The 10 Most Irreplaceable Players in the NFL Today

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IMay 12, 2011

The 10 Most Irreplaceable Players in the NFL Today

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    Here’s a fun little piece to run through.

    I decided to envision the Top 10 most irreplaceable players in the NFL today, but with a little twist.

    In the grand scheme of things, every player in the NFL is technically replaceable. But to what extent the word irreplaceable means is a different beast.

    What if the player in question had no equal backup? What if the team in question never drafted for the future at the position in question?

    For example: One could suggest that Peyton Manning is an irreplaceable player in the NFL right now, simply because there isn’t anyone in Indianapolis—roster or draftee—who could fill his shoes, and subsequently, nobody in free agency, either.

    Understand? A big round of applause for Mr. Manning, everyone, who does qualify as a short nominee.

    Let’s take a look at who I came up with, and be sure to keep in mind this is a 10-slide piece, so only that many players can be mentioned here today.

    But feel free to leave your suggestion down below and your reason why.

    Let’s see if we can get the chatterbox rolling after reading.

10. Patrick Willis: San Francisco 49ers

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    I firmly believe that Willis has had enough time in the NFL, and enough yearly performance backing, to cement himself as an irreplaceable LB within the San Francisco organization.

    This is also taking into consideration depth charts and draft selections.

    Willis is a highly aggressive, methodical player who is the true defensive leader of this 49er team, and San Fran has zero options to fill his shoes.

    When it comes to budding linebackers, Willis is one of the top premier linebackers in the league that warrants irreplaceable status, but the real question is, who do you—the fans—think could be an equal mention?

9. Matt Ryan: Atlanta Falcons

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    Mr. “Ice veins” came into this league and literally took it by storm. If he doesn’t win a Super Bowl this year, you can bet a win is not that far away.

    It’s one thing to come in, learn a system and execute well.

    It’s another thing to be able to almost immediately separate yourself from the mediocre crop.

    It’s a total different beast to become one of the most irreplaceable players in the league.

    Ryan is the epitome of irreplaceable and the poster child for future HOF consideration. One has to envision with is incredible 10,061 yards and 66 touchdowns in just three unbelievable years, Ryan has not only made his case as a top echelon QB, but he has also given the Falcon faithful something to look forward to for years to come.

    Replacing Ryan right now is simply an impossibility.

8. Larry Fitzgerald: Arizona Cardinals

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    Even in a down year where Fitz had no quarterback that was worth a squirt, he still put up 1,137 yards and six TDs.

    Okay, so his touchdown production was a bit low from previous years, but still.

    I don’t think you can just replace a guy like Larry Fitzgerald with his speed, size, willingness to make the difficult catches and penchant for turning something into nothing.

    The Cardinals have a huge talent gap between Fitz and the rest of the depth chart, and I just don’t see Fitzgerald being replaceable, even with Vince Jackson available.

6. Maurice Jones-Drew: Jacksonville Jaguars

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    His first two years were sort of a split situation, as both a back and a return man, but the last two years Jones-Drew has shown he is not to be taken lightly. The Jaguars would be hard-pressed to find a replacement for him.

    Just in the past two years alone, Jones-Drew has rushed for over 2,700 yards with 20 TDs, and has become the one source of offensive production the Jags can rely on, even in the midst of injury.

    His backups, Rashad Jennings and Deji Karem, are nowhere near the talent level of Jones-Drew, and the Jags didn’t grab anyone out of this year’s draft to suggest a viable replacement.

    Jones-Drew remains irreplaceable.

DeMarcus Ware: Dallas Cowboys

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    When I think of all-time pass rushers, I think of guys like Deacon Jones, Doug Atkins and Bruce Smith—to name just a few.

    But the Cowboys are currently enjoying the services of one of the most irreplaceable pass rushers in the game.

    Whether you’re a line backer, an end or a tackle, there is no denying Ware’s ability to not only get to the quarterback, but also disrupt the helmsman and his guardians for four straight quarters every single time he’s on the field.

    The Cowboys have nobody, and I mean nobody, who can fill Ware’s shoes, whether it be from the depth chart or the draft.

4. Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints

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    There is little argument that anyone currently on the Saints’ roster could come in and do what Brees has done in the short time he’s been in The Big Easy.

    His 22,918 yards, 155 touchdowns and one Super Bowl ring are all accomplishments Brees has made over a five-year span.

    Immediately behind Brees you have Chase Daniels, who does have talent, but in my opinion, not of the caliber that Brees has.

    Truly irreplaceable.

3. Adrian Peterson: Minnesota Vikings

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    Alright, Vikings fans, help me out here.

    Peterson is the best thing to happen to the Vikings in a very long time, hands down.

    Yes, they do have Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker on the depth chart, but no, they do not have anyone—even from this year’s draft—who could replace him.

    Even free agency doesn’t offer the caliber back the Vikings could wind up with if they needed to replace Peterson and what he's capable of.

    Peterson has rushed for nearly 6,000 yards and 52 touchdowns in four short years as a Viking and has added 1,170 yards receiving with two other end-zone visits.

    The Vikings couldn’t even imagine replacing him right now.

2. Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay Packers

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    I think what makes Rodgers special isn’t just his Super Bowl ring, but rather, what he had to overcome in his short time as a Packer.

    And I am not talking so much about being Brett’s shadow, either.

    In his first go around, Rodgers struggled—as expected with any new quarterback—both with his own decision making, but also with a poor offensive line.

    He really cemented himself as a QB by rising above the more difficult challenges the NFL has to offer to become the cream of the crop. As a result, the Packers have one of the most irreplaceable players in the game right now.

    But it’s good to know the trophy is back home, and that goes a really long way as well.

Ray Lewis: Baltimore Ravens

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    With everything that Lewis brought to the game of football, with everything that Lewis brought to the linebacker position; for the Ravens, I don’t know how you could ever replace this guy.

    Maybe someday—way down the road—we’ll get to enjoy another player of this magnitude, but not any time soon.

    Sure, there are plenty of players who are seemingly getting close, but nothing more.

    And for the Ravens, it isn’t just about replacing a position player. It would be about replacing the heart and soul of this team; the vocal leader and on-field trench general that has "been there and back."

    You don’t just simply replace a guy like Ray Lewis.

    You don't just simply replace a guy who is more than a position player in pads.

    This is a guy who reminds us of what football is really about—the last of his kind, really.

    This is a guy who puts his heart and soul at his footsteps, 10 yards back from the line of scrimmage and says: "Go ahead, come and get it."

    This is a player who doesn't want to hear about lucrative contacts and glory stories of a couple of good years of play; this is a player who will quickly come back at ya and counter with: "Oh yeah, well what haven't ya done, son?"

    Being irreplaceable isn't just about the team not having another player at their disposal who can replace you.

    Being irreplaceable—more often than not—means you are a cut above the rest. It's seen through your mistakes more than your accolades.

    The game, the fans and team grows with you. A grand singularity, a difference-maker in every single way one can be.

    This is everything that has embodied Ray Lewis from day one.

    I had a lot of fun doing this piece, in particular, because it leaves out a number of players because of only having 10 slots.

    That means I get to look forward to everyone chiming in and giving me who they think should be on this list; so by all means, let the nominations begin.

    And as always, guys, thanks for reading!