that's coming off its bye week and, it appears, getting several key players back from injury. Linebacker James Harrison, who has yet to play this year due to a knee injury, and safety Troy Polamalu, who has missed the past two games with a calf injury, are expected to play. The Steelers also believe they could have running back Rashard Mendenhall for the first time this season.

Without Harrison this year, as AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley points out in that there link, the Steelers have just five sacks. Only two teams -- Jacksonville and Oakland -- have fewer. Without Polamalu, the Steelers have forced only two turnovers in their last two games. Getting the two of them back could be a major boost against an Eagles team that is banged-up on the offensive line and turned the ball over 12 times in its first three games before going turnover-free in Sunday's victory over the Giants.

Without Mendenhall, the Steelers rank 31st in the league this year with 65 rushing yards per game. It remains to be seen how healthy Mendenhall will be or how much work they'll give him in his first game back after offseason knee surgery. But if he's able to run, it's a fair bet the Steelers will be happy to use him over the crew that's been rolling up 65 a game in his absence.

The Eagles go into Pittsburgh 3-1 and on a high after their big divisional win, but the 1-2 team they're going there to face might be a little stronger than it's looked in the early going.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Redskins will have to (gulp) throw. The Seattle Seahawks are allowing 100 rushing yards a game (the eighth-lowest figure in the league) and only 3.5 yards a carry (the fourth-best figure in the league). Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins, for whom the running game was such a big key in their early-season success, have become one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Their 83 rushing yards a game ranks better than only two teams -- the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans -- and their 3.7 yards a carry ranks 27th. They're also not committing to the run the way they intended to, as only two teams in the league -- the Colts and the Buccaneers -- have had fewer rushing attempts. This is clearly not the week for the Redskins to get their run game back on track, which means the passing game and Rex Grossman. The good news there is that, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins are averaging 10.6 more pass yards per game and 8.1 more points per game with Grossman as the quarterback than they were when John Beck was the quarterback.

Weird, likely irrelevant historical note. The game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is the 13th matchup this season between teams that have played each other in the Super Bowl. That bodes ill for the Eagles, who lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, because only three of the previous 12 rematches have gone to the team that lost the Super Bowl matchup. The Packers beat the Broncos this year, and the Bills and Dolphins both beat the Redskins, though the Dolphins-Redskins game gets an asterisk because they met in two Super Bowls and split them. Either way, if you're the Eagles, Terrell Owens isn't walking through that door. And Tom Brady is.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLeSean McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts.
Eagles should get some push. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is thriving with the help of one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league this season. ESPN Stats & Info says McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts. The good news this week is that the Patriots give up 2.74 yards per contact to opposing runners, which is the sixth-highest number in the league. So if the Eagles commit to the run, they have a chance against Brady and the Pats. Of course, that's a fairly big "if"...

Jacobs not toughing it out. I've said many times here, and still believe, that the Giants' run-game problems are thanks to the poor performance of their offensive line and that people have been too hard on Brandon Jacobs and the running backs. However, there is some proof, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, that Jacobs could be doing more to help his own cause. Jacobs is averaging just 1.61 rushing yards per carry after contact, which is the fourth-lowest figure in the league among running backs with at least 90 carries. Each of the three backs behind him on that list -- Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson -- weighs at least 37 pounds less than Jacobs, whose size used to be among his greatest assets as a running back. It's possible he has slowed down as he's gotten older. It's possible that he is so discouraged by the lack of running room that he doesn't push through first contact the way he used to. It'd be understandable, given that no one likes to get hit. But it also would feed into the perceptions about him that the booing home fans have developed.

Eli against the blitz. The Saints love to blitz, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning surely will face extra pass-rushers on Monday night. But in spite of the injury to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who's one of the best backs in the league at picking up the blitz, Manning has fared well this season against five or more rushers. In fact, over the past two years, Manning ranks among the best quarterbacks in the league when teams send five or more pass-rushers. His 74.6 Total QBR in those situations is fifth-best; his 8.4 yards per attempt and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of plus-16 are third-best; and only Aaron Rodgers has thrown more touchdown passes than the 26 Manning has thrown over the past two years when teams send five or more.

Observation deck: Eagles-Steelers

August, 18, 2011
8/18/11
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Observations from the Eagles' 24-14 preseason loss at Pittsburgh.

I'm going to start with the good news, Eagles fans. Ready?

LeSean McCoy looked really good, Jason Babin got a sack and Michael Vick made one heck of a tackle on Troy Polamalu after his third interception of the first half. Mike Kafka threw the ball extremely well in the fourth quarter after everybody stopped caring.

Oh, and the coaches now have a whole bunch of really awful-looking, mistake-riddled tape on which to base some real serious lessons this week in meetings and practice.

Other than that, pretty ugly. We can sit here and say everything we want to say about how it's only preseason, the games don't count, some teams devise game plans while others go vanilla and it's a bad idea to draw sweeping, upsetting conclusions based on preseason games. All of that stuff is true and must be said before we delve into what we saw. But the fact is that the Eagles looked bad, in almost every possible way, in Thursday night's exhibition loss to the Steelers. And since I am tasked with offering you an evaluation of what I saw, I have no choice but to detail the ugliness.

1. Bad matchup. The Eagles' new defense, under Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn, is predicated on aggressiveness, especially by the defensive line. This makes Ben Roethlisberger the worst possible quarterback for the Eagles to face. He dances through and around pressure, stays upright far longer than he's supposed to, keeps plays alive forever and generally feasts on defenses that don't show enough patience. All of this was on display Thursday, as Roethlisberger was three steps ahead of Castillo and the Eagles' defense at every turn. He drew them offsides with a hard count. He stepped up to avoid pressure. He pump-faked. He handed the ball off to Rashard Mendenhall and watched him gash the Eagles' backup defensive tackles and suspect linebacker corps. The Eagles helped him out, as when Asante Samuel guessed wrong on a route and Antonio Brown got past him and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass. And I'm willing to bet, when they gather for their defensive meetings in the coming days, the Eagles hear a little bit about how to control their aggressiveness a little bit better.

2. Casey Matthews may not be the answer. The Eagles' defensive play calling was very basic, perhaps because they're trying not to overtax their rookie middle linebacker. This is a key element of preseason evaluation. The Steelers looked as though they devised specific offensive plays to beat the Eagles, and the Eagles looked as though they did not prepare specifically for the Steelers. Happens all the time in preseason, and it's a big reason not to draw big conclusions from these games. But even with the basic play calling, Matthews looked slow and confused at times, and physically overmatched at others. The decision to start Matthews at middle linebacker is a surprising one by the Eagles, especially in light of all of the work they did to upgrade at other spots on defense. You wonder if the way he played Thursday might make them look around to see if there's a veteran on the market who can help, but on the other hand, they don't seem to be placing a very high value on the linebacker position in general. On one third down in the first quarter, they loaded up with three safeties and four cornerbacks, leaving Jamar Chaney as the only linebacker on the field. Their strengths are at corner and defensive end, so they'll lean on those. But when you have a back who can get through the line as quickly as Mendenhall can and it's up to the linebackers to make a play to stop him ... that's where Matthews and the Eagles look shaky.

3. Asante Samuel has to learn to play without Quintin Mikell. Samuel bit on a move and a fake that Brown and Roethlisberger didn't make on that 29-yard touchdown. It was a pure guess, and a bad one -- the kind that's worth taking if you know you have a responsible veteran safety backing you up. But the safeties were elsewhere on that play, and the new scheme plus the absence of the veteran Mikell (who signed with the Rams) could mean Samuel has to take more responsibility for playing the receiver he's covering instead of trying to jump a route to get an interception.

4. Vick was very, very, very not good. The bad throws were one thing, but the worse part was that he just didn't do a good job of reading the defense. He struggled against the blitz, which was supposed to be his area of focus this preseason. He never saw Ryan Clark on his first interception. He threw behind Chad Hall on the second. And the third was a bad decision -- he shouldn't have thrown the ball downfield after that play broke down as badly and as many times as it did. "Obviously, tonight, I didn't make the best decisions," Vick told Fox's Pam Oliver during a fourth-quarter sideline interview. That included the hit on Polamalu, which was very impressive but must have terrified his coaches. No reason for Vick to take a risk like that in a game whose outcome doesn't matter. He's too important to the Eagles to try something like that, and he's at least as lucky he didn't get hurt as the Eagles are that this game didn't count.

5. The defensive line misses its starting tackles. Antonio Dixon and Mike Patterson are out due to injury and illness, and that's part of why the run defense looked so vulnerable. I imagine the linebackers will look better once they're at full strength in the middle of the line. But if those guys are going to be out for an extended period of time (as is surely possible with Patterson, at least), this could continue to be a problem.

6. Ronnie Brown is going to be a huge asset in the backup running back role. He's a starting-quality running back whose role is to give the electrifying McCoy a rest. So, when McCoy is on the sideline, the Eagles are still going to be better at running back than many of their opponents are when their starting back is playing. Brown looks great so far this preseason, which brings up another as-yet unmentioned point: The work-in-progress offensive line didn't look too bad. Okay, so Point 6 wasn't really a bad-news point. But hey, it's true.

7. Can Howard Mudd really not coach from the press box? Poor guy really has a hard time getting around on those bad legs of his. Don't know why they wouldn't let him coach from up there. Unless he doesn't want to. I admit I don't know.

In conclusion, it's like this: As the Giants did Saturday, the Eagles looked lousy in almost all respects Thursday. So I point this out, as I did with the Giants on Saturday. What I am not saying here is that the Eagles are in trouble as a result of anything we saw Thursday. The sky is not falling. This game matters not at all, except as a potential learning opportunity. Did it point to some potential trouble spots? Sure. But it doesn't mean the team isn't as good as people thought it would be. It just means the Eagles had a bad night in August. Kind of like the Steelers had last week against the Redskins. And you saw how they bounced back from that.

A good morning to all. I hope you all had as nice a holiday weekend as I did. That Bill P from NJ really knows how to throw a barbecue.

The Eagles' DeSean Jackson was a hot topic on our lil' ol' blog Friday, as the debate over the division's best wide receiver corps got everybody nice and fired up heading into the weekend. But there's no debating the fact that Jackson is using his lockout-induced free time for good. We've linked here before about his work with his Pancreatic Cancer foundation and mentioned the time he's spent back in Oakland going to schools to talk about the dangers of bullying. The Oakland Tribune's Monte Poole recently accompanied Jackson on a visit to San Quentin, where he spent time chatting with inmates. Impressive dude on and off the field, it would seem, is Jackson.

Meanwhile, here at the blog, with the holiday behind us, we link:

More Eagles

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Ashley Fox thinks Kevin Kolb is naive to trust Andy Reid to do right by him, and that Reid will only do so if it's also what's best for the team. Kolb, who said after the season that he wants to be traded to a team for which he can be the starting quarterback, softened a bit last week and said he wouldn't be "a turd" if stuck in Philly. Which is nice.

This report indicates that the Arizona Cardinals, thought to be the Eagles' most likely trade partner for Kolb, still have some questions about him. Now, they could be putting that out there for leverage reasons, sure. But the longer the lockout drags on, the more difficult it's going to be to put this deal together. What may have seemed like an obvious fit months ago might start to break apart under more extensive examination. Just saying, don't assume it's a done deal.

Dallas Cowboys

There were short ribs on the menu and, apparently, a "pizza bar" at the Tony Romo wedding Saturday night. Sure, I mean, when you invite that many football players to your wedding, you've got to give them something to eat. But man, I'm going to be thinking about "pizza bar" all week. And I'm not even hungry right now.

Rainer Sabin mulls the question of whether the Cowboys were actually right to pick Felix Jones with the No. 22 selection in the 2008 NFL draft, one pick before Pittsburgh selected the considerably more productive Rashard Mendenhall. The conclusion here seems to be that Jones, the better receiver, fits the Cowboys' scheme better than Mendenhall would have. To which I say: Okaaaaaay, but ... Tennessee took Chris Johnson at 24. How we rationalizing that one?

New York Giants

Justin Tuck is assembling celebrities for his annual charity pool tournament this week in New York. Tuck's charity benefits literacy programs in central Alabama, where he's from. Tuck takes a lot of pride in being from Alabama and was recently there helping to raise money for tornado victims.

Giants 101 spoke with Kevin Boothe, who said rookies are missing out on valuable classroom time because of the NFL lockout.

Washington Redskins

Mike Jones from the Washington Post spoke with the father of Brandon Banks about how the Redskins' receiver is dealing with the aftermath of his November knee surgery and his February stabbing. The Redskins' exclusion from our discussion of the division's best wide receivers would seem to speak to a potential opportunity for Banks, who would be a nice comeback story if he could return to the field and make a positive contribution.

Word here that Albert Haynesworth might settle his road rage case, which would be good. I'm sure Haynesworth would like to move on so he can go find something else about which to be angry.

Not me, though. I'm as happy as can be to be back with you for another week. Let's do it to them before they do it to us.

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
1:00
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NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: the decision-makers.

Dallas Cowboys

Everyone knows that owner/general manager Jerry Jones makes the final call in the draft room. But he receives plenty of input from son Stephen and the highly underrated director of scouting, Tom Ciskowski. If there are a couple of safeties the Cowboys are torn between, Jones might send for secondary coach Dave Campo. But in the end, Jones makes the final call. In '08, he turned to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to get a final opinion on whether running back Felix Jones was the right pick ahead of Rashard Mendenhall, who eventually went to the Steelers. At the time, the Cowboys were in need of a complementary back to Marion Barber. Jones is actually a good listener, but he's making the final decision. When Bill Parcells was head coach from '03-'06, there was obviously a different dynamic. He had far more say than Wade Phillips currently has in the draft room.

New York Giants

Coach Tom Coughlin has a strong voice in the draft room, but general manager Jerry Reese is making the final call. Reese has a ton of trust in his scouting department, so he lets them do a lot of talking. But the mild-mannered former scout doesn't have any problem making a decision. Reese has a strong vision of what he's looking for in a player. And he almost never reaches. The Giants hit on a lot of picks late in the draft, in part, because Reese takes so much pride in the second day of the draft. Now that will be the third day in the draft, and he'll have more of an opportunity to re-set the board.

Philadelphia Eagles

Coach Andy Reid is the main decision-maker, but he gets a lot of input from president Joe Banner and new general manager Howie Roseman. Reid was always Donovan McNabb's biggest defender, but obviously he came around to thinking it was time to move the veteran quarterback. Reid's one of the few coaches in the league with final authority in the draft room. He's very respectful, though, of his scouting department and doesn't often try to trump them with impulsive decisions. Reid has a clear vision of what type of player he hopes to produce. He lets the scouts bring him the best value and then he normally goes along with their recommendations. Some would argue that Reid has too much on his plate. But this is the way he prefers to work. And for now, owner Jeff Lurie's not looking to change that dynamic.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan immediately became the most powerful head coach in the division. Coughlin and Reid have a lot of authority, but they don't wear it on their sleeves like Shanahan. He's made it clear that money's not an issue when it comes to dealing with belly-aching players such as Albert Haynesworth. Dan Snyder has stepped aside and given Shanahan the ultimate authority. Is that too much for one man to handle? Well, we're about to find out. Fortunately for Shanahan, Redskins general manager Bruce Allen seems to be a less impulsive personnel man. His expertise is in doing contracts and working with the salary cap, but he has enough gumption to challenge Shanahan on certain issues.

X factor: Felix Jones, Cowboys RB

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
1:00
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NFC: Cardinals | Saints | Vikings | Cowboys AFC: Jets | Chargers | Ravens | Colts

A look at a player who could be a difference-maker this weekend.

In the 2008 draft, the Cowboys were trying to decide between a feature running back in Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall or a complementary back in Arkansas' Felix Jones. With Marion Barber having just made his first trip to the Pro Bowl, the Cowboys went with Jones, and it appears that they made the correct choice.

[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesFelix Jones is the home-run threat that has been missing from the Dallas offense.
After losing a large portion of his rookie season to injuries, Jones emerged as the Cowboys' biggest X factor on offense in '09. He's the home-run threat that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had been missing in the running game. Jones is not a running back who needs 20 carries to find his rhythm. He can break open a game on one carry, and that's what makes him one of the most-dangerous players left in the playoffs.

In back-to-back weeks, he put an overwhelmed Eagles defense out of its misery with long touchdown runs in the third quarter. In Week 17, he took a toss around the left side for a 49-yard touchdown. And in Saturday's wild-card playoff game, Jones broke free for a 73-yard touchdown to make the score 34-7 and end any hopes of an Eagles comeback.

Of course, the rally cry in Dallas now is to increase Jones' carries. It's a knee-jerk reaction that is completely unnecessary. Jones doesn't require a lot of carries to be productive and you don't want to expose his relatively slight frame to a lot of punishment. The offensive linemen on this team love him because he gives them more margin for error. With Barber in the backfield, linemen need to stay with their blocks for an extended amount of time in order for him to accelerate through a hole. All Jones needs is a tiny seam and he's off to the races.

Jones hasn't yet become a breakout star in the league, but he gives the Cowboys rare speed at running back. With the ability to run the ball early in games, quarterback Tony Romo has found a lot of open receivers in the first half. More than any other player left in the playoffs, I believe Jones best fits the description of an X factor.

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