NFC East: Ray Rice

Last week I broke down the Redskins' salary cap by position and how it compared to the rest of the NFL. This is one more extension of that so you can see how the Redskins' top cap hit compares to the five biggest cap hits at each position. For the most part, the Redskins have more bargains offensively in part because they've found younger contributors through the draft or they landed players such as DeSean Jackson after they'd been cut, thereby lowering their price. The Redskins have only one player who will count among the top five at their position in 2014 -- left tackle Trent Williams.


NFL's top five cap hits

Eli Manning, New York Giants, $20,400,000

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, $18,895,000

Jay Cutler, Chicago, $18,500,000

Drew Brees, New Orleans, $18,400,000

Sam Bradford, St. Louis, $17,610,000

Redskins top cap hit

Robert Griffin III $5,759,754 (19th overall)

Summing it up: St. Louis is paying the price for a since-changed system when it comes to rookie contracts -- and the Redskins clearly have benefited. There’s little chance anyone would think Bradford is worth as much as his 2014 cap number. Manning has regressed the past two seasons, for whatever reason, and needed ankle surgery this offseason. Roethlisberger is excellent and Brees remains a top-five quarterback. But Cutler is an example of a guy who is being paid because of the position he plays. He's been a good quarterback, but it's tough to say he's been great. He's definitely not a top-five guy. The Redskins have Griffin at a lower cost the next two seasons and then, if he plays as they hope, his number will skyrocket.


NFL's top five cap hits

Mike Wallace, Miami, $17,250,000

Andre Johnson, Houston, $15,644,583

Percy Harvin, Seattle, $13,400,000

Calvin Johnson, Detroit, $13,058,000

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay, $12,432,000

Redskins top cap hit

Pierre Garcon $9,700,000 (seventh overall)

Summing it up: The top two at this position certainly didn't outperform Garcon, who led the NFL with 113 catches. Garcon only caught five touchdown passes, but that matches what Wallace and Andre Johnson did as well. Harvin played just 19 snaps all season. Calvin Johnson caught 84 passes, but 12 went for touchdowns and he averaged 17.8 yards per catch. Jackson caught 78 passes, seven for scores, and averaged 15.7 yards per catch. The Redskins received good value from their top earner at this spot. They have even more invested here now after adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. The former will be a major bargain compared to the rest of this group if he puts up numbers similar to last year (82 catches, nine touchdowns, 1,332 yards. But keep in mind in his first five years Jackson averaged 54.8 catches, 4.6 touchdowns and 957 yards per season).

Running back

NFL's top five cap hits

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, $14,400,000

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia, $9,700,000

Ray Rice, Baltimore, $8,750,000

Arian Foster, Houston, $8,300,000

Matt Forte, Chicago, $7,900,000

Redskins top cap hit

Roy Helu $1,548,563 (38th overall)

Summing it up: Peterson and McCoy are two of the most dangerous offensive players in the NFL and are difference-makers. But what's also clear is why teams don't like to shell out huge money for running backs. Washington’s Alfred Morris, who is 93rd on the list of running backs when it comes to 2014 cap figures ($600,775), was as productive running the ball as Peterson. Morris ran for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per rush. Rice ran for 660 yards in 15 games, averaging 3.1 yards on 214 carries. Foster only played in eight games. Forte is an excellent all-around back and was productive. But the Redskins are fortunate they won’t have to shell out more money here for two more years.

Offensive line

NFL's top five cap hits

LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland, $12,300,000

LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets, $11,698,666

LT Russell Okung, Seattle, $11,240,000

G Jahri Evans, New Orleans, $11,000,000

LT Trent Williams, Washington, $10,980,393

Redskins top cap hit


Summing it up: Williams is one of the games best tackles so for him to be in this group makes sense. He could be more consistent and avoid the clunker game, but overall Williams has proven himself and earned two Pro Bowl trips. I'd have a hard time paying a guard as much as Evans, but at least he's an elite player with five consecutive All-Pro nods (in addition to five straight Pro Bowl berths). Okung, drafted one spot after Williams in 2010, has missed 19 games in his career and made one Pro Bowl team. Williams has played in every game the past two seasons. Because of his athleticism, the Redskins can use him differently than other teams use their tackles.

Tight end

NFL's top five cap hits

Jason Witten, Dallas, $8,412,000

Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville, $8,250,000

Greg Olsen, Carolina, $7,800,000

Antonio Gates, San Diego, $7,362,500

Vernon Davis, San Francisco, $7,342,916

Redskins top cap hit

Logan Paulsen $2,236,666 (21st overall)

Summing it up: Yet another position where the Redskins have a bargain for a few more seasons. This isn’t about how Paulsen stacks up, but really about Jordan Reed. If he can stay healthy, this will be the company he keeps statistically. I love watching Davis because of the matchup headaches he causes based on his athleticism. It’s the same with Reed. Marcedes Lewis has had a nice eight-year career and is an excellent blocker, but No. 2 on this list? He has 25 career touchdown catches, but 10 came in one season. The others are proven pass threats. Of course, this list will change once Jimmy Graham's situation is settled with New Orleans.
IRVING, Texas -- While we have discussed the long-term futures of Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant with the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, one player we have not touched on much is DeMarco Murray.

Murray is scheduled to be a free agent after this season. He was named to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns, and catching 53 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown. When Murray has played well and been given a chance to carry the ball, the Cowboys have won.

But running backs’ values have dropped dramatically in the past few years. If they aren’t Adrian Peterson, they don’t get paid the mega deals. And the guys that have been paid in recent years, like Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, have taken a downturn.

In 2008, the Cowboys signed Marion Barber to a seven-year deal worth $45 million that included $16 million in guarantees.

Those days are long gone.

The best free-agent deals for running backs so far have been to Donald Brown and Toby Gerhart, who received three-year, $10.5 million deals from the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. Brown has never rushed for more than 645 yards in a season. Gerhart has never rushed for more than 531 yards, though he was playing behind Peterson.

Knowshon Moreno is joining the Miami Dolphins on a one-year, $3 million deal after rushing for 1,038 yards in 2013 for the Denver Broncos. Rashad Jennings received a three-year, $10 million deal from the New York Giants after rushing for 733 yards last season with the Oakland Raiders.

Murray had his best season in 2013, but he missed two games and has yet to play a full season. But his advisors have to see how the market is going for running backs. There wasn’t a running back taken in the first round last year. The top running back chosen in 2012, Trent Richardson (No. 3 overall), was traded to the Indianapolis Colts last season.

Murray will make $1.406 million in 2014 as part of his rookie deal.

The Cowboys could lock him in for another three seasons at a good number and still have plenty in reserve for Smith and Bryant.

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.
I do not know why I have been so late to this particular party, but the "Madden NFL 25" cover vote is taking place on this very website, and you can go here and cast your vote for the football player you think should be on this year's cover. It's down to the final 16 -- eight current players and eight from the past -- and the only current one from our division is, unsurprisingly, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Having trounced Ryan Tannehill and Doug Martin in the first two rounds, RG III faces off against Baltimore running back Ray Rice in his Sweet 16 matchup. Griffin is a 1-seed, Rice a 5, and it's hard to see how even the Ravens' Super Bowl title offers him much of a chance here.

The other side of the bracket still features former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan (a 5-seed whose current matchup is against top-seeded Jerry Rice) and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, a 3-seed who's got a fascinating third-round matchup against 2-seed Deion Sanders. I wonder if this one may come down to which guy is better liked as a TV analyst?

The Philadelphia Eagles had representation, but former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham lost his first-round matchup to LaDainian Tomlinson and current Eagles running back LeSean McCoy lost in the second round to Adrian Peterson. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant lost his second-round matchup to Ray Rice. Former Redskins running back Clinton Portis lost in the first round to Marshall Faulk on the "Old School" side of the bracket.

Anyway, go vote.
So I was sitting here on Redskins playoff detox, catching up on the division's other teams, and I got to reading this Calvin Watkins item on the Dallas Cowboys' running game. And it got me thinking about the New York Giants' running game, which has a similar problem at its core -- namely, a starting running back who can't be relied on to stay healthy.

In discussing the state of the Cowboys' running game, Calvin quotes coach Jason Garrett saying this:
"We have to do a better job running the football, and you’ve heard me say this a lot, that balance is critical," coach Jason Garrett said when the season was over. "You want to be able to attack defenses a lot of different ways. DeMarco Murray was out for a large portion of this season, but having said that, you have to put the next guy in there and you have to be effective running it."

In theory, that makes sense. But if Calvin's point is that many of the teams having success in the playoffs are strong in the running game, I submit that they're strong around a reliable central figure who takes all of the snaps and the hits and keeps on grinding. Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. Ray Rice in Baltimore. Arian Foster in Houston. Denver got lucky, when Willis McGahee went down in the second half, it was able to turn to a former first-round pick in Knowshon Moreno and keep going.

The problem in Dallas is Murray has an injury history that starts in college and has drastically impacted both of his pro seasons. And as a result, the Cowboys don't know for certain that they can count on him going forward. They not only need to improve their depth around him, they need to see if they can find a running back capable of handling a full-time workload in his absence.

There was a similar problem in New York, where the Giants wanted to give Ahmad Bradshaw the chance to be the lead back this past year but he couldn't hold up physically either. Recurring issue with Bradshaw that has the team thinking about moving on and going with 2012 first-round pick David Wilson in a "lead dog" role. Can that work? You hope so, certainly, when you take a guy in the first round. But the Giants don't know. Issues with Wilson include ball security (famously) and pass protection. And it's not necessarily that Wilson can't pass-protect, but rather that Bradshaw's the best in the league at it, so if you're going to switch from Bradshaw to anyone as your "lead dog" your offense will have to adjust somehow.

The Cowboys and Giants both went into this season thinking they had solutions at running back, but they came out of it with questions -- some fresh and some old. Expect both teams to address this position in some meaningful way this offseason.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 31, Cowboys 29

October, 14, 2012

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: The Cowboys did a lot of good things in this game, especially on offense. But a rash of penalties (13 of them, for a total of 82 yards) and the defense's inability to get a stop on critical Ravens drives late in the second and fourth quarters did them in. They had a chance all day to pull the upset at one of the toughest places in the league in which to play, but they are not a good enough team to overcome the kinds of mistakes they made. They are now 2-3 for the season. There are no moral victories in the NFL.

Injuries: Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne returned to the game in the second half after leaving in the first with a knee injury, so that was good. But running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 91 yards in the first half, couldn't shake off a foot injury and had only one second-half carry. Felix Jones, who looked good replacing him, also left the game for a time with an injury and left the running back duties to Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar. Jones came back on the final drive. The Cowboys also were without linebacker Anthony Spencer for the second straight game, since he has a pectoral muscle injury. Spencer's absence almost certainly impeded the Cowboys' ability to stop Ray Rice when they needed to the most.

The big play: After Dallas cut the Baltimore lead to 17-13 with an early third-quarter field goal, Baltimore's Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. The return tied an NFL record for the longest ever and built the Ravens' lead to 24-13. The play was well blocked, but it was a complete breakdown by the Cowboys' coverage unit, which never laid a finger on Jones.

Credit where it's due: The criticism here and in many other places of the Cowboys' offensive line this year has been justified, but Sunday's game showed marked improvement in strength and toughness across the line. They still got too sloppy with the penalties, but they were able to physically pound the Ravens' defensive front all day, pushing forward to make holes for the backs and even protecting Tony Romo better than they normally do (with some glaring exceptions, yes, but Rome wasn't built in a day). The Cowboys' line must continue to improve if the offense is going to have any chance of being effective this year, and Sunday was an encouraging sign that improvement is possible. Dallas rushed for 227 yards -- the most ever allowed by the Ravens in a game in their history -- and possessed the ball for a stunning 40:03 of the game's 60 minutes.

The quarterback: Romo's one interception was a damaging one, but it's tough to criticize the game he played Sunday. Especially after he led the Cowboys on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to cut the lead to two. Romo's two-point conversion pass hit Dez Bryant in the hands, but Bryant could not catch the ball, and even though they recovered the onside kick and moved into long field goal range with a pass interference penalty in the final seconds, Dan Bailey's 51-yard attempt missed wide left.

What's next: The Cowboys travel to Carolina to play the Panthers at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Fans of Andre Brown and the Giants know that this means the Dallas run game will have a chance for another big day.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Ravens

October, 14, 2012
BALTIMORE -- As the Dallas Cowboys get set to take on the Ravens here at M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m. ET (noon CT), here's one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The Cowboys aren't as bad as they looked two weeks ago in that Monday night loss to the Bears. But because they haven't played since, that's the impression the rest of the world has of them. Prior to the second half of that game, the Dallas defense was playing as well as any in the league. And especially with nose tackle Jay Ratliff expected back from injury for this one, there's no reason to believe it can't get back to that level against Joe Flacco and the Ravens. They also have a chance to get DeMarco Murray and the run game going against a Baltimore defense that's allowing 118.4 yards per game on the ground. The matchup isn't as prohibitive as a lot of people seem to believe it is.

Cause for concern: Ray Rice. The Baltimore running back is the key to the Ravens' offense, as both the run game and the passing game operate through him. He must be Dallas' primary concern, and he presents a tough task for star inside linebacker Sean Lee. If they have to bring safeties up to help play the run, they could leave themselves vulnerable to a downfield strike from speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith, but it may be a risk worth taking, especially given the faith they have in their cornerbacks. Stopping Rice is that important.

How you feeling? Eagles-Ravens

September, 16, 2012
As the Philadelphia Eagles get set to host the Baltimore Ravens at 1 p.m. ET, here's one reason for Eagles fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The defense is healthy and hungry. Even the supposed preseason question marks at safety (Kurt Coleman) and linebacker (DeMeco Ryans) were clicking last week in Cleveland, and you know if you've watched the Eagles over the past year that Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is going to see a lot more pressure than he saw Monday from the Bengals. The Eagles are going to need to find a way to contain Baltimore running back Ray Rice, which won't be easy, but the Ravens' receivers shouldn't be a huge problem for the Eagles' defensive backs, and the defensive line should be able to harass Flacco enough to keep Baltimore from putting too many points on the board.

Cause for concern: The Ravens still play tough defense themselves, even after all these years. And even if Eagles receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are cleared to play (we'll know in a few minutes), there's reason to be concerned about how healthy they are and how much/well they can play against Baltimore's swarming D. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick absolutely has to be more responsible with the ball than he was last week (and last year, for that matter), and he's offered little reason for anyone to trust that he will be.

Final Word: NFC East

September, 14, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Pivotal odds week. Three of the NFC East's four teams won in Week 1, which means the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles each have a chance to start the season 2-0. Teams that have started the season 2-0 since 1990 have reached the postseason 63.7 percent of the time. Teams that have started the season 1-1 over that time have reached the postseason only 41 percent of the time. A 1-1 record is the best for which the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants can hope, and they certainly don't want to start 0-2. Since 1990, teams starting the season 0-2 have reached the playoffs only 12 percent of the time. And of the 46 Super Bowl champions, only three have started their seasons 0-2. Of course, the last Super Bowl champ to do so was the 2007-08 Giants, several of whom remain on the current team. So it's not as though you could count them out.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
David Dermer/Diamond Images/ Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy gained 76 rush yards before first contact last Sunday but faces a stiff test against the Ravens.
Two different backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information's "Next Level" stats, Baltimore's Ray Rice and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy are ranked second and third in rushing yardage in the NFL since the start of the 2011 season. However, Rice has collected 80 percent of his yards and all of his touchdowns in formations that include a fullback, while McCoy has picked up 88 percent of his yards and 10 of his 17 touchdowns out of single-back sets. The Eagles rely on aggressive blocking by their offensive line to clear room for McCoy. His 76 rushing yards before first contact were the most of any running back in the NFL in Week 1.

Giants must wrap up. Sticking with that theme (and those Next Level numbers), the Giants allowed 66 rushing yards after contact to the Cowboys in Week 1, the fourth-highest total in the league, though 49 of the 66 came on one DeMarco Murray run. Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin, whom the Buccaneers traded up to select one pick before the Giants took David Wilson at the end of the first round, was fourth in the league in Week 1 with 55 rushing yards after contact.

The new Redskins' offense. Mike Shanahan said he would change his offensive scheme to fit rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and in Week 1 he was true to his word. Griffin used play-action on 16 drop-backs last Sunday in New Orleans, which is the second-highest total of play-action pass plays since Shanahan became the Redskins' coach. Griffin was 11-of-14 for 237 of his 320 yards on play-action passes. Washington also operated out of a shotgun or "pistol" formation on 54.9 percent of their offensive plays Sunday, which is the second-highest such percentage during Shanahan's time as their coach and just the second time they've been over 50 percent under Shanahan. In his first two years in Washington, the Redskins operated out of shotgun or shotgun-variation sets just 28.2 percent of the time.

Keep up the blitz. The Cowboys had a lot of success when they sent five or more pass-rushers at Eli Manning in Week 1. The Giants' quarterback was only 3-of-7 in those situations, a far cry from the way he abused the Cowboys when they blitzed him last year. As they continue to rely on the improved coverage by their defensive backs, the Cowboys could blitz more going forward, and Sunday's game in Seattle might be a good time to try it. Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was 6-of-18 and took three sacks last week when the Cardinals sent five or more pass-rushers at him.
Cam Newton, Von Miller and Patrick PetersonUS PresswireCam Newton, Von Miller and Patrick Peterson all contributed right away during their rookie seasons.
There were doubts, this time last year, about Cam Newton as the No. 1 pick, about Newton as an NFL-ready starting quarterback, but they were all external. In the offices of the Carolina Panthers, who had taken Newton with the first pick in the draft, any and all doubts were outlawed. Newton was their guy, and they were all-in on him. After a rookie season in which he threw for 4,051 yards, ran for 706 and totaled 35 touchdowns, they have no regrets.

"He brings so much to you -- his accurate passing, his mobility, his leadership, his desire to win, his approach to the game, his enthusiasm for the game and his desire to be the best," Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said in March at the NFL owners meetings. "That all combines into an excellent young quarterback with a future that has tremendous upside."

Upside is one thing, but Newton is pretty good right now. If you don't think that's important in today's NFL, look around. We asked 20 coaches and general managers at the owners meetings which player 25 years old or younger they'd like to have on their team, and we got 13 different answers.

Newton got the most votes in this incredibly informal and unscientific poll, with four. Denver linebacker Von Miller, who went second in last year's draft, got three. 2011 rookies Patrick Peterson of Arizona and Torrey Smith of Baltimore were each named twice.

But the more interesting names are those of the players whose draft slot isn't fresh in everyone's mind. One general manager named New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who is only 24 yet has established himself as one of the best and most reliable receivers in the league. Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, named by one coach, turns 24 next week. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who surpassed 5,000 yards passing in 2011, is only 24. And when one coach picked Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, it was startling to realize he is only 25. Some of these guys seem as though they've been dominating the league for years, and it's no accident.

"I think the game is getting younger," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who picked his 2011 first-rounder, J.J. Watt. "These kids that are drafted nowadays, they're playing right away and contributing right away. They just seem to be a little more mature and caught up and ready to go now than maybe back a few years ago. Nowadays, with the cap and the way teams change, when you get a guy in the first round or early in the second round, he's going straight on the field."

The 32 players picked in the first round of the 2011 draft played an average of 13 games in the 2011 season. That counts those who missed time because of injury, such as Prince Amukamara, and project quarterback Jake Locker, who played sparingly in only five games. Half of those 32 players started at least 14 games as rookies, and 10 started all 16.

What this tells you is that when you evaluate a player you're considering taking in the first round, you're asking yourself all of the normal questions about whether he can play, learn, behave and lead, and you're also asking whether he can do it right away.

"I think the way the system is, or the way the system has been, you have to play your young players," Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. "We have the salary cap, and with the rookie contracts, if you don't play a guy, then you end up losing a guy when he becomes a free agent. And then you just trained him for somebody else. So you might as well get some value for him while you've got him, and that's why I think a lot of the young guys have been put into the fire sooner."

What it has done is put a premium on figuring out if that young, talented college stud you're considering has what it takes, mentally and physically, to handle what the NFL throws at him while he is still young. That's why pre-draft interviews have become such a major part of the process. No longer are teams willing to use those first-round picks on raw talent they think they can develop. There's no time to develop them. A first-round pick has to be the whole package. Like Newton in Carolina. Or Miller in Denver, who was (no surprise) the pick of Broncos coach John Fox.

"First of all, he's got a lot of God-given ability," Fox said of Miller. "He's very explosive, strong for his size, got good flexibility. That combination of explosiveness and flexibility makes him pretty dynamic as a pass-rusher. And the fact that he's a good young man and he's not afraid to work hard. He wants to do it."

So in other words, NFL teams don't want much out of their young players these days -- just everything.

"It's a young man's game," Fox said. "There's no question that you need any influx of young players. You see it with every team, and the teams that are doing well are the teams that are getting production from that 25-and-under group -- young guys, but already kind of established. And I don't think that's going to change any time soon."
Jeez, with everything going on today, I almost forgot it was fantasy week! But it is fantasy week, and so I owe you a fantasy post. I promise there will be more than one tomorrow, but for today this will be it, as in addition to fantasy week it is also poker night.

Here is how our fantasy experts have ranked the running backs in the NFC East heading into this season. Each guy is listed next to his overall ranking, not his ranking in the division:

[+] EnlargeTim Hightower
James Lang/US PresswireDon't be surprised if the Redskins use Tim Hightower and their other backs to run up the middle often.
3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

9. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

18. Roy Helu, Washington Redskins

20. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants

40. David Wilson, Giants

42. Felix Jones, Cowboys

57. Evan Royster, Redskins

59. Dion Lewis, Eagles

70. Tim Hightower, Redskins

80. Chris Polk, Eagles

86. D.J. Ware, Giants

99. Da'Rel Scott, Giants

101. Bryce Brown, Eagles

105. Phillip Tanner, Cowboys

— Interesting that Murray is the only starter in the division with a clear-cut handcuff. If he's out, Jones will start. I'd watch Tanner because (a) Jones gets hurt too and (b) I think Tanner is good. But as of now, he's a clear No. 3 on the depth chart. Not so in New York, where Wilson is ranked the highest because they just took him in the first round and none of those other guys has shown much during his career so far, or in Philadelphia, where Lewis will get a challenge from the undrafted (but well regarded) Polk and seventh-rounder Brown. This is a situation to watch in training camp, and if you have McCoy, you will want to get whoever they pick to back him up. I think if you own Murray, you want Jones, but if you own Bradshaw, you're better off backing him up with non-Giants options than guessing how the carries would break down if Bradshaw did.

— As long as Hightower is still recovering from his ACL injury, this ranking is understandable. But if he's full-go come training camp, he should be the highest-ranked Redskins back. He is the starter, in the eyes of the coaches. And as much as everyone wants to make Helu happen, a healthy Hightower would be used just as a healthy Hightower was used in the first month of the 2011 season. Helu and Royster would continue to be used in key spots and develop in backup roles. The general rule in fantasy is to stay away from Mike Shanahan running backs anyway, so that's the first bit of advice on that situation. But if Hightower's healthy, he'll be the one getting the carries and the catches in September. And if you have him, you want Helu and probably Royster, too. But I don't know what kind of league you have to be in to have three roster spots to use on Redskins running backs. Me, I'd draft Helu and trade him after his first good game.

— I think Bradshaw's ranking is low, though I understand it. If he's healthy, I'd rank him probably around No. 11 or 12. I think you can survive with a healthy Bradshaw as your No. 1 back if you really load up at quarterback and wide receiver. So if you get him as the 20th back off the board, I'd say you've done well. But you need to back him up, or trade him early before the foot injuries come back.

— The two guys ahead of McCoy are Houston's Arian Foster and Baltimore's Ray Rice, in that order. That's for those of you who were too lazy to click the link. I feel ya. Real nice weather the last couple of days, who wants to spend any more time than they have to in front of the computer? Personally, I'd have no issues with ranking those three guys in any order as long as they're the top three.
Ashley Fox has another one of her photo-gallery rankings pieces up, this one ranking the top 10 running backs in the NFL. And would you look at the name at the very top of the list? Why, it's the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy.

Seems like only last offseason we were debating the question of McCoy vs. the New York Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw as the best running back in the NFC East (though, to be fair, McCoy fared very well in that polling). A year later he's the best back in the whole league? It's not a ridiculous claim at all. Those of us who won fantasy football titles after trading for Maurice Jones-Drew might, if we allowed our personal biases to seep into the discussion (which we do not), move the No. 2 man into the top spot. And certainly good arguments could be made for Baltimore's Ray Rice or Houston's Arian Foster, who rank third and fourth on Ashley's list. But all of those backs are so good that it's about personal preference, and if you're taking McCoy as the best running back in the league right now, it'd be hard to say you're wrong.

Ashley likes him because of his versatility:
The running back position has evolved. The best backs are multi-faceted. McCoy is versatile, reliable, young and coming off a season in which he set a franchise record with 20 touchdowns.

And fair enough. McCoy has shown he can handle workhorse-back duties, goal-line duties and be a factor in the passing game. He can be a breathtaking, make-you-miss back in space and he can pound it between the tackles. And if you're basing the list on which back you'd want right now if putting a team together for the long haul, the fact McCoy won't even turn 24 until next month is a definite mark in his favor. For that reason, I agree with Ashley on this ranking. If you're asking me who's the best running back in the NFL right now, I'm taking the young man in Philadelphia in a close vote. Call it divisional favoritism if you want, but I feel like there are a lot of different ways McCoy could help me win games, and for a long time.
Peyton Hillis is one step away from becoming the first Cleveland Browns player to grace the cover of the popular "Madden" video game series.

Hillis's SportsNation announced Monday that Hillis, a No. 10 seed, pulled another upset in the "Madden NFL 12" cover tournament. He garnered 61 percent of the vote to defeat Green Bay Packers quarterback and No. 1 seed Aaron Rodgers. Hillis will face Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in the finals.

This is the fourth consecutive week Hillis advanced against a higher seed. He also defeated No. 7 seed Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, No. 2 seed Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and No. 6 seed Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs.

In many ways, Cleveland fans have treated this tournament like their Super Bowl.

The rebuilding Browns are just 64-128 since returning to the NFL in 1999 and are coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons. But the Dawgpound has come out in droves to support Hillis, who is coming off a breakout 2010 season where he rushed for 1,177 yards and scored 13 total touchdowns.

Weather report from Baltimore

August, 13, 2009

Posted by's Matt Mosley

BALTIMORE -- It rained for about two hours here, but it stopped at 5 p.m. ET. It's been a while since I've been to M&T Bank Stadium, so I'm not sure how it holds up after a lot of rain. The good news is that we have blue skies now, and there are rumors that crabcake sandwiches are being served in the media dining lounge.

I want to see how strongside linebacker Brian Orakpo looks with Ray Rice out of Rutgers coming at him. I think Rice has surpassed Willis McGahee, and he'll pose a nice challenge for the Skins' revamped defense. We'll keep you posted.

The scene at Texas Stadium

December, 20, 2008
Posted by's Matt Mosley

IRVING -- The Blue parking lot at Texas Stadium was full about an hour earlier than usual tonight. Cars were shoe polished with messages such as "Farewell to Texas Stadium" and "We'll always remember you."

And it seems that more than 1,000 people have secured VIP pre-game field passes. Camera flashes are going off throughout the stadium -- and many of them were pointed at Roger Staubach as he made his way to the NFL Network set. The only thing that would make this better is if the Cowboys were actually playing a rival. The Ravens are playing for the first and last time at Texas Stadium.

After the game, more than 100 former players will participate in a closing ceremony. I'm a little surprised Jerry Jones opted to wait until after the game to hold the ceremony. If the Cowboys lose, I can't imagine a lot of fans sticking around to watch.

Tony Romo and Terrell Owens just ran onto the field together and received a pretty nice ovation. Pacman Jones just ran the length of the field to hug Ravens backup quarterback Troy Smith. Not sure what to read into that development.

I've already reported this elsewhere on the site, but wanted to make sure you knew that Marion Barber will play tonight. For the Ravens, rookie Ray Rice (calf) is inactive.

Here's a look at all the inactives:

Cowboys: Emergency QB: Brooks Bollinger, CB Alan Ball, S Courtney Brown, RB Alonzo Coleman, LB Bobby Carpenter, G Montrae Holland, G Joe Berger, WR Isaiah Stanback

Ravens: Emergency QB: Todd Bouman, QB Joe Flacco, WR Terrance Copper, WR Marcus Maxwell, RB Ray Rice, T Oniel Cousins, G/T David Hale, TE Edgar Jones