There are certain NFL players teams simply cannot live without, players who are truly indispensable.
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines indispensable as "absolutely necessary" or "essential," and "not subject to being set aside or neglected."
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So we accepted the challenge from the NFL.com office to find the nine most indispensable players on offense in the league. (Yes, I'll also provide my most indispensable defensive players in the coming days.)
But there's a catch: We are going to exclude the quarterback position. These guys get all the credit (and blame) for everything, even if it isn't totally warranted (both the positive and the negative). And it goes without saying that just about every NFL team would struggle if it lost its No. 1 signal-caller for a prolonged period of time.
Without further ado, here's the list, "Schein Nine" style:
1) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: This was the only no-brainer on the list. Peterson's the reigning league MVP for a very simple reason: His brilliance is the difference between the Vikings being a last-place team and heading to the playoffs with double-digit wins. He masked Christian Ponder's stretch of ineffective play. Peterson carried the Vikes all year, repeatedly answering the bell in must-win games. Minnesota secured a postseason bid by winning its final four games of the regular season, with Peterson racking up 651 rushing yards during that span.
Think about it: If you found out Peterson was going to miss this season, how many wins would you project for the Vikings? He's the most irreplaceable player on this list. Period.
2) Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears: If you have followed the Bears' activity this calendar year, you realize every move general manager Phil Emery makes appropriately is about maximizing Jay Cutler. He smartly hired quarterback/offensive guru Marc Trestman as head coach. He drafted offensive lineman Kyle Long in the first round. Emery knows, at the end of the day, that the success or failure of the Bears simply depends on whether or not Cutler ascends to true stardom. And Marshall is Cutler's "Linus blanket."
As the Denver Broncos' quarterback in 2007 and 2008, Cutler piled up 3,497 and 4,526 passing yards, respectively. In a related story, Marshall had 102 catches for 1,325 yards in 2007 and 104 for 1,265 in '08. The pair reunited in Chicago last year and Marshall again put up huge numbers (118 catches, 1,508 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns). And this came after Marshall failed to hit 90 catches in consecutive seasons with the Miami Dolphins, away from Cutler.
Marshall is on his best behavior -- on and off the field -- when he is with Cutler. Marshall makes Cutler better. They have a great rapport. Marshall is a true No. 1 wideout, a true beast. He demands the safety help and double teams, allowing everyone else to reap the benefits.
3) Duane Brown, LT, Houston Texans:Arian Foster is a stud. Yet, Houston still can pound the rock with authority with backup runners. Matt Schaub has learned how to stay healthy. The Texans made scrutinized changes to the right side of their line before last season -- and the unit didn't skip a beat.
Brown fits Houston's scheme perfectly. He's well-rounded and dominant. I'd argue he's the best at what he does in one of the league's most balanced attacks.
Last year, Jones-Drew missed the final nine games. Over that span, the Jaguars' collection of backs combined to hit 100 yards a grand total of three times! They won just one of those three games.
Jog the mental Rolodex. When healthy, Jones-Drew is a stud runner, a sneaky blend of power and speed who compiles yards after contact despite his diminutive height. He's literally everything for the retooling Jaguars -- especially when you consider the fact that Jacksonville has one of the worst QB situations in the league, numerous holes on both sides of the ball and a four-game suspension for receiver Justin Blackmon.
5) Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers: I argued last week on NFL.com that, despite the blow of losing Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles, the Niners are still the best team in the NFL. A large part of that argument hinges on the continued development of Davis. If he doesn't take his rapport with Colin Kaepernick to the next level -- if Davis suffers lapses in focus like he did in the Mike Singletary days ("I want winners!") -- then all bets are off.
I think Davis is a star -- and an indispensable one, at that.
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6) Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons: Gonzalez essentially announced his retirement last season -- 2012 was his last year, with the next stop being Canton, Ohio five years down the road. But at Super Bowl XLVII, both Falcons owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff said they planned on talking Gonzalez out of retirement, getting him to come back and finally live out his dream of reaching Super Bowl Sunday.
I could give you his numbers from last year -- 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns -- or I could tell you how his presence puts such pressure on a defense, what with the need to account for him on every play. They can't simply double Julio Jones and/or Roddy White. Not to mention, Gonzalez helps Matt Ryan lead during the week, setting the tone during practice and in the locker room.
7) Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns: The rock on Cleveland's offensive line is also the single-best and most dominant Brown, regardless of position. Thomas handles himself well against great pass rushers, of which there are many lurking in the competitive AFC North.
While the Lions were a terrible team in 2012, they remained a threat each Sunday, simply because of Johnson.
Just missed the cut (The next nine)
» Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts
» Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
» Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
» A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
» Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
» Mike Iupati, OG, San Francisco 49ers
» Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
» Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
» LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles