NFC East: Roddy White

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.
I asked our man KC Joyner, "The Football Scientist," for some help during our NFC East blog Fantasy Week, and he never disappoints. KC this morning sent over a note about Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was one of the best fantasy (and real-life) performers of the second half of the 2012 NFL season and is being ranked extremely high going into the 2013 season as a result:
Bryant
Bryant
When Bryant had his dominant second half of the season, it was said by many that the light had suddenly turned on for Bryant. That may be, but the biggest reason Bryant was dominant in 2012 was an extraordinarily favorable set of matchups. The draft guide measures wide receiver productivity by a number of elements and cornerback competition level is one of them. The weakest cornerbacks in the league are given a green rating, and 43.1 percent of Bryant's 2012 targets occurred against that level of matchup. That total was easily the highest in the league, as no other qualifying wide receiver (minimum of 48 targets to qualify) was even close to that mark (Dwayne Bowe ended up in second place with 35.1 percent of his targets against green-rated CBs).

Bryant torched that level of matchup to the tune of 39 receptions for 687 yards and six touchdowns. Add in his 24 yards on three penalties and it equals a 12.1 YPA, which is an incredibly high total on that level of target volume.

I remember this about Bryant last year. I had KC's draft guide, and his weekly matchup sheets, and I remember they kept showing green boxes all over the second half of Bryant's schedule. This is why I spent so much time trying to trade for Bryant in fantasy, because I thought the combination of his matchups and his incredible raw talent could lead to huge second-half numbers, and in fact they did.

What's this mean about this year? Well, it doesn't necessarily mean that Bryant needs the heavily favorable matchups in order to be as great as he was in the second half of 2012. Don't take it that way, please. Bryant is a talented enough player to physically dominate defenders and put up numbers nearly any week. He's still only 24 years old, and there remains a chance he could be even better this year and in the future than he was last year. As you know if you read me regularly, I believe this to be quite possible.

But when we play fantasy football, the goal is to maximize value. And if this year's matchups don't look as favorable as last year's, it may not make sense to pay an exorbitant, Calvin Johnson-type auction price for Bryant in your draft this year, or to take him as the second or third wide receiver off the board. Not to say he can't perform that way, but if you're basing your hopes on the kinds of numbers he put up last November and December, you may end up paying a transcendent-receiver price for a receiver who's "just" very good. And that could cost you elsewhere on your roster.

Example: Our preseason rankings assign Bryant a $39 auction price while assigning Roddy White a $30 price. If you think Bryant's 30 percent better than White, and you're willing to bet on that, go ahead. It's your money. But if you're basing that decision on 2013 numbers, you could end up disappointed. Surely, if Bryant gives you Roddy White production, you'll take it. But if you paid $39 for that production and could have had it for $30 while spending $9 more to get the running back or quarterback you needed, you could regret it.

Anyway, I haven't seen the matchups in KC's draft guide this year. It's out next week, he says, and you can pre-order it here for a discount. (That's right. We help each other out here at ESPN.com. It's that kind of place.) Could be Bryant gets to feast again on weaker cornerback competition, in which case he might be a steal at $39. I'm just saying be careful, is all. It was fun last year if you got Bryant for less than he ended up being worth and he helped you win. Not as much fun if that value play breaks the other way on you.

Giants will be shorthanded in Atlanta

December, 14, 2012
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The New York Giants have ruled out running back Ahmad Bradshaw, cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Kenny Phillips for Sunday's critical game against the Falcons in Atlanta due to their injuries. All of the injuries are major as the Giants try to become the first visiting team to win in the Georgia Dome this year and hold off the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East race.

The significance of Phillips' absence has been somewhat overlooked this year due to the playmaking ability of his replacement, Stevie Brown, who has seven interceptions. But Phillips is a top all-around safety without whom the Giants' coverage units, run defense and even pass rush struggle to a greater extent than they do when he plays.

Amukamara has been a big part of making that better. In a down year for Corey Webster, Amukamara has emerged as the Giants' best cornerback. Playing against the No. 4-ranked pass offense in the league, the Giants will replace him with rookie Jayron Hosley. The Giants may be getting a bit of a reciprocal injury break, as star Falcons wide receiver Roddy White has missed the last three days of practice with a knee injury and is questionable for the game. But Atlanta still comes with Julio Jones at wide receiver and Tony Gonzalez at tight end, and each is very dangerous as a target for quarterback Matt Ryan.

Which speaks to the idea of keeping Ryan and the Atlanta passing attack off the field -- something the Giants could have a more difficult time doing with their running game banged up. Wilson ran for 100 yards last week against the Saints, and that along with his performance this year on kick returns has some Giants fans excited that he's finally getting a chance as the starter. But while he's looked more explosive than Bradshaw has this year, that's no guarantee he can hold up for a whole game as the starter, grinding out yards between the tackles and picking up blitzes in the backfield to help protect Eli Manning. Wilson is a rookie, the Saints have the worst run defense in the league, and he's likely to find a going tougher this week in Atlanta. With Andre Brown out for the season due to a broken leg, the only two backs the Giants have on the roster besides Wilson are Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin.

Now, very often, when the Giants have these kinds of games in which it looks as though injuries could do them in, they toughen up and play even better. The regular-season game in New England last season is among the most prominent recent examples, along with the game earlier this year in Carolina that Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks had to miss. So there's no reason to think these injuries mean the Giants can't beat the 11-2 Falcons. They're just going to have a harder time doing it than they'd have if they had all of those important starters healthy.

Better to receive: A Friday debate post

December, 14, 2012
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There are few teams (if any) in the NFL that can match the New York Giants for the quality of their top two wide receivers, but they play one of them Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons' outstanding duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones is a vital reason the Falcons have the No. 4-ranked passing offense in the league this year. And when you look around the league to try and find starting receiver tandems that compare with the Giants' Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, Atlanta is usually where you settle.

So I thought we'd have a debate: Which pair is better? Which two would you rather have on your team?

Some food for thought:
  • SportsNation

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    So far this year, White ranks 8th, Cruz 11th, Jones 13th and Nicks 48th in receiving yards. White is ninth in the league in catches (and second on his own team, behind tight end Tony Gonzalez), while Cruz is 10th, Jones 19th and Nicks 50th. Cruz has caught nine touchdown passes, Jones seven, White five and Nicks three.
  • Nicks has had significant injury issues that have cost him games and limited his production when he's played. Jones has been banged-up as well, and it bears mentioning that White has missed practice the last two days with a knee injury and is being called a game-time decision for Sunday.
  • For their careers, in terms of regular-season numbers, Nicks has 252 catches for 3,686 yards and 27 touchdowns in four seasons. Cruz has 158 catches for 2,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons. Jones has 117 catches for 1,956 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons. White has 607 catches for 8,514 yards and 50 touchdowns in eight seasons.
  • In their postseason careers, White and Jones have combined for 29 catches, 257 yards and two touchdowns and have lost all three games in which they've played, including one to the Giants in January. In Nicks' and Cruz's postseason careers, they have combined for 49 catches for 713 yards and five touchdowns and have won all four games in which they've played, including the most recent Super Bowl.
  • It's also worth considering their quarterbacks' impact. Atlanta's Matt Ryan has never been without White, and the two best seasons of his career have been the last two, with Jones on the team. New York's Eli Manning won a Super Bowl throwing to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer four years before he won one throwing to Nicks and Cruz. Those who would want to argue that the Manning is more responsible for the Giants' receivers' success than the Falcons' quarterback is for his receivers' success have some support for that argument.

Personally I think White's the most accomplished of the group, having excelled for the longest period of time. And if I were drafting right now, factoring in their ages and potential as well as present-day value, I believe I'd take Jones first and Nicks second. Nicks' injury issues scare me, and they're the main reason I can't elevate him over the Atlanta guys even though I'm a well-documented fan of his abilities, worth ethic and accomplishments. They're also the reason I have a hard time deciding whether I'd take him or Cruz in that draft. And if I had to pick one of these guys for whom to draw up a fourth-and-seven play with the season on the line, White's the guy I'd pick.

They are all fantastic, and this is definitely not a clear-cut decision (though I'm sure some in the comments section and on Twitter will insist it is). I think I'll take the Falcons' guys by a hair. They haven't done it in the biggest of spots, as the Giants' guys have, but that's not necessarily on them. I think in terms of overall ability and credentials, they have a slight edge right now. For me.

I welcome your thoughts, as always.

Fantasy Fix: Bradshaw coming on strong

December, 7, 2012
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Because we all spend way too much time each week working on our fantasy football teams anyway, here at the NFC East blog we like to take one post every Friday and make it fantasy-focused. If today's post matters to you, congratulations are likely in order, because that means you've probably made your league's playoffs. If you have, you may be wondering how certain of our division's players fall in this week's rankings by our ESPN fantasy football experts. For the complete position rankings, click on the name of the position.

QUARTERBACKS

3. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins vs. Ravens

10. Eli Manning, New York Giants vs. Saints

13. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati

Ol' Nick Foles still can't crack the top 25. And not just because people are holding the Napoleon Dynamite resemblance against him... Griffin's a must-start no matter the opponent, since you're getting decent running-back numbers along with his quarterback numbers so it's almost like having an extra player... Romo's a tough one this week against a good Bengals defense. Tough to feel great about starting him... Kind of expected Manning to rate higher against the Saints, but he hasn't looked like himself. This is a big one for him. He seems to struggle against the Redskins, and a big game Sunday would make it look as though that's all Monday was.

RUNNING BACKS

7. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants vs. Saints

9. Alfred Morris, Redskins vs. Ravens

12. Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay

T15. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys at Cincinnati

46. David Wilson, Giants vs. Saints

48. Felix Jones, Cowboys at Cincinnati

The Buccaneers are tough on running backs in fantasy, which is a big reason a guy who's rushed for more than 300 yards over the past two weeks is down at 12... Bradshaw looked great against the Redskins, and without Andre Brown around to steal goal-line carries looks like a great play against the very permissive Saints.

WIDE RECEIVERS

6. Dez Bryant, Cowboys at Cincinnati

9. Victor Cruz, Giants vs. Saints

15. Hakeem Nicks, Giants vs. Saints

16. Pierre Garcon, Redskins vs. Ravens

26. Miles Austin, Cowboys at Cincinnati

42. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles at Tampa Bay

Bryant at No. 6! What a meteoric rise. In truth, he's been lights out. I have him in a league in which I drafted Maclin as my No. 1, but thankfully managed to trade for Cruz and Bryant and Roddy White along the way and win the regular-season points title. So I have this terrible feeling that one week soon Bryant will be a decoy and Austin will have the big game. But the train is moving too well to jump off right now... Watch out for Nicks, who missed Thursday practice with a knee injury. If he can't go, I think Cruz's value goes up. Not that that's based on any experience from earlier this year or anything... In that same league, the guy who picked Garcon up off waivers two weeks ago made the playoffs by a single point when Garcon caught that lass Griffin pass Monday night. Talk about drama, right?

TIGHT ENDS

3. Jason Witten, Cowboys at Cincinnati

13. Martellus Bennett, Giants vs. Saints

19. Brent Celek, Eagles at Tampa Bay

I say pretty much the same thing here every week. Witten's the only NFC tight end you start for sure. Bennett maybe in case he runs into a touchdown.

KICKERS

1. Lawrence Tynes, Giants vs. Saints

T13. Dan Bailey, Cowboys at Cincinnati

15. Kai Forbath, Redskins vs. Ravens

17. Alex Henery, Eagles at Tampa Bay

Should be a high-scoring game between the Giants and Saints, meaning plenty of opportunity for fantasy's top kicker... Henery's been great, but the Eagles just don't get him enough scoring chances.

TEAM DEFENSES

16. Giants vs. Saints

21. Cowboys at Cincinnati

26. Redskins vs. Ravens

T31. Eagles at Tampa Bay

Pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Three of the defenses who are playing against NFC East teams this week -- Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Baltimore -- rank in the top 15. None of the NFC East defenses do. Yowza.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Falcons

November, 4, 2012
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As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to play the undefeated Falcons in Atlanta tonight at 8:20 pm ET (7:20 pm CT), here's one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: If the Cowboys' plan is to keep Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense on the sideline as long as possible, the game sets up for them to do so. Atlanta's defense is soft against the run, and the absence of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who's out with an ankle injury, makes it even easier to run against them in the middle of the field. At its best, this Cowboys offense is a balanced one, and if they can have some success early in the run game and establish that balance, they could be in a position to dictate the terms of the game with their very good defense.

Cause for concern: The problem, of course, with that strategy is that starting running back DeMarco Murray remains out with a foot injury and the running game hasn't shown an ability to do much of anything behind backups Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner. So there's a chance, especially when you factor in their season-long offensive line struggles, that they can't get that run game going even against Atlanta's susceptible defense. The Cowboys have the weapons for a passing-game shootout, but it's not necessarily a wise way to go against Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones.
The Washington Redskins' secondary looked considerably better in coverage in Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons than it had in its previous three games. When I broke down the tape via NFL Game Rewind to try and figure out why, I came to the conclusion that the help the defensive backs are getting from the linebackers is the key to their coverage schemes.

Outgunned and outmanned most weeks in the secondary, the Redskins rely on a variety of pre-snap looks and changing coverages to confuse and outwit more talented offensive players. Sometimes they play off the outside receivers and press the slot guy. Sometimes they press all three. They use their inside linebackers in coverage liberally, but they like to line them up so that it's not readily apparent to the defense who's going where. And the key to the whole thing may be the way they use their best pass-rusher, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, to help in coverage. He did it a lot Sunday, and one of the plays on which it stood out to me was a second-and-three from the Atlanta 41-yard line with a little over a minute left in the first quarter. It's a play on which Kerrigan disrupts a receiver at the line and still gets into coverage to help break up the eventual throw.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kerrigan
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceWashington has been relying on linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to drop back into coverage.
Pre-snap on the right side of the line, Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson lines up over Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. Kerrigan is on that side as well, lined up tight to the line looking as though he'll rush the passer. Instead, he pulls a move he repeats several times during the game -- faking a step inside and then dropping into coverage.

When the ball is snapped, Jones immediately breaks inside across the middle and Wilson drops deep up the field. The key is, as soon as Jones turns inside, he's met by Kerrigan, who gives him just enough of a bump to slow him down. Kerrigan and Jones don't stay together long, but I believe the little bump is significant. At this time, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is comfortable in the pocket, looking downfield as he goes through his progression. He's looking to his left, and Jones has not yet entered his field of vision. My belief is that Jones might have done so sooner but for the Kerrigan rub, and Ryan might have hit him for a completion that Jones could have turned into a big gain.

Instead, just before Jones would have caught Ryan's eye, the pocket breaks down a bit, forcing Ryan to move his feet and turn his head to the right. I don't think he ever sees Jones. By this point, Kerrigan is deep in coverage, trailing running back Michael Turner, who is running a route. Wilson is deep and the Redskins have extra defenders on that side with Ryan apparently committed there.

By the time Ryan makes a hurried throw, Kerrigan is positioned equidistant between Turner and another Falcons receiver (I can't tell who it is) and could break and make a play on either one. He also has Wilson and plenty of other help behind him. Ryan chooses Turner, and the pass is incomplete on second-and-three. The Falcons gain only two yards on the next play and have to punt.

This is just one example of something Kerrigan was able to do in coverage to assist the Redskins' outmanned secondary in covering some of the best wide receivers in the league. There's a third-and-seven play on the previous Falcons possession on which defensive back Richard Crawford plays way off Roddy White on the right side and Kerrigan again does his, step-forward-then-immediately-drop-back move into coverage. He trails White upfield while inside linebacker Perry Riley also swings over to that side, and with Crawford deep they have White triangulated. Kerrigan doesn't stay with White and really doesn't have to. It appears that seeing him there is enough to rattle Ryan into a low, short, incomplete throw.

The flip side of this, of course, is that on plays on which he drops into coverage, Kerrigan can't rush the passer. And that hurts the Redskins' pass rush for obvious reasons. But in Sunday's game, it appears Washington wanted to prioritize coverage on White and Jones and, to some extent, tight end Tony Gonzalez (who was often covered one-on-one, and at times by Kerrigan!). The result, with Kerrigan and his fellow linebackers adhering well to their responsibilities in their zones and when asked to help double, was Washington's best coverage game since the season opener in New Orleans. Going forward, it appears the success of their coverages will rise and fall on the help they can give their cornerbacks. And with strong safety Brandon Meriweather sidelined for a while yet, the linebackers are the ones that are going to have to offer the bulk of that help.

How you feeling? Redskins-Falcons

October, 7, 2012
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As the Washington Redskins prepare to host the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons at 1 pm ET on Sunday, here's one reason for Redskins fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: There is a chance the Redskins will be able to run the kind of clock-control offense they like to run in this game. Atlanta ranks 29th in the league so far this year against the run, allowing 146.3 yards per game on the ground in spite of having led for 78.3 percent of their game time. (h/t, ESPN Stats & Information) The Redskins are averaging 171 yards per game in rushing offense, which is second-best in the league, behind rookie running back Alfred Morris and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. When Washington has the ball, no matter what the score is, they should be able to gain yards with it against the Falcons' defense.

Cause for concern: When the Redskins do not have the ball, they could be in large amounts of trouble. In spite of leading for 78.3 percent of their game time so far this year, the Falcons have still dropped back to pass on 66.1 percent of their plays, ESPN Stats & Info tells me. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is determined to maximize and rely on the strengths of quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez, and so far this season those guys have rewarded him. Ryan's passer rating is a league-best 112.1, and the lowest it's been in any game so far this year is 101.5 in Week 2 against Denver. The Redskins are shaky in the secondary, and you can bet the Falcons are prepared to take aim.

Wrap-up: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 22

September, 30, 2012
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A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' white-knuckle 24-22 victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay on Sunday.

What it means: There's a pretty good reason the Redskins are OK with not having another first-round draft pick until 2015. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III continues to impress as he helps lift the Redskins to 2-2. For the game, he completed 26-of-35 passes for 323 yards and no interceptions. He rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He got the ball back on his own 20-yard line, down by a point with 1:42 left in the game and he marched the Redskins 56 yards into field-goal range, whence Billy Cundiff hit the game-winning 41-yarder. What you want from your quarterback is for him to give you the confidence he can bring you back and win a game late, and Griffin has the first fourth-quarter comeback victory of his young career.

Bentley rolls on: The Redskins' other star rookie on offense, sixth-round pick Alfred Morris, rolled up 113 yards on 21 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that built the Washington lead to 21-3. Morris has a lock on the starting running back job in Washington, as newly signed Ryan Grant wasn't even active and is clearly on the roster only for depth. Morris would have to get injured or see his play drop off dramatically for him to lose the job.

On defense: Ryan Kerrigan is a complete animal, and he led the high-pressure first-half assault on Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. When the Redskins were pressuring Freeman early, he couldn't find open receivers and the Redskins' coverage issues on the back end were masked. When the Bucs stepped up their protection in the second half and Freeman had time to throw, he was able to exploit mismatches in the secondary with wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams against the Redskins' defensive backs. It's pretty simple, really. The Redskins' defense requires pressure in order to succeed.

Redemption... barely: You have to wonder if Cundiff would have been back next week if the kick had hooked any farther left. He'd already missed from 41 and 31 yards (and 57, but whatever) in the game, and his misses left the door open for Tampa Bay to mount its comeback. The Redskins got Cundiff (and cut Graham Gano) because of his ability to deliver touchbacks on kickoffs. But as much as NFL coaches prize field position in the kicking game, they almost certainly assumed he'd at least be reliable on field goals. Could be one bad game, but if the trend continues, the Redskins may have to sacrifice something on the kickoffs and look elsewhere for a more reliable kicker. It appears they're going to be in a lot of close games.

What's next: The Redskins play host to the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Landover, Md. Having allowed 326.3 passing yards per game so far this season, they will try and stop Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and an Atlanta passing game that's one of the deadliest in the league. They'll also be looking to break a seven-game home losing streak.

Quick Take: Falcons at Giants

January, 1, 2012
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Three things to know about next Sunday’s Atlanta Falcons-New York Giants wild-card game:

1. Another aerial assault. The Giants’ secondary has struggled throughout the second half of this season, and things don’t get any easier with the Falcons coming to town. Entering play Sunday, Atlanta ranked seventh in the league in pass yards per game and just 20th in rush yards per game. They like to throw the ball, and quarterback Matt Ryan has a variety of downfield options in wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones along with ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez. They run enough with Michael Turner to keep a defense honest, and they’re 22-3 over the past four seasons when Turner rushes for at least 100 yards. But the main problem for the Giants will be making sure to get everybody covered in the passing game.

2. King of the road. Used to be, Ryan was at his best at home in the Georgia Dome. But this year, Ryan’s been a more effective passer on the road -- at least when throwing deep. Entering Sunday’s home finale, in which he threw two touchdowns on 6-for-9 passing before coming out of the blowout game, Ryan’s completion percentage on deep throws was 42.9 on the road compared to 36.5 at home. And his Total QBR on deep throws on the road was 94.8 versus 54.0 at home. ESPN Stats & Information informs us that that’s the largest disparity in the league in that category. Expect Ryan and the Falcons to take some shots downfield and not to be intimidated by MetLife Stadium.

3. Head-to-head history. The Giants are 10-10 all-time against the Falcons and have won three in a row against them, but they haven’t seen them since Nov. 22, 2009, when the two teams hooked up in a wild game at the old Giants Stadium. New York coughed up a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter but ended up winning in overtime. Eli Manning had 384 yards and three touchdowns in that game. Atlanta has overhauled its past defense over the past couple of years, but they’ve been banged-up in the secondary and can be thrown on, as the Saints proved last Monday Night.

DeSean Jackson cracks the top 30

June, 20, 2011
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The NFL Network's list of the "Top 100 Players of 2011" is reaching interesting territory now. With picks No. 21-30 having been revealed Sunday, the two shows that remain feature the very cream of the crop, player-wise, and should foster fierce debate among fans who have little else to discuss thanks to the lockout.

Jackson
The only NFC East player to make the list in the 21-30 range was Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who came in at No. 29.

Now, a disclaimer first: While I enjoy this list as a topic of debate, I do not put any extra significance on it because the voters are NFL players. I know it's easy to think, "Well, they'd know best," and ideally they would. But as someone who's covered professional athletes for the past 17 years, I can promise you any player-voted rankings are at least as fraught with bitterness, jealousy and agenda as are rankings voted on by fans or media. Players are liable to vote a fellow player lower than he should be for reasons as simple as not liking how much money the guy makes. So for me, this list is merely a jumping-off point for discussion, not some infallible judgment from on high. Please keep that in mind as we discuss it here and in posts to come.

As for D-Jax, I'm looking at his ranking in the context of his position -- specifically, the other wide receivers ranked nearest to him on either side. Atlanta's Roddy White came in at No. 24 and Detroit's Calvin Johnson at 27. The Colts' Reggie Wayne and the Bears' Devin Hester were right behind Jackson at No. 31 and 32, respectively.

Compared to those other four receivers, I think I agree with Jackson's placement on this list. If I were picking a receiver for my team, I would not pick him over Johnson or White, who in my mind are more consistent, reliable pass-catchers. I think Wayne is that as well, but he lacks the electricity that those other two provide. The excitement Jackson brings when he has the ball in his hand (combine with his brilliance as a return man) elevate him above Wayne, for me. He's also clearly ahead of Hester, whose ranking would seem to have almost everything to do with his return-game abilities. Jackson may not beat Hester as a return man, but he's not far behind. And he's a considerably better receiver.

We've discussed Jackson here a few times, and I think he's a unique guy when it comes to these rankings. I think there are very few, if any, players in the league more lethal when the ball is in their hands. I just don't feel the ball is in Jackson's hands enough. Whether that's his fault, Andy Reid's fault, Michael Vick's fault or whether it has something to do with the Anthony Weiner scandal is, frankly, immaterial. The fact that Jackson caught only 47 balls in 2010 keeps him out of the top echelon of NFL receivers, in my opinion. But when he's involved in the play, I watch it.

Breakfast links: Plaxico speaks

June, 10, 2011
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It's Friday, it's hot and early-summer attention spans being what they are, we'll get right to the links:

Dallas Cowboys

The ESPNDallas.com series on Cowboys draft picks concluded with a look at first-rounder Tyron Smith. Calvin Watkins (who I thought was a basketball writer) talked to USC offensive line coach James Cregg, who painted the picture of Smith as one bad dude: "A hard, hard worker. A guy who can tolerate pain. The kid is just a workhorse. We did these sprint drills and there were few linemen who could finish them, and he damn near took every rep and didn't complain." Could work.

Tough news here: Reports indicate former Cowboys LB Godfrey Miles suffered a massive heart attack. Best to him and his family, of course.

New York Giants

Plaxico Burress spoke to the Wall Street Journal for his first post-prison interview. Didn't say much, didn't rule out a return to the Giants. Said he watched some football while in prison and"it definitely makes you hungrier. You watch your friends have success and you want to recommit yourself and accomplish things again."

The Giants are looking at whether they'll need to push back the start date of their training camp due to the lockout, but it doesn't appear as if the University of Albany is giving them a hard time or a hard deadline. Other teams, such as the Eagles, may have to make training camp decisions sooner, and I wonder if they'll be able to get any sense from the recent labor talks as to what they'll be able to do.

Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick showed up at former Falcons teammate Roddy White's football camp for kids in South Carolina and was the star attraction. Looks as if he'll be in Virginia today to start a new kids' football league. Spending lots of time with the kids, is Mike. As we've said before here, like him or not, his message hits home with the kids.

Bleeding Green Nation found a little preview of Vick's and DeSean Jackson's Madden 12 player pages. In case you're into that sort of thing.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins are working to relocate ticket holders who will be displaced by this new "party deck" thing they're doing in the upper deck. I don't know. Maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm a grouch, but if they were messing with my tickets during a lockout I'd be upset.

Fred Davis did an interview with a local TV station in his hometown of Toledo. Some fun stuff about his high school days, including some video. I don't know. It's a little Toledo-specific. But if you're a fan of Fred Davis, you might enjoy the seven-minute interview clip.

Got a few things planned before the weekend hits. We'll do Fired-Up Friday, of course, and we have something planned for later today on most underrated players in the division. So keep clicking back while you're bored at work and dreaming of your weekend.

The league's irreplaceables -- and some golf

June, 22, 2009
6/22/09
11:04
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

If you're like me this morning, you're mixing in a little U.S Open coverage (live on ESPN360.com) with your daily NFL reading. And in case you haven't discovered it yet, ESPN.com's Jason Sobel is belting out an outstanding live blog.

I was rooting for the Cinderella story, David Duval, but it appears that the former No. 1 golfer in the world is looking more like No. 882, which is his current ranking. And Ricky Barnes is currently in full-on meltdown mode. If Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson could make any kind of a run, they'd have a chance. OK, here's the NFL tie-in: Dallas' Anthony Kim, currently tied for 14th in the U.S. Open, is good pals with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

In other news, our friends at Football Outsiders have come up with a list of the 10 most irreplaceable players in the NFL. They took into account a lot of numbers I don't understand, depth charts and schemes. Most people have to pay to see this list, but I'll give you a little sneak peek -- minus Bill Barnwell's explanations.

10. Kris Jenkins
9. Michael Roos
8. Ed Reed
7. Andre Johnson
6. Tommie Harris
5. Ryan Clady
4. Roddy White
3. Nnamdi Asomugha
2. DeMarcus Ware
1. Peyton Manning

Obviously, Ware was the only representative from the Beast. Barnwell called Ware the "best two-way defender in the league."

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