Each NFL Team's Luxury Player They Can't Do Without
There are players in this league that are so talented that they impact how their football team operates.
These players can be considered a luxury, but a luxury their team can't afford to lose.
It's like electricity or the Internet. These things aren't a necessity for life, but life would be a lot harder without them.
This article is going to breakdown one player from each team that is essential to the franchise's success. Some of these will be obvious, but several might be a surprise.
Trust me, this isn't a list of every team's quarterback.
Player: Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle
As a whole, the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line is a unit that has some problems. Those issues would be much greater if Tyron Smith wasn't in the lineup. Smith has taken over the left tackle spot from Doug Free and is by far the most talented play along the offensive line.
His fluid movements, quick feet and strong anchor make him an excellent pass protector. Dallas will have to use the tight ends and running backs to help Doug Free and the interior of the line. Without Smith holding down the left side, Tony Romo would face an insurmountable amount of pressure.
The Cowboys' offense features playmakers like Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Each of these players make an impact in the passing game. Dallas needs Romo to have time in the pocket if they want to feature these talented players.
New York Giants
Player: Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver
Eli Manning is a very talented quarterback who does a good job at making those around him better. However, it also helps that he's able to throw the ball to someone like Victor Cruz.
His well-rounded playing style made it difficult for opposing defenses to neutralize his impact. Cruz's quickness and exceptional route-running ability made it easy for him to create separation. He provided New York with a strong vertical threat which forced defenses to roll coverage to his side of the field.
Cruz's play also helped increase the production of players like Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard. Because of his play-making ability, there was always someone facing a one-on-one matchup.
Player: Michael Vick, Quarterback
The way the Philadelphia Eagles struggle when Michael Vick is out of the lineup is a testament of his talent level. Vick is an explosive player who is difficult to defend. Opposing defenses must account for both his running ability and arm talent. His wide-range of talents ensures that others on the offense have favorable matchups.
In the passing game, defenses typically have to assign a defender to spy on Vick. This takes at least one player out of the coverage scheme. Vick's arm strength allows him to effectively attack the deep part of the field.
Defenses must respect this big-play potential by ensuring they have the proper coverage assignments. This means they don't have the option of placing an extra defender in the box.
Last season, LeSean McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards. The presence of Michael Vick absolutely contributed to McCoy's production.
Take Vick out of the lineup and all of a sudden there's an extra defender in the box and in coverage. This offense just isn't as explosive without Vick.
Player: Pierre Garcon, Wide Receiver
The Washington Redskins made several moves this offseason to revamp their offensive attack. Adding Robert Griffin III was the major move, but signing Pierre Garcon was also significant. In order to get the most out of Griffin III's talent, the Redskins needed to bring in someone that can stretch the field.
Griffin III has many talents, but his ability to throw an accurate deep ball is arguably his best. This is why Garcon is a perfect fit in Washington. Because of his excellent speed, he's a constant threat to beat a defender deep down the field.
It's important to provide a young quarterback opportunities to play to his strengths. Griffin III loves to play an aggressive brand of football, and he'll be able to do that with Garcon in the lineup.
Of course, this also will help open things for the running game. Defenses must respect the Redskins' big-play potential.
Player: Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
Fred Jackson is a multi-talented running back that is the key to the Buffalo Bills' offensive success. Last season, he averaged nearly 140 yards per game. That production came in both the run and passing game. Because of his production, Chan Gailey and his offensive staff gave him over 20 touches a game.
Probably the most overlooked part of Jackson's game is his big-play potential. He had three games last season where he averaged over seven yards per carry, and his season average was 5.5 yards per carry. This shows that Jackson is both consistent and an explosive playmaker.
Outside of Stevie Johnson, the Bills don't have a ton of talent at the wide receiver position. This is why it's important the offense has a strong rushing attack. It's also why Jackson gets so many opportunities in the passing game.
Many will point to C.J. Spiller as a reason why Jackson isn't too important. While Spiller is talented, he hasn't shown the consistency needed to replace Jackson in the lineup.
Player: Reggie Bush, Running Back
As an offense, the Miami Dolphins lack the overall talent needed to win football games. They're heading into the season with a rookie quarterback and the likes of Davone Bess as their top receiving threat. The only top-end playmaker they have is Reggie Bush.
Despite the concerns surrounding his durability, Bush proved last season that he has the talent to be one of the top running backs in the league. In his first season in Miami, he had the most productive season of his career. He averaged five yards per carry and nearly doubled his previous season high in rushing yards.
Bush's presence is not only going to be important for this season's offensive production, but also for the stability of the franchise. Miami's decision to name Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback means the Dolphins are looking towards the future.
However, the lack of top-level talent in the receiving corps and the fact that Tannehill is a rookie isn't a recipe for a strong season. Because young quarterbacks need confidence to succeed, Miami needs Tannehill to have some sort of success.
Bush's ability to run the football and make plays out of the back field has the potential to help the young quarterback.
New England Patriots
Player: Tom Brady, Quarterback
Anyone that takes a good look at the entire New England Patriots' roster can easily realize how important Tom Brady is to the franchise. On offense, players like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernadez are talented but need Brady to succeed. Someone like Welker wouldn't be nearly as productive if he had a quarterback unable to run the Patriots' up-tempo attack.
The Patriots need the passing game to be highly productive because they lack talent at the running back position. They're counting on a group of unproven backs like Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen.
Defensively this is a unit that isn't capable of consistently keeping the opponent out of the end zone. Last season they allowed over 411 yards per game, ranking them second worst in the league just ahead of the Green Bay Packers.
Expectations are high in New England, and without Brady they wouldn't come close to meeting those expectations.
New York Jets
Player: Darrelle Revis, Cornerback
The New York Jets and Rex Ryan's defensive style puts a lot of pressure on both the quarterback and his cornerbacks. Ryan develops very complex blitz packages that often leave his cornerbacks locked up in man coverage. New York is able to run this system only because they have Darrelle Revis on the roster.
Revis is the definition of a shut-down corner. Over the years, he's shown that he has the talent to neutralize an opponent's top wide receiver. NFL quarterbacks are too talented to run this type of defense without someone like Revis.
As soon as they recognized the blitz, the quarterback would call for a hot route, and unless there's an elite man-defender, the offense will take advantage.
It's obvious that Revis realizes just how important he is to this team. That's why he's constantly looking to negotiate a new deal.
Player: Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver
There has been a lot of attention paid to the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback competition. The poor play of both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton has created a very pessimistic view of the season.
Arizona's only hope is Larry Fitzgerald. His ability to produce somehow isn't impacted by struggles at the quarterback position.
Despite dealing with the same two quarterbacks last season, Fitzgerald was able to record very impressive numbers. His 80 receptions, 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns ranked him in the top 15 in each receiving category.
It's Fitzgerald's combination of route-running ability, size, leaping ability and strong hands that makes him so successful. He makes it easy for even average quarterbacks to get him the football. His ability to make plays on poorly thrown balls is a key to his sustained success.
San Francisco 49ers
Player: Justin Smith, Defensive End
Last season, the San Francisco 49ers surprised the NFL thanks to the strong play of their defense. This unit allowed only 14.3 points per game, good for second best in the league. A lot of players helped this unit achieve greatness, but Justin Smith is the key to the defense.
Smith has a rare ability to both hold-strong against the run and rush the passer. He's asked to play the five-technique, which is one of the tougher assignments in football. His well-rounded skill set gives the 49ers both consistency and big-play ability.
The 49ers don't only count on Smith to make plays on the field, as they also look to him as one of the team leaders. Smith's tenacity and passion for the game raise the intensity level of everyone on the defense.
Player: Red Bryant, Defensive Line
Looking at Red Bryant's stats won't paint an accurate picture of the impact he has on the field. The Seattle Seahawks run a unique defensive attack that requires one of the defensive ends to play a role similar to a nose tackle. Bryant's size and run-stuffing ability allow him to perfectly fill that role.
With Bryant stacking the edge on one side of the line, Seattle is free to feature a smaller defensive end like Chris Clemons at the other end position. If Bryant is taken out of the equation, opponents will have a much easier time running the football.
The fact is that players with Bryant's size and anchor aren't easy to find. That's why teams running a 3-4 defense put such a high priority on finding a stud nose tackle.
St. Louis Rams
Player: Steven Jackson, Running Back
Despite Sam Bradford's struggles last season, the St. Louis Rams decided not to make adding a top-notch receiver a priority. Their top addition at the position came in the form of second-round pick Brian Quick. The lack of talent in the passing game means that Steven Jackson remains the offense's top playmaker.
Jackson has owned that title for the past several years, and figures to again be the focal point of the offense. St. Louis is counting on him to continue his solid production in both the running and passing games.
The Rams are taking a real risk of damaging the confidence of Sam Bradford. Another poor performance like last season can have a long-lasting impact on his development.
This is just another reason why Jackson must produce. He's the only one capable of taking some pressure off Bradford.
Player: Peyton Manning, Quarterback
Despite all the negativity surrounding Tim Tebow's play at the quarterback position, the fact remains he helped lead the Denver Broncos to a playoff victory. He also helped turn the team's season around, after they started the year 1-3. This just shows the impact a quarterback can have on the game.
Denver expects Peyton Manning to have an even greater impact.
The Broncos didn't add Manning to the mix just to make another playoff appearance. They feel with him on the roster they have a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. Actually, Manning is the only shot this team has at winning the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning might be coming off a major injury, but he's still an elite quarterback. His knowledge of the game, timing and accuracy will help him overcome any lingering effects of the neck injury. All aspects of the offense will be more productive with Manning under center.
Another important factor in the Manning signing is that it allowed the Broncos to move Tim Tebow. It was obvious the franchise didn't see him as a long-term option at quarterback.
However, only a player of Manning's stature would've made moving Tebow acceptable.
Kansas City Chiefs
Player: Tamba Hali, Outside Linebacker
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of my sleeper teams for the upcoming season. They have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. However, it'll be up to Tamba Hali and the defense to keep this team consistently playing at a high level.
Despite Matt Cassel's strong play this preseason, questions still remain if he's capable of leading a high-powered offensive attack. The Chiefs won't be able to make a strong playoff push without either Cassel playing well or having a strong defense.
Hali's ability to generate pressure on the quarterback is what makes this defense so dangerous. They have talent at other positions, but nobody can change the game like Hali. He not only creates pressure, he also does a good job generating turnovers.
One of the best ways to help a questionable offense is by giving them more possessions, which are created by turnovers.
Player: Darren McFadden, Running Back
Darren McFadden is one of the most talented running backs in the entire NFL. He's both an explosive and powerful runner. His ability to consistently pick up big chunks of yardage helps the offense move the chains. The Oakland Raiders aren't the same team with McFadden out of the lineup, as is evident from last year's struggles after his injury.
Despite the changes in the coaching staff, the Raiders are still an offense built around speed. Players like Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore excel at attacking the deep part of the field. The new offensive coaches will absolutely take advantage of their speed.
This is one of the main reasons why McFadden is so important. With him in the lineup, opposing defenses must commit extra defenders to shutting him down. This pulls guys out of coverage and opens things up for the passing game.
The Raiders' offense has a chance to be extremely explosive, but only if McFadden remains healthy.
San Diego Chargers
Player: Philip Rivers, Quarterback
The relationship between Philip Rivers and Norv Turner has produced several winning seasons for the San Diego Chargers. Rivers has been one of the few offensive players able to remain healthy for San Diego.
Players like Antonio Gates, Ryan Mathews, Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd have all missed significant chucks of time over the past few years. It's no wonder the Chargers are a team that struggles with consistency.
San Diego is dealing with a similar situation this season. Mathews is injured again, while newcomers Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem have both missed time. Rivers is the only thing keeping the offense above water.
There really isn't many quarterbacks that can overcome these types of obstacles. The Chargers' fanbase really takes Rivers for granted. It's about time they realize just what he deals with each and every year.
Player: Brian Urlacher, Middle Linebacker
There are a handful of teams that run a cover-2 defense like the Chicago Bears, but not many that run it so well. A lot of the success of Chicago's defense is because of Brian Urlacher. His combination of size and quickness makes him a perfect fit for the system.
In the passing game, Urlacher is often asked to cover a deep middle zone. This means he needs to be able to run with both wide receivers and tight ends down the seam.
A player that lacks Urlacher's speed would have a hard time reaching his assigned area, and offenses would be able to pick apart the middle of the defense.
Possessing top-end speed isn't the only requirement to fit in this system. The middle linebacker also has to be big and strong enough to support the run. It's really rare to find a player that can match Urlacher's skill set.
Player: Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver
Calvin Johnson is one of those few players that doesn't need much support to make a major impact. He's the one that makes those around him better, yet still records good numbers.
It's nearly impossible for opposing defenses to completely shut Johnson down. He has a rare combination of size, speed and leaping ability. Stafford doesn't need to deliver a perfect pass in order for Johnson to make the catch.
Because of some problems on the defensive side of the ball, Detroit needs the offense to remain highly productive. It's safe to say that the Lions aren't a playoff team if Johnson is out of the lineup.
They have their issues on defense, lack a strong running game and really don't have a solid No. 2 wide receiver.
Green Bay Packers
Player: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback
The Green Bay Packers' defense allowed a league-high 411.6 yards per game last season. This put a lot of pressure on the offense to perform at a high level.
Luckily, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers running the show. Rodgers provides the offense with both consistency and a big-play threat.
His surrounding cast isn't as talented as some believe. Jordy Nelson is just coming into his own, JerMichael Finley has suffered a string of injuries and the running game is a mess. This offense and team is successful because of Rodgers' talent level.
Some will want to reference Matt Flynn's success when filling in for Rodgers. However, it's important to note that the noteworthy performance came against the Detroit Lions' pass defense. That defense allowed nearly 240 passing yards per game.
Player: Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver
Percy Harvin is a dual-threat receiver, who makes plays in both the running and passing games. Last season, he combined for 1,312 total yards and eight touchdowns. His versatility makes it tough for opposing defenses to develop a game-plan to stop his production.
The Minnesota Vikings have a very limited amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Outside of Harvin, Adrian Peterson and maybe Kyle Rudolph there's not much to get excited about. This is one of the reasons why Harvin is asked to fill multiple roles.
Minnesota is doing all it can to help Christian Ponder continue his development. Harvin's play-making ability is an important part of that process. This is why the Vikings weren't willing to cave when Harvin requested a trade this summer.
Player: Ray Rice, Running Back
Despite the steady improvement of Joe Flacco, Ray Rice is the focal point of the Baltimore Ravens' offense. He makes major contributions in both the running and passing games. His durability is also a key to Rice's high value. The Ravens know that he's going to be on the field and produce at a high level.
His presence has played a major role in the development of Flacco. Rice helps move the chains, pull defenders out of coverage and make for a reliable target out of the backfield. This allowed Flacco to slowly grow as a quarterback because he wasn't looked to to make all the plays.
Rice's health and durability are even more important this year. The Ravens head into the season with Bernard Pierce and Anthony Allen as Rice's primary backups. Both have little experience, and it would be a stretch to ask either to fill in for Rice.
Player: A.J. Green, Wide Receiver
The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the most surprising teams last year. They were able to make a playoff appearance lead by a strong defense and a rookie quarterback and wide receiver.
Andy Dalton got most of the attention, but he wouldn't have been nearly as successful without A.J. Green.
Green is an elite athlete who possesses excellent route-running ability and size. He does an excellent job timing his jumps in order to attack the ball at its highest point. There were more than several occasions where Green out-battled a defender for a jump ball.
Perhaps the biggest thing Green provided the Bengals' offense is consistency. Dalton was able to target him in pressure situations because Green was always in the right position. Green also proved that if Dalton threw the ball in his direction, there was a good chance he'd make an impact play.
It's safe to say that without such a reliable and explosive target, Andy Dalton wouldn't have had such a successful season.
Player: Trent Richardson, Running Back
Trent Richardson has yet to officially suit up for the Cleveland Browns, but he's already the most important player on the team. The Browns are counting on him to be the top playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. This team lacks the experience and top-level talent in the passing game to succeed without Richardson.
In the current NFL climate, running backs are rarely selected in the top-five of the NFL draft. However, the Browns felt that Richardson was a difference maker and worthy of the No. 3 overall pick. He's highly regarded because of his versatility.
Richardson is the type of running back that will pick up yards after contact and break off large chunks of yardage. He's also a three-down back who's a reliable target out of the backfield and solid in pass protection. Cleveland added Richardson with the idea that he'd get tons of touches and rarely leave the field.
Furthermore, his presence is important to the development of Brandon Weeden. The transition for a young quarterback is made much easier by the presence of a strong running game.
Player: Casey Hampton, Nose Tackle
The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense has been among the league's most dominant units for a long time. Players like James Harrison, Troy Polamula and Lammar Woodley get all the press, but it's Casey Hampton who is the most important part. Hampton's presence at the nose tackle position is what allows others to cleanly pursue the football.
This season we will get a glimpse of just how important Hampton is to the Steelers, as he might miss some time with lingering knee and elbow injuries. Without Hampton in the middle, the opponent will have an easier time running the football. His ability to eat up space and occupy blockers allowed others to make plays on the football.
Look for opposing offenses to have an easier time getting their interior linemen up on the linebackers. This opens more running lanes and help the running back pick up bigger chunks of yardage.
Player: John Abraham, Defensive End
As I'm sure you've heard, the NFL is increasingly becoming a pass-dominant league. This means that defenses must find a way to generate pressure on the quarterback if they want to be successful.
Atlanta's biggest issue is that players like Ray Edwards didn't help Abraham generate pressure on the quarterback. This makes Abraham's production a major key to the Falcons' hope for success this season. Without his pressure off the edge, opposing offenses would be able to maximize the amount of players they send out in passing routes.
Teams that boast a strong pass-rush, such as the New York Giants, force the offense to keep running backs or tight ends in to help protect the quarterback. This means that there are maybe only three or four players threatening the defense.
Atlanta needs Abraham for this very reason. Without his presence the offense could be able to limit the pass rush with just their offensive line, which would allow them to put as many as five playmakers on the field.
Player: Cam Newton, Quarterback
The Carolina Panthers' decision to select Cam Newton No. 1 overall was met with mixed reviews. I was one of those that had questions surrounding his ability to develop into a top-notch passer in the NFL. Newton quickly proved all of his doubters wrong, and is already one of the more dangerous playmakers in the NFL.
If the Panthers decided against selected Newton, they'd still be in the beginning stages of the rebuilding process.
Newton's wide-range of skills makes it difficult for defensive coordinators to develop a strong game plan. They must respect both his ability to pass and run the football. Most importantly, they need to find a way to shut down his big-play ability.
Newton's strong relationship and frequent use of Steve Smith is one of the reasons this offense is so explosive.
Carolina is building this team around Newton, which is evident by the way they drafted. They focused their attention on adding talent to the defensive side of the ball and upgrading the offensive line. This is a strategy of a team comfortable with their quarterback position.
The Panthers went from a major rebuilding project to a potential playoff contender in little over a year. This is all thanks to the play and quick development of Cam Newton.
New Orleans Saints
Player: Drew Brees, Quarterback
The New Orleans Saints have the difficult task of having to replace head coach Sean Payton for this season. However, that task is made less difficult because of the presence of Drew Brees. The strong relationship between Brees and Payton means that they've spent a ton of time discussing offensive philosophies.
New Orleans' success over the years has been because of their offense. They need this unit to remain highly productive if they hope to make another trip to the playoffs. This means Brees must act like a coach on the field, and help keep the offense functioning at a high level.
Having talent is important to winning in the NFL, but play-calling and game plans also play a major role. Brees' input on the latter two is invaluable to this franchise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Player: Carl Nicks, Guard
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a ton of big-time offseason moves aimed at increasing their talent level. Adding Carl Nicks has the potential to be the most significant of those moves.
His addition to the offensive line means that new head coach Greg Schiano can feature a run-oriented attack. This offensive line is among the NFL's elite.
After a sub-par season, there are some questions surrounding Josh Freeman's ability to play winning football. This is one of the reasons the Buccaneers decided to draft Doug Martin in the first round. His addition, coupled with the move to bring in Nicks, helps ensure the Buccaneers will have a powerful ground attack.
Tampa Bay's entire offense can feed off of that ground attack. Look for a lot of play-action passes and less defenders in coverage. Without strong offensive line play, the Buccaneers would feel less comfortable about their offensive attack.
Player: Arian Foster, Running Back
Arian Foster's true dominance was most visible at the end of last season. He was able to remain one of the most dominant running backs in the league despite opposing defenses stacking the box. There are not many running backs in the league that can carry a football team like Foster.
After the injury to Matt Schaub and continued injury issues to Andre Johnson, it was apparent that Foster was the most talented player on the offense. Defenses stacked the box and had little respect for the passing game. They knew that Matt Leinart or T.J. Yates wouldn't be able to beat them, and they needed to focus on shutting down Foster.
However, that task was easier said than done. His combination of power running and quickness helped lead the Houston Texans to a playoff victory. Despite the return of Schaub and Johnson, the Texans' offensive focus doesn't figure to change.
This team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender because of Foster's ability to run the football.
Player: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts made the tough decision to part ways with Peyton Manning, but it was the right move. This franchise knew that Andrew Luck was a great prospect who's capable of having a career similar to Manning's.
The Colts had a complete makeover this offseason based on the potential of Luck.
They focused their draft on adding pieces like Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazil in order to help Luck's development. Indianapolis might have learned what not to do from the St. Louis Rams, who decided not to provide Sam Bradford with great talent. This resulted in a massively disappointing second season.
The decisions surrounding the coaching staff were also made to build around Luck. Bruce Arians was brought in to run the offense. Arians' experience developing Ben Roethlisberger makes him a great asset.
Chuck Pagano has a bright future as a head coach, but his immediate impact will come on the defensive side of the ball. It seems like the Colts want to achieve roster balance as they move towards the future.
As is the case with Cam Newton, Luck already helped this team get through a minor rebuilding process. This time next year we will be talking about the Colts as legitimate playoff contenders.
Player: Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back
Maurice Jones-Drew gets overlooked a lot because he plays for a team that doesn't get much media attention. However, this is a team that has played solid football over the years. Jones-Drew's play is a major reason the Jacksonville Jaguars have remained respectable.
I'm not saying that the Jaguars have been an excellent team over the years. However, Jacksonville has always hit at least five wins during the course of Jones-Drew's career.
His career 4.6 yards per carry helps the Jaguars' offense move the chains. What has been more impressive is the fact that he produced that number without the support of an explosive passing game. Take him out of the lineup and it's safe to say the Jaguars would've been among the worst teams in the NFL the past few seasons.
The best evidence to back up this claim is the fact that Jones-Drew accounted for 48% of the Jaguars' offensive production last season.
Player: Chris Johnson, Running Back
Jake Locker is now the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, and this decision only increases the importance of Chris Johnson.
Locker has a lot of talent, but is very inconsistent and will have a learning curve. Tennessee knows that they need Johnson to have an excellent year if they want Locker to succeed and have a hope to make the playoffs.
The biggest struggle for a quarterback with inconsistent accuracy is sustaining drives. It only takes one errant pass to kill the progress of a drive. This is where Johnson comes in to play, as his ability to break off big runs keeps the chains moving. The more Locker is on the field, the more he'll learn and pick up different things about the game.
Johnson also plays a major role in the passing game. He's averaged 48.5 receptions per season over the course of his career. More importantly, he's averaging 7.3 yards per catch.
Locker's job will be made easier by Johnson's presence. The quicker Locker develops, the brighter the future looks for the entire Tennessee Titans franchise.
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