The Schein Nine  

 

Adrian Peterson headlines nine indispensable offensive players

Yesterday, we posted a Schein Nine on the defensive players teams cannot live without -- a topic inspired by last week's crushing personnel losses of Daryl Washington and Sean Lee.

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Today, we post a Schein Nine on the most indispensable offensive players -- a topic inspired by yesterday's column.

My editors at NFL.com are brilliant.

But wait, there's more! It's a list ... with a twist.

Obviously, quarterback is the most vital position in football today. But who wants to see another list of signal-callers? So gunslingers have been deemed ineligible from this list of imperative talents.

And frankly, excluding quarterbacks inherently eliminates entire teams from consideration. Yes, the losses of Colts WR Reggie Wayne, Packers RB Eddie Lacy, Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, Saints TE Jimmy Graham and Eagles RB LeSean McCoy would affect the Super Bowl potential of their respective teams. ... But Indianapolis, Green Bay, New England and New Orleans have the quarterbacks to compensate, while Philly's system is too darn good to completely fall apart without its No. 1 tailback. You won't find anyone who played in Super Bowl XLVIII on this list, either. The Seattle Seahawks are just so deep (Pete Carroll's squad posted the NFC's best regular-season record, despite Percy Harvin participating in one game), while Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning truly elevates the play of everyone around him.

Larry Fitzgerald and Victor Cruz were my toughest omissions; the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants certainly would struggle with their respective absences.

Reminder: This is NOT (capital letters, bold, italics) a ranking of the best offensive players; rather, it is a list of the most irreplaceable.

So here are the nine offensive players NFL teams simply cannot afford to lose:

1) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings


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Despite what Shady McCoy seems to believe, Peterson is, quite simply, the best running back in the NFL. He is also the Vikings' offense. And if Minnesota turns to rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater early in the season, that latter point will prove even more crucial.

I talked to Peterson yesterday on my SiriusXM show, "Schein on Sports," and the 29-year-old is excited to be part of Norv Turner's offense; Peterson specifically cited how Minnesota's new coordinator "creates space and matchups" for his running backs. Peterson also expects to be more involved in the passing attack. Scary thought.

2) Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

In last season's playoffs, the Chiefs had a 28-point, second-half lead at Indy ... and blew it. With Charles sidelined by a concussion, it's no coincidence that they couldn't hold the lead. This guy is a bona fide star, a perfect fit in Andy Reid's offense. Watching Charles, you get the feeling that something brilliant can happen at any moment -- and oftentimes, it does.

Last year's numbers were astronomical. Charles had a league-high 12 touchdown runs and racked up seven more scores as a receiver out of the backfield. In addition to obviously spearheading K.C.'s ground attack with 1,287 yards, he also led the team in catches (70) and receiving yards (693). I am a huge believer in the idea that you can win big with Alex Smith as your quarterback ... if you have the requisite talent around him. Smith has Charles -- it's perfect. If something happens to this running back, Kansas City's hopes and dreams immediately go up in smoke.

3) Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers' star center suffered a season-ending injury on Pittsburgh's eighth offensive snap of the 2013 campaign, when teammate David DeCastro accidentally barreled into his leg while attempting to block a Tennessee Titans defender. In a related story, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs. As offensive coordinator Todd Haley told my colleague Michael Silver in the aftermath of the injury, it left the Steelers "shell-shocked." Pittsburgh, of course, dropped its first four games of the year -- creating a hole the Steelers just couldn't dig themselves out of, despite a valiant effort down the stretch.

Pouncey's a great player, the glue of a line that was suspect a year ago. The 27th-ranked run game missed Pouncey. So did Ben Roethlisberger. The fifth-year pro is vital to Pittsburgh's success.

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4) Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears

Don't be surprised. Yes, the Bears boast a number of great players on offense: Fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery blossomed into a star in Year 2 of his career, while Matt Forte has long been a great runner and receiver out of the backfield and Chicago rightly paid Jay Cutler. But Marshall, who just received a lucrative extension of his own, is everything.

It's about more than the gaudy numbers (218 catches for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns) Marshall has piled up in his two seasons with Chicago. He hasn't missed a game as a Bear, and he's clearly Cutler's Linus blanket, the QB's security valve going back to their days together in Denver.

5) Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Looking back at Jones' abbreviated 2013 campaign -- which lasted just five games before season-ending foot surgery -- there's no doubt the Falcons need their gifted wide receiver in the lineup. Just ask Matt Ryan, who was a different quarterback last year with Jones at his disposal:

  Yards per game Total TD Total INT Comp. pct. Yards per attempt Passer rating
Ryan with Jones
(Games 1 through 5)
330 10 3 69.27 7.56 100.9
Ryan without Jones
(Games 6 through 16)
261 16 14 66.51 6.62 83.9

 

As Jones continues to recover from surgery, the Falcons are progressing with extreme caution, and rightfully so: The fourth-year pro's hands and ability after the catch cannot be duplicated in Atlanta's offensive attack.

6) Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns

You might argue that Josh Gordon has leapfrogged Thomas in the pecking order of importance to the Browns. There's no doubting Gordon's greatness. I'm pretty sure I actually heard the collective gasp out of Cleveland when reports surfaced that Gordon could be in line for a lengthy suspension -- and this level of distress is justified, as Gordon led the NFL in receiving last season despite missing two games. But Thomas' sturdiness and leadership still rule.

The former No. 3 overall pick is an elite tackle, with four first-team All-Pro nods under his belt. He's also the team leader. And both roles take on a renewed importance with rookie QB Johnny Manziel now in the fold.

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7) Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers

Young quarterback Colin Kaepernick continues to develop as his rapport with this freakish tight end continues to bloom. Davis is the most dangerous weapon at Kap's disposal.

The only statistical measurement that Jim Harbaugh's 49ers follow is the win-loss column. Davis' 13 touchdown grabs were vital to San Francisco's success last season.

8) Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are already behind the eight ball with the Lee injury. They finished dead last in total defense last season -- and now the unit's best player is on the shelf. Thus, Dallas' hopes completely ride on the right arm of Tony Romo. And Romo's right arm relies on the presence of this incredible talent at receiver.

Bryant can create drama, but there's no denying his profound impact on the field. Look at the stats from last season (93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns) -- or look at the attention he commands from opposing defenses. If Bryant were to go missing, so would Dallas.

9) Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

The Lions are underachievers, but where would they be without this absurd athletic specimen? They wouldn't have a prayer. Megatron missed two games last season, and Detroit scored a grand total of 22 points (in a pair of losses).

Matthew Stafford doesn't complete enough passes and throws too many picks. But the Lions QB would be much worse in both areas without Johnson's height, hands and knack for making the impossible possible.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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