The Cleveland Browns boast one of the most reliable kickers in the game. They are home to arguably the top left tackle in the league—a perennial Pro Bowler in the middle of a Hall of Fame career. They have a top-flight cornerback and an exciting force coming on as a rookie rusher.
But the best player for the Cleveland Browns right now is middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.
The seventh-year veteran out of Maryland wears a captain patch and acts as the field general of Dick Jauron's 4-3 defense.
When RB Trent Richardson wanted to address the team last Wednesday, he asked Jackson's permission. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Jackson is a man about his business. He exudes the blue collar nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that Clevelanders take to heart.
He's a first-to-arrive, last-to-leave type of animal-machine who slumbers in a hyperbaric Chamber of Secrets. (NFL.com)
He puts forth unrelenting individual effort with the solemn acknowledgment that nothing less than a check in the win column could ever be good enough. D'Qwell Jackson is a team man. For him, the team's fate comes far in front of his personal achievements.
"We just have to do our jobs, and try to win some games for these fans," he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer before the season.
Since being selected in the second round by the Browns in the 2006 draft, Jackson has seen two owners, three head coaches, three general managers, four defensive coordinators and two torn pectoral muscle injuries.
Those injuries took six games away from Jackson in 2009 and wiped out his entire 2010 season.
It was a continuation, really. He led the league in 2008 with 154 tackles. He had rounded back to form, but he wasn't done yet.
Jackson began 2012—his second campaign in Jauron's system—flashing new layers of ability.
Against the Eagles in Week 1, he recovered a fumble by RB LeSean McCoy in the first quarter, then returned a Michael Vick interception 27 yards for a touchdown in the fourth. He had two pass deflections.
The pick-six marked Jackson's first TD in 66 NFL games. He put a flip-into-the-endzone cherry on top.
"All I knew was I was getting in the end zone no matter what, so I wanted to get some flight on it,” he said after the game. "But in the end, all that matters is wins and losses, and we didn’t get this one today," he was quick to add. (Elyria Chronicle-Telegram)
He also became the first Browns player since Randy Hilliard in 1991 to have an interception and at least two sacks in the same game. (SB Nation Cleveland)
In fact, he had three sacks total against the Bengals, as well as two tackles for loss and one pass deflected.
When asked about his good season, what did Jackson have to say?
"It's all about winning here in this building," he told Jim Donovan on ClevelandBrowns.com. "It's great to have individual stats, but a lot of that has to do with the D-line in front of me. And a lot of credit has to go to those guys back in the secondary to allow me to make those plays I'm making right now."
So about that winning thing, the Cleveland Browns are 0-3 after falling to the Bills on Sunday. Jackson recorded five tackles in that game, but didn't get home on Ryan Fitzpatrick or generate any turnovers.
Jackson's leadership will become more important than ever heading to Baltimore Thursday night.
To Jackson, surviving the NFL begins and ends with how a player thinks.
He continually expresses his emphasis on thinking positive, and says he relates that notion to the young players. On this 2012 Browns team, he has a lot of young players to edify with that acumen.
"I think it's a mindset you've got to have," he told Donovan, making his point that the fortunes of the team can often turn on one play. "Maybe these next few weeks, we make that play, but it starts with the mentality."
Of course, the reason that Jackson is the best player for the Cleveland Browns right now is his exemplary performance on the field. He leads by example. And his leadership counts as important as the example.
Jackson is the best Browns player right now because in this time of strife and hardship—something he knows in the nerves of his neck—his leadership on and off the field is indispensable.
"I've been here going on year seven, and I want to end my career here," he assured Donovan, discussing the Browns legends in attendance at the Bills game in Cleveland Sunday. "The people and the community here, I've grown attached to it."
But again, he didn't stop there.
"So it will be important for me to get to a championship, or possibly win a Super Bowl one day," he asserted. "So I can come back and go to alumni games and tell my story."
Now that's positive thinking in the face of desperation. And that, once again, is Jackson leading by example.