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Ranking New York Jets' Most Irreplaceable Players

Philip SchawillieContributor IIIJune 20, 2014

Ranking New York Jets' Most Irreplaceable Players

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    Which players could Rex Ryan least afford to lose?
    Which players could Rex Ryan least afford to lose?Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    The most irreplaceable players on the New York Jets aren't always the best. Ranking players by level of need is as much a commentary on a team's depth as it is on its talent.

    Take the Jets' running backs. Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell each have different skill sets. None of them is irreplaceable. Losing one to injury or suspension would be inconvenient, but someone else would take his carries. The running game would change but remain effective. 

    There are other positions where the committee approach would not work. The loss of a unit's chemistry, as in the case of an offensive line, is one reason. Another is the lack of reliable backups, players who have proven their worth in the NFL. That's why some Jets played an inordinate number of snaps in 2013. No one could sub for them without a significant drop in quality.

    Ranking a player's irreplaceability considers the following factors:

    • Talent and Accomplishments: An irreplaceable player has skills that are well above average. Ideally, he's an All-Pro or Pro Bowler who performs at a high level consistently and adapts to. At the very least, he has set performance standards that none of his teammates have attained.
    • Durability: An irreplaceable player doesn't miss many snaps. He's a three-down player who doesn't leave the field often. He stays healthy and out of trouble (avoids suspension).
    • Depth: Sometimes being an irreplaceable player is less a tribute to his overwhelming skill than a negative reflection on his team's talent. He may have to spend an inordinate amount of time on the field, sometimes in situations that expose his weaknesses. He is the best apple in a bad bunch.

    This list reflects who the Jets can least afford to lose if the regular season started today. Players on this list aren't untouchable. They're just the best fit the team has for their roles. 

    To reinforce the idea of irreplaceability, see the next slide to find Jets' positions or units that don't have anyone fitting the description. Then view the Jets' irreplaceable players.

No One's Irreplaceable Here

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    A prolonged slump could result in unemployment for the Jets' "Folk Hero."
    A prolonged slump could result in unemployment for the Jets' "Folk Hero."Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Running back isn't the only area without irreplaceable players. Here's a look at others.

     

    Quarterback

    If Geno Smith has progressed as much as reports suggest, he and Michael Vick will make a good tag team at quarterback. Regardless of who wins the starting job, his ability to last 16 games won't be as critical as it was for Smith in 2013, when his only feasible backup was the inexperienced Matt Simms.

     

    Tight End

    Jeff Cumberland has never grown beyond contributing between 25 and 30 receptions. Jace Amaro, while he has the potential for more, remains an unproven talent. At this time in 2015, Amaro may be worthy of irreplaceable status. Right now it's too soon to know.

     

    Safety

    Dawan Landry was on the field for 1,083 of 1,102 snaps (98.3 percent) in 2013. Drafting Calvin Pryor first in 2014 has cast doubts on Landry's future status. He may even be gone by Week 1. Or he may be part of a three-man committee with Pryor and Antonio Allen. That's enough to make none of them irreplaceable.

     

    Kicker

    Some might consider Nick Folk irreplaceable after his career year of 2013, but midseason replacement isn't atypical should a kicker hit a cold streak. David Akers and Rian Lindell are among the available free-agent replacements with solid NFL experience.

     

    Slot Receiver

    As much as Jeremy Kerley has contributed to the Jets over the last two years, he still seems to be on the chopping block. He'll make the team in 2014, but Jalen Saunders looks like a natural fit at slot receiver should Kerley go elsewhere in 2015. Saunders also is likely to take over Kerley's punt-return role

    Watch how much playing time Saunders gets in 2014. The more he gets, the less irreplaceable Kerley becomes.

    Now that you've seen why some players aren't irreplaceable, look at some of the players who are.

10. ILB Demario Davis

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    Inside linebacker is a position where starters played an overwhelming majority of snaps. That's the main reason why Demario Davis is here. 

    He was on the field for 1,048 of the Jets' 1,102 defensive snaps (95.1 percent). That amount of playing time isn't as much a tribute to Davis' ability as it is an admission of the Jets' lack of depth. 

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller considers Davis a "two-down linebacker" who "is a hard-nosed, aggressive football player" who "isn’t dominant enough to mask his limitations in coverage" and who "lacks the agility or awareness to be consistently effective in space." That's practically saying Davis played so many snaps because suitable alternatives did not exist.

    It's probably a reason why the Jets drafted Jeremiah George in the fifth round. George will have to outperform his draft profile, which portrays him as a solid special teams player who is undersized for a linebacker. They may have to rely on a new arrival, such as A.J. Edds or Steele DiVitto, to provide the coverage skills Davis lacks. 

    If none of them proves capable of more than special teams play, Davis and fellow starter David Harris will continue to log high snap counts and retain their irreplaceable status.

9. CB Dee Milliner

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Dee Milliner is on this list as the Jets' No. 1 cornerback. He's next to last on this list because his body of work is inconclusive.

    If the Milliner who finished December 2013 strongly enough to earn Defensive Rookie of the Month honors is the genuine article, he deserves to be a few notches higher. If instead we see the Milliner whom Rex Ryan had to remove from games because of rookie jitters, he doesn't belong on this list at all. He'll just be one of several cornerbacks fighting for jobs. 

    Milliner has another issue, durability. First there was the shoulder injury that limited his involvement in 2013's offseason. That's behind him, but a persistent hamstring pull is not. It has already limited his participation in OTAs. If it persists or recurs, it could force the Jets to look for other solutions to the No. 1 cornerback problem.

    Milliner can make that unnecessary. All he has to do is carry that Rookie of the Month performance into 2014 and beyond. That will remove any doubt about his irreplaceability.

8. WR Eric Decker

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    So far, Eric Decker has performed like the No. 1 receiver he's supposed to be. There hasn't been any contact yet, but his route running and red-zone work have been impressive. Now all he has to do to be irreplaceable is imitate his numbers of the last two years with the Jets.

    Durability shouldn't be an issue. In 2013, Decker was on the field for 1,050 of Denver's 1,207 offensive snaps (87.0 percent). The leading Jets wideout in snaps was Stephen Hill, who was on the field for 594 of the Jets' 1,051 offensive snaps (56.5 percent). That's an improvement by itself.

    What Decker will accomplish with that playing time is the $36 million question. Despite his impressive showing to date, it's simply too early to tell. There won't be any full-contact drills until training camp opens. He won't face a live opponent until the first preseason game. There's plenty of time to speculate how the change in quarterbacks will affect him.

    That may not be the biggest factor. The most significant change in Decker's stat line during his Peyton Manning years was his number of receptions. His combined total in his first two years was 50. For his third and fourth years, it was 172. 

    Instead of missing Manning, Decker may miss Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker. They won't be around to draw the opponent's best coverage. It will deservedly focus on him. The more effectively he handles it, even by providing opportunities for other Jets receivers, the more irreplaceable he becomes.

    There will be plenty of receivers for the Jets to use in 2014. Five or six will be on the 53-man roster; another two could wind up on the practice squad. If Decker misses games because of injury or fails to fulfill expectations, the Jets can fall back to their young talent and hope one of them emerges. They wouldn't be any worse off than they have been for the last two years.

    If Decker lives up to his press clippings and brings his 1,000-yard game to MetLife Stadium, he'll make life good for the offense as a whole. Other receivers will get lighter coverage. The running game would benefit from defenses prioritizing the pass. Decker wouldn't just be upgrading the wide receiver position. He would be upgrading the offense as a whole. That would make him irreplaceable.

7. G Willie Colon

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Four players on this list are offensive linemen. In 2013, these four starters played 4,187 of a possible 4,204 snaps (99.6 percent). The Jets still lack experienced backups, so in 2014 they'll have to do it again. 

    At least in Willie Colon's case, the Jets are making contingency plans to replace him. They must. His rehab from a torn biceps he suffered in 2013's finale and from recent knee surgery left the Jets without a starting right guard until training camp. They've had to explore alternatives to put a complete line on the field. 

    They've moved Oday Aboushi from tackle to left guard, flipping Brian Winters to right. Their potential new starting guard is someone whom they drafted as a tackle and who has yet to play a regular-season game. A healthy Colon, who played 1,038 snaps of a possible 1,051 (98.8 percent), would be far preferable. 

    They can only hope colon has as healthy a year in 2014 as he did in 2013. If he could avoid the torn biceps in the season finale, it would be even better. Maybe the Jets would see fit to reward him with a two-year contract instead of stringing him along each offseason. 

6. OT Breno Giacomini

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Breno Giacomini replaces Austin Howard, a man who was on the field for 1,049 out of 1,051 snaps (99.8 percent) in 2013. If the Giacomini who started all 16 games for Seattle in 2012 were moving to the Jets immediately, his durability would not be an issue. 

    Unfortunately, 2013 intervened, a year in which Giacomini missed seven games because of knee surgery. He was only on the field for 534 of Seattle's 1,012 offensive snaps (52.8 percent). Giacomini joins the Jets needing to do what players such as Colon and LaRon Landry did before him: stay healthy for a full season after injuries cost a significant loss of playing time. 

    Like inside linebacker, the Jets' offensive line lacks depth. The names on the chart belong to unproven players who lack significant NFL experience. They're closer in status to 2013's "redshirt" players Aboushi and William Campbell than they are to the starters. Barring a signing or two, the starters must be on the field for almost every snap.

    Other than Winters, Giacomini is the youngest starting offensive lineman.

    As veterans such as D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold approach the end of their careers, the future of the Jets' offensive line depends on his ability to remain healthy not just for 2014 but also for 2015 and beyond. He may find himself the leader of the next great Jets offensive line. It's vital he remain healthy enough to do so.

5. ILB David Harris

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Like fellow inside linebacker Demario Davis, Harris owes his presence on this list in part to a lack of viable subs. That's why in 2013 Harris missed only two snaps of a possible 1,102.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller saw improvement from 2012 to 2013. Miller moved Harris from 29th-best to 23rd-best among NFL inside linebackers in his annual "NFL 1000" review.

    Harris grades best in run defense and tackling, even though Miller finds flaws in those areas such as 13 missed tackles and issues with lateral movement, disengaging blockers and handling players in space. Despite the six-place improvement from 2012 to 2013, Miller concludes that Harris' "reputation still continues to exceed his play."

    Despite Miller's misgivings, it's hard to replace someone who took a starting job as a rookie and continues to be a leading tackler, despite a miss every now and then. Harris may not have his former physical skills, but he's the best inside linebacker the Jets have. Until a younger player proves worthy or a free agent comes aboard, David Harris will be irreplaceable.

4. OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Earlier, this list discussed two offensive linemen who are irreplaceable because nothing better has come along. It's time to acknowledge players who are irreplaceable on merit.

    A coin flip could decide whether to rank D'Brickashaw Ferguson or Nick Mangold higher. They've been fixtures on the offensive line since they were rookies in 2006. It's hard to imagine one on the field without the other. 

    However, Father Time seems to be taking its toll on Ferguson slightly faster, so he'll be in a lower position. Durability isn't why. Ferguson played every offensive snap in 2013. Mangold missed two.

    Where decline might be more noticeable to the casual observer is in Pro Bowl invitations. Ferguson trails Mangold in his number of invitations and timing. He received three invitations from 2009 to 2011. Mangold received five Pro Bowl invitations, including one in 2013.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller dropped Ferguson from 14th to 23rd in his annual ranking of NFL left tackles. Miller asserts that Ferguson's game relies more on athleticism and finesse than it does on raw power. As age deprives him of speed and quickness, it lessens his ability to block pass-rushers and open holes for ball-carriers. Miller concludes, "Ferguson’s best years are behind him."

    Still, Geno Smith could do much worse than having Ferguson around to protect his blind side. Smith and Rex Ryan will dread the day when that reliable presence is not there.

3. C Nick Mangold

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    The last slide revealed that Nick Mangold would be here and why. Here are more details.

    Like Ferguson, there are no doubts about Mangold's durability. He missed all of two snaps in 2013. 

    From 2006 to 2013, Mangold received five Pro Bowl invitations and two All-Pro awards. His most recent Pro Bowl invitation was in 2013, which suggests he may have a little more left in his tank than Ferguson. 

    He had better. There's Caleb Schlauderaff, his backup, whose three-year NFL career consists of 12 games. Dalton Freeman showed some promise during 2013's training camp, but a high ankle sprain ended his season. He spent 2013 on the practice squad. 

    Ferguson and Mangold have demonstrated their durability and proficiency for eight seasons. They won't be irreplaceable for eight more, but for 2014 they'll remain the anchor of the Jets' offensive line.

    The last two irreplaceable players don't owe their status to lack of depth. Their peers have recognized them as among the NFL's top 100 players. It's time to meet them.

2. DT Sheldon Richardson

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    If you thought Sheldon Richardson's final recognition for his 2013 season was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, you'd be wrong. His fellow players voted him the 94th-best player in the league. 

    The video wasn't about statistics. It talked mostly about how Richardson disrupts the line of scrimmage and misdirects plays, allowing teammates to pad their stats. It talked about how his speed at the line made it difficult for blockers to set blocks and how he had an incredible range of pursuit for a defensive tackle. 

    It would have been impossible for the video to avoid mentioning Richardson's two-way exploits as a short-yardage fullback who scored two rushing touchdowns. 

    Numbers also play a role in describing Richardson's exploits. As a rookie, he was on the field for 882 of a possible 1,102 snaps (80.0 percent). He managed to get 3.5 sacks, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, 42 solo tackles and 35 assists when he wasn't helping teammates with their stats.

    2013 was a great year for Richardson, enough to make him irreplaceable. He'll need to have year after year like that to unseat the next player.

1. DE Muhammad Wilkerson

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    No. 96 Wilkerson celebrates.
    No. 96 Wilkerson celebrates.Al Bello/Getty Images

    Muhammad Wilkerson, probably to no great surprise, is the Jets' most irreplaceable player. His achievements grow year by year, and his fellow players know it. They voted him the 42nd-best player in the NFL. 

    Players and analysts on his tribute video call Wilkerson "disruptive," "explosive" and capable of rushing the passer from inside or outside. He does more than rush the passer, the video that accompanied his award showed his interception against Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

    Stats attest to Wilkerson's durability and steady improvement. He was on the field for 1,041 of a possible 1,102 snaps (94.5 percent) in 2013. There wasn't much backup at defensive end, as the Jets only carried five defensive linemen: Wilkerson, Richardson, Leger Douzable, Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis.

    Perhaps the plan was for Quinton Coples to be Wilkerson's backup when he wasn't playing outside linebacker. Injuries and adjusting to a position change may have derailed that solution.

    Despite his large workload, Wilkerson reached personal highs of 10.5 sacks and the interception. He added two forced fumbles, 43 solo tackles and 20 assists. 

    He earned second-team All-Pro honors but no Pro Bowl invitation. Despite the snub, Jets fans and Wilkerson's peers know the truth. He is truly an irreplaceable player.

     

    Stats are courtesy of Sporting Charts, unless noted otherwise. 

     

    Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.

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