Who are the most indispensable players in the NFL?
“Quarterbacks” are the easy answer, but what if you take those out of the equation? Things get even more subjective then.
In a column for NFL Media, writer Adam Schein names his most indispensable offensive players to their individual teams with the caveat that quarterbacks are thrown out since they would dominate any such list.
Not surprisingly, eight of the top nine offensive players were skill-position guys, even with the quarterbacks taken out. Here is how Schein’s list broke down:
After sitting out the final 15 games of the 2014 season while dealing with legal issues, Peterson returned for the Vikings in 2015 and played all 16 games, helping lead Minnesota to the playoffs. While the Vikings built their 2015 identity with a stingy defense, Peterson was the offensive focal point and led the league in rushing yards and had at least 10 more rushes of 10 yards or more than any other back.
“When Adrian Peterson plays a full season, the Vikings make the playoffs – plain and simple,” Schein wrote.
Gronkowski has added to his Q rating with his wild, fun-loving side off the field, but when he’s on the field he proves to be a matchup nightmare for defenses. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, he is a massive target with strong hands and a fearlessness to take on all defenders – or leap over them. Gronk averaged 16.33 yards per catch, best among tight ends and 12th among all receivers in the NFL.
“The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder is an unstoppable, uncoverable monster,” according to Schein.
3. Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones
Jones put up an average of 116.9 yards per game, leading the NFL, and had 13.76 yards per reception. He was third with 17 catches longer than 25 yards and was targeted an incredible 203 times. Yes, Matt Ryan knows where his bread is buttered.
Schein: “Matt Ryan trusts Julio Jones. That’s his guy. Everything else in the Falcons’ passing game is a work in progress.”
In four years of Schein producing his “most indispensable” list, this is Nelson’s first appearance and the writer admits that was a mistake. With Nelson, the Packers were usually a Super Bowl contender. Last year without him, the Packers didn’t win their division, and that vaunted passing attack in Green Bay ranked only 25th in the league.
Schein: “We don’t have to project what the Packers’ offense would look like without Nelson – we saw it last season. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
Although the Giants as a whole dropped off last year, Beckham Jr. is still a preeminent threat in the passing game and will always make them a scary matchup. Imagine where the Giants’ seventh-ranked passing attack would be without the man who finished with 1,450 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Schein: “This guy isn’t just a human highlight film – the overall production is astounding. Over his first two NFL seasons, Beckham has averaged 94 catches for 1,378 yards and 12 touchdowns per year.”
After on a few offseason practices with Hopkins, new Texans QB Brock Osweiler was singing Hopkins’ praises. Although Hopkins has been one of the best receivers in the NFL since entering the league, his production could go up further with Osweiler as his quarterback. Even with a bad quarterback situation in 2015, Hopkins was third in the NFL with 1,521 yards and third with 26 third-down catches for a first down.
Schein: “I think Houston is a legit Super Bowl contender. But if anything were to happen to Hopkins? Forget about it.”
7. Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley
Who says running backs are a dime a dozen? The Vikings and Rams would beg to differ. For years, analysts have been touting one promising young running back after another as “the next Adrian Peterson.” Gurley actually has a legitimate chance to live up to that billing, leading all running backs by scoring on seven of his 14 rushes inside the 10-yard line.
Schein: “I loved the pick when the Rams made it. And now – with a year under his belt and further removed from ACL surgery – Gurley is primed to lead the league in rushing. He is the Rams’ attitude, with his beautiful blend of power and speed.”
Most would have figured a left tackle would make the list if they knew an offensive lineman was on it, but Schein calls Kalil the best center in the NFL. The Panthers have plenty of weapons with Cam Newton directing the offense, but Kalil is the on-field leader of the offensive line to get the league’s top-scoring offense started. With Kalil on the field, the Panthers averaged 4.6 yards per rush and 6.87 yards per pass.
Schein: “Astute football fans know the power of the pivot. The Panthers’ center is a true leader and a savvy player.”
9. Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green
Green has become the go-to guy for QB Andy Dalton, and deservedly so. Green had 21 more catches and 481 yards more than any other Bengal in 2015. With TE Tyler Eifert recovering from ankle surgery, the Bengals might depend on Green even more this year.
Schein: “Five years in the league, five 1,000-yard seasons and five Pro Bowl nods. Green is a bona fide star.”