Peter King's Top 50 Free Agents, Stephen Tulloch, and the Eagles

Peter King's Top 50 Free Agents, Stephen Tulloch, and the Eagles

No surprise, Peyton Manning topped Peter King's annual list of the top 50 free agents in the NFL. While the market doesn't officially open until Tuesday, Manning's release from the Colts makes him available to sign with a new team right away, and neck injuries be damned, front offices numbering in double digits are clamoring to land the biggest free agent since Reggie White -- arguably of all time.

Andy Reid has already acknowledged the Eagles are not in the hunt for 18, but there are 49 other players who could make the club better, including a pair of their own, plus one of our coveted free agent linebackers.

For Philadelphia, left guard Evan Mathis came in at 21, while Juqua Parker was a surprising entry for the list at number 40.

Despite grading as the best guard in football for 2011 according to Pro Football Focus, Mathis's position paled in comparison to the Saints' Carl Nicks, who ranked fourth on King's list. Of course, Nicks is a two-time All Pro, and unlike Mathis, routinely garners consideration as the top guard in the league. Mathis has indicated he would like to stay, but a rule prevents the Eagles from signing him before FA opens, so it will be interesting to see if they consider negotiating with Nicks as well.

At 33 years old, Parker is caught up in a numbers game at defensive end. The Eagels have two Pro Bowlers in Jason Babin and Trent Cole, and a group of young guys who need playing time. King suggests Parker could wind up with 10 sacks elsewhere, a number we scoff at because it would surpass his career high, but he can go somewhere else and start is the larger point.

Perhaps the most interesting entry was for Lions' middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who came in at ninth -- the first LB on the list. As we said earlier this week, Tulloch would be a great fit for the Eagles because he has played behind wide nine fronts his entire NFL career. King seems to agree, and predicted he could very well wind up here.

Lions think he wants too much. Eagles might have just the financial slot for him.

Sure hope he is right. If management can fill the hole in the middle of their defense during the first week of free agency, the Eagles' defense could be dangerous in 2011.

Falcons' MLB Curtis Lofton listed 24th, London Fletcher was 43rd, and Erin Henderson was 44th. David Hawthorne, who was also mentioned in our linebackers piece, was not in King's top 50.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are not likely to use another high draft pick at safety after dropping second round picks in consecutive years, but a mid-level veteran is not out of line. Jacksonville's Dwight Lowery ranks 32nd, and the Cowboys' Abram Elam was mister irrelevant, number 50.

A few other notes:

- On the heels of a strong season in Denver, Brodrick Bunkley was 10th. Bleeding Green Nation asked whether it was wise to trade Bunk this past offseason, as he is a very successful run defender. However, Cullen Jenkins is no slouch and has added versatility as a pass rusher, while Mike Patterson is locked in a team-friendly contract through 2016.

- In all, nine wide receivers made King's top 50. Only one -- Vincent Jackson at number seven -- likely would have rated higher than DeSean Jackson.

- The Giants appear poised to lose three of the top 50 players: WR Mario Manningham, DE Dave Tollefson, and CB Terrell Thomas. Thomas missed all of last season with a torn ACL, Tollefson is an effort guy, and Manningham is being overrated after a strong playoffs and his clutch Super Bowl grab. Should be roughly the same team next season.

>> The King 50: Ranking Top NFL Free Agents [SI.com]

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

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Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

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Temple quarterback Phillip Walker rolled on the ground in pain after taking a shot late in the first quarter and was immediately forced to the sideline.

With the Owls already trailing and their starting QB’s shoulder dinged up, things certainly weren’t going how the team envisioned opening up its homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“It’s a nagging injury that comes and goes,” Walker said.

The pain was able to quickly go away, and then the Owls were able to go off.

Walker returned after a one-play absence to throw a deep touchdown pass and spark 28 unanswered points by Temple during the second quarter of a 48-20 win over Charlotte (see Instant Replay).

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) evened their record with the win before opening up AAC play next week against SMU.

“It was big for us just because we needed to get going offensively,” Walker said of his beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings on the first play of the second quarter. “We knew it would happen. It just takes time. A lot of people come with the same energy every game at the beginning of the game. Just let that energy wear off a little bit. Once you get your opportunity, then you take your shots and make your plays as an offense.”

The Owls’ offense made plenty of plays during that big second quarter. 

A couple of possessions after Walker’s TD pass gave Temple back the lead, the Owls got a gift when Charlotte (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) quarterback Kevin Olsen and running back Kalif Phillips botched a read-option exchange. The fumble was scooped up by TU defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and returned 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13-yard line. On the very next play, Jahad Thomas scampered around the left side for a touchdown.

Temple’s defense then forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back for Walker, who connected with Brodrick Yancy on a 40-yard score to break the game open.

Ryquell Armstead tacked on a one-yard touchdown plunge right before halftime to give the Owls a 31-7 advantage at the break.

In all, the Owls outscored the 49ers 28-0 and outgained them 176-66 during the period.

“Once we got the turnover, we had another opportunity in the red zone to make something happen and we did,” Walker said. “Give us the ball in the red zone, we have to capitalize off of it and we have to be able to make a play.”

“I thought the turnovers and field position started helping hitting the big play,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “I just think we kind of settled down on offense, got into a rhythm. I think you’re seeing that we’re able to get our quarterback into a rhythm and he’s playing pretty well.”

Temple got contributions from several key players on offense to rack up 507 total yards and 26 first downs in the victory. Thomas and Armstead each had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Eight different players caught passes with five reaching at least 40 yards, including sophomore wideout Yancy, who had four receptions for 70 yards and a score.

However, it all starts with Walker as he continued to build on the momentum he found last week against Penn State. Walker completed 15 of 26 attempts for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The senior quarterback is starting to hit his stride at the right time with conference play coming up and his teammates are following his lead.

“He likes throwing the ball. The more we catch the ball for him the more it makes him look good, makes others look good and allows us to run the offense the way it can be run,” Yancy said.

“He’s been productive,” Thomas said. “Definitely coming into the season he was talking about his completion percentage. He’s a senior now. He feels more comfortable just getting his feet set. When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time you can be comfortable out there, so I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well in the last two games.”

With the defense still showing some warts (429 total yards allowed to Charlotte, including 231 on the ground) and the meat of the schedule coming up with conference play, Temple will be counting on Walker to keep his game at a high level to help the Owls defend their East Division crown.

“Looking forward to it,” Walker said of opening up the AAC portion of the schedule. “There are a lot of great teams in this conference. I think this conference can go either way whether it’s anyone from the West or anyone from the East. There’s a lot of great talent. We just have to bring our A game every week. We’ve got a long stretch here, so we just have to come out here and play our game.”

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”