Though the NFL is the most team-oriented of the three major sports in this country, that does not mean some players aren't more important than others. Most would agree you need a good-to-great quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
But this article is about the other side of the ball. Who are the most important players on the New York Giants defense? You shouldn't be surprised by this list; last season, it was fairly obvious which players led the Giants to their fourth Super Bowl title.
Here are the five most important players on Big Blue's defense.
It's hard to completely define the importance of the safeties in Perry Fewell's defense. The object of the Tampa 2 defense is to prevent big plays, and Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips do not come up and stack the box like some safeties do.
Which is why when Rolle racks up the tackles like he does, it's impressive. Rolle led the Giants in tackles in 2011 with 96 and was second with 87 in 2010.
But Rolle separates himself from Phillips in terms of his importance with his leadership skills and his ability to be so versatile for Fewell. The Giants liked to use their three-safety look in passing situations, and Rolle's ability to play in the slot as a nickel corner allowed Fewell the freedom to do so.
Rolle is an emotional leader and has accepted his role as such from day one when he signed in 2010.
When Michael Boley was signed from the Atlanta Falcons before the 2009 season, it was not seen as a huge deal. It's a good thing hindsight is 20/20. Boley took on much more of a leadership role in 2011 after the Giants lost Jonathan Goff for the season.
Boley stepping up in 2011 gave them the confidence not to bring Goff back this year, hoping Boley will resume the role of play caller and leader for the defense.
Though the Giants have toyed with the notion that Boley could play in the middle, I believe they will keep him on the outside where he's best. Boley was second on the team in 2011 with 93 tackles and helped the Giants by being able to cover the athletic tight ends of the league.
The role of every linebacker on the Giants is still pretty much up in the air, but you can be sure Boley will see the majority of defensive snaps.
One of the main reasons the Giants defense went from a top-10 pass defense to 29th in the league from 2010 to 2011 was the loss of star cornerback Terrell Thomas.
Thomas led the Giants with 101 tackles, had five interceptions and 21 pass deflections in the 2010 season. He was arguably the Giants best defensive player (and a snub from the Pro Bowl) and was replaced in 2011 by Aaron Ross, who Pro Football Focus ranked as one of the worst corners.
It's obvious the effect Thomas has on the defense; he and Corey Webster are two of the more underrated book end corners in the NFL. The Giants were depleted at the cornerback position in 2011 due to injuries but could have one of the deepest units next season with new additions Jayron Hosley and Antwaun Molden.
With them and Thomas coming back, the Giants could have one of the top pass defenses in the NFL.
It was not the greatest year for Justin Tuck in 2011. He battled through injuries, missed four games and collected just five sacks and 37 tackles on the season. But he's still one of the most important players on the team and someone I know most Giants fans hope remains a Giant for life.
He's been the defensive captain for the past couple seasons, and I cannot think of anyone better to bare the "C" on his chest. No, he may not be the outspoken motivator whom Michael Strahan was or Antrel Rolle is, but he lets his play do the talking, and his teammates follow that example.
When fully healthy, Tuck is one of the best defensive ends in the league.
Jason Pierre-Paul is, without a doubt, the most important player on the Giants. Rarely have we seen one player impact games like JPP can and did in 2011. He led all defensive linemen with 86 tackles, was third among them with 16.5 sacks and made possibly the play of the year for the Giants when he blocked a field goal to preserve a win against the Dallas Cowboys.
When the Giants drafted him 15th overall in 2010, it was based mostly on potential, but even the Giants couldn't have foreseen JPP progressing this quickly. Having All-Pros like Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora showing him the ropes obviously helped.
If JPP is not an early candidate for the 2012 defensive player of the year, he should be. He's one of the most athletically gifted players in the league, and if he continues improving, could go down as one of the best defensive ends ever.