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RB debate: LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Ray Rice or Matt Forte?

The Eagles rewarded LeSean McCoy on Thursday, giving the running back a five-year, $45 million extension. It was a similar deal to another running back, Arian Foster, who signed a five-year, $43.5 million extension in March. Two other young backs, Matt Forte and Ray Rice, are also seeking contract extensions. Which of the four young RBs would you pick if starting a team today?

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  • Bucky Brooks
  • McCoy's versatility makes him the easy choice

LeSean McCoy is the young back I would choose to build my offense around.

He is an explosive runner with the speed and quickness to score from anywhere on the field. He also is a dangerous weapon in the passing game, due to his ability to elude defenders in space. With the proliferation of aerial acrobatics in the NFL making it imperative to have a dual threat in the backfield, McCoy is the dynamic playmaker I would want as my feature back.

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  • Charles DavisNFL Network
  • Undrafted attitude puts Foster over the top

The greedy answer is all of them, but since I have to pick one -- really, just one?! -- I'll go with Arian Foster.

Like the other three, Foster is versatile enough to do it all -- run, block, catch, and he forces defenses to account for his talents in all phases. Dependable, with a home run hitter's talents and the "undrafted free agent" chip on his shoulder, I'll take Foster.

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  • Steve Wyche
  • I love McCoy, but league folks say Foster's the best of the bunch

LeSean McCoy is one of my favorite players based on his versatility and impact. However, taking into account interviews I've had with several coaches, coordinators and assistants, I'd have to take Houston's Arian Foster. Foster plays in a one-cut, zone scheme that a lot of backs have thrived in, but coaches said he could shine in any system. His size, speed and receiving ability also set him apart.

McCoy, Ray Rice and Matt Forte are all tough, impactful guys, but Foster -- in the eyes of a lot of folks who have to game plan against him -- is special. And to think, this is the one player in this group who wasn't even drafted.

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  • Charley Casserly
  • Scheme is crucial, but Forte's best in traditional offense

Great question! All of these backs are excellent, but for the record, none are in the class of Adrian Peterson.

The scheme you run will dictate the answer. If you run a zone scheme, Foster has proven he is effective in that, but I do not know how he would be in a power scheme or in a varied passing game. Forte and Rice are similar. Both are good inside runners who are not top outside threats. I give Forte a slight edge there, but both are effective in the passing game and better all-around backs than Foster. McCoy is your home run threat who is aided by the spread formations that Philly runs when he is used as an inside runner. He is also effective on screens and draws. If it is a zone scheme, I would take Foster. Spread offense, I am taking McCoy. A traditional offense, it's Forte.

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  • Aditi Kinkhabwala
  • Rice gets the nod due to durability, hands

Yikes. This one's like asking a dad to pick his favorite kid. Shady McCoy's the youngest, Arian Foster can make magic out of nothing and Ray Rice is as durable as it gets. In the end, I think I have to pick Rice.

In four years, Rice has missed just three games (all his rookie season). He's the best pass catcher in the bunch (250 catches for 2,235 yards) and he's got great hands in other ways -- he's fumbled just six times in his NFL career. He's compact, he's tough, he's like a pinball in the way he can bounce off tacklers and he doesn't turn 26 until AFC championship time next year.

And, well, in the interest of fair disclosure, there is a personal bias here, too: I covered Rice throughout his Rutgers career. He's a team guy, he's good in the community and he has this ridiculously lovable mom who used to wear an oversized Rutgers helmet to games.

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  • Gregg Rosenthal
  • McCoy is explosive and game-changing in his abilities

I'd start my team with McCoy. I'd guess that most general managers would agree. Ray Rice and Matt Forte are cornerstone pieces. They are complete backs that can play every down. But they aren't nearly as explosive or game-changing as McCoy. They are easier to find.

Foster is a dynamic player, but he is partly the product of Houston's system. His style wouldn't work on every team. McCoy is special. He can take any play the distance and turn a bad play call into a good one. He's a fine receiver and consistently picks up four or five yards more than other explosive backs like Chris Johnson.

Best of all, McCoy is only 23 years old. Forte, Rice, and Foster are 25 or older. Philadelphia's deal could look like a bargain in a few years.

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  • Chad Reuter
  • Rice's small size works to his advantage

I'd take Rice over any of those talented backs. His compact build makes him difficult to see among his large Ravens offensive linemen -- and also makes it very difficult for defenders to get in big shots.

Rice has a great burst in the open field and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield (76 receptions in 2011). Coaches also like that the league's second-ranked rusher last season has the best fumble-to-touch ratio (six drops in 1,209 career rushes and receptions) of all of the backs listed.

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  • Elliot Harrison
  • Foster's a rare talent reminiscent of Eric Dickerson

This is splitting hairs. LeSean McCoy might be the best player of the bunch, but finding a one-cut runner like Arian Foster is a tough deal. Matt Forte and Ray Rice are so versatile, and clearly are involved in the passing game, but I'd rather have a Ronnie Harmon-esque third-down back to pair with Foster, who reminds me in some ways of Eric Dickerson -- always running north/south, few wasted moves, capable of getting chunk yardage quickly, etc. Foster's ability to find the seam, hit it and get seven yards must be respected. And this opens up the rest of the offense for Houston. It's a hard to find that among today's running backs, so if I'm trying to build a team to win this year, my pick is Foster.

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  • Jason Smith
  • By process of elimination, Foster gets the nod

When I try to choose the most elite of the elite, I like to do process of elimination to get to my choice. Sort of like my own personal "Last Comic Standing." I'm going to eliminate Matt Forte first, because I have more questions about him staying healthy long term than the others.

Now it gets really hard, because the remaining three don't have any weaknesses. If I'm starting a team and I want to go deep into the playoffs, I want someone I know can control the football on the ground in a hostile environment with inclement weather. That's the one question I have about McCoy: Can he be The Guy in that situation?

So that leaves Foster and Rice. Both have pretty much the same effectiveness in the passing game, so that's a wash. But who's the most dominant? In splitting hairs, the advantage goes to Foster. In the last two seasons Foster has racked up 15 100-yard rushing games, so pretty much every other game he's hitting the century mark and giving his team a great chance to win. Rice, in turn, has just eight of those games in the last two campaigns. Foster is the more consistent high-level performer, and in my opinion he's the hardest one of the four for a defense to try and shut down. How did the Tennessee Volunteers even lose a game with this guy?

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