On Tuesday, I delivered a Schein Nine highlighting the most indispensable offensive players in the NFL (excluding quarterbacks). Now it's time to shift focus to the other side of the ball.
In compiling this Schein Nine on the most indispensable defensive players, I took into account pure domination, impact on the team, the overall defensive unit and the standings.
Let the debate begin!
Schein: Indispensable offensive stars
Certain NFL players are simply irreplaceable. Adam Schein identifies nine such studs on the offensive side of the ball. More ...
1) Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals: Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. The Bengals boast a great defense without a bunch of elite talent. I give the credit to coordinator Mike Zimmer and the difference-making Atkins. He is a force, seemingly unstoppable in every single aspect of D-line play. Atkins plugs the middle, commands attention and still puts up sensational numbers, sacking the quarterback 12.5 times last year and forcing four fumbles. Atkins ranked sixth in the NFL in knockdowns and hurries, but tops among defensive tackles.
2) Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans: This is not a misprint. Yes, I voted for J.J. Watt as Defensive Player of the Year -- didn't even think twice about it. Watt had an amazing, MVP-caliber season. But the heart and soul of Houston's defense is Cushing. To realize this, all you had to do was watch the games last year. When Cushing went down, so did the Texans' Super Bowl chances.
With Cushing, Houston was undefeated at 5-0, ranked fourth in scoring defense, third in total defense, ninth in rushing defense and first in third-down percentage. Sans Cushing, the Texans went 7-4. In those 11 games, the scoring defense ranked 20th, total defense fell to 16th and third-down percentage plummeted eight spots.
Cushing is a star. He's the pulse of Wade Phillips' defense. This is no knock on Watt, one of my favorite players in the league, but Houston can't compete for a title without Cushing.
3) Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos:Elvis has left the building. Now, if something happens to Miller, Peyton Manning and the Broncos have no chance of making the Super Bowl. Elvis Dumervil was a perfect complement to Miller. But in the wake of an epic fax flub, the onus is on No. 58. I think he's up for it.
Miller is a freak, piling up 18.5 sacks, as well as 31.5 knockdowns and 12 hurries, in just his second NFL season.
4) Justin Smith, DL, San Francisco 49ers: He can play end. He can play tackle. Inherently, San Francisco can line up in the 3-4 or the 4-3. Both NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the best linebacker combination in the league, have told me Smith is the most important player on the Niners' defense. He's tough. He's clutch. He takes on blockers and frees up other players.
And of course, if you're not sure how indispensable Sherman is, just ask him. He'll be happy to fill you in.
7) Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots: At age 31, he's still elite. He got my vote last year for first team All-Pro at defensive tackle (along with Atkins). Wilfork is a pro's pro, consistently fulfilling his duty of clogging the middle. Wilfork is a leader, a true Bill Belichick guy. He can play (and dominate) in multiple fronts.
Brandt: The next great linebacker
Kuechly is not only a true tackler, he's an indispensable leader. He is on my short list of players I would build by defense around.
9) Daryl Washington, LB, Arizona Cardinals: Washington has received my vote as a first-team All-Pro linebacker in each of the past two seasons. He was the main reason I penned a column detailing why the Cardinals would make the playoffs as a true surprise team this year under new head coach Bruce Arians.
Without Washington, Arizona will be hard-pressed to succeed in the season's opening month, facing the following slate: at St. Louis Rams, vs. Detroit Lions, at New Orleans Saints, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With him, I would've picked Arizona to start 3-1. Washington is a dominant tackling machine with a nose for making plays. Arizona will miss him dearly -- this is a team that must take over games on defense.
Just missed the cut (The next nine)
» Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens
» Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins
» Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings
» DeMarcus Ware, DE/OLB, Dallas Cowboys
» NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers
» Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions
» Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers
» Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons
» Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers