There are some AFC West players on the Football Outsiders’ list of the most irreplaceable offensive skill position players in the NFL.
That got me thinking. Who is the most irreplaceable player on each AFC West roster heading in the 2012 season? I took the quarterbacks out of the mix, but I made every other player on the roster eligible. Here are my choices:
Denver, receiver Eric Decker: Decker is emerging as Manning’s most reliable target. Manning’s game is predicated on rhythm and anticipation. He trusts Decker. I expect Decker to be the player Manning goes to the most. So, he will be vital to Denver’s offense.
Kansas City, linebacker Tamba Hali: The Chiefs will have to find a way to deal with Hali’s loss for the season opener against visiting Atlanta in Week 1. Hali violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy and is out for that game. The Chiefs would suffer if Hali had miss significant time. He is the team’s best defensive player and he is a supreme pass-rusher. He is a difference maker.
Oakland, running back Darren McFadden: The Raiders already know what it is like to play without this explosive running back and they don’t like the results. Oakland was 4-2 when McFadden got hurt for the season last year and it finished 8-8. He makes Oakland’s offense dangerous because of his ability to change the game as a rusher and as a receiver.
San Diego, tight end Antonio Gates: He is Philip Rivers’ best and favorite target. Gates has been hampered by injuries the past four seasons and the Chargers’ offense has suffered for it. He is healthy now and primed for a big season. With running back Ryan Mathews and receiver Vincent Brown already out for a portion of the regular season, Gates’ presence is even more vital.