We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/abducted by Sam Cassell and his friends. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.
We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Next up: the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
If Mitch Leidner can improve his passing skills, he could provide a boost to Minnesota's offense.
Leidner is by no means a finished product and must make significant strides as a passer after completing just 55 percent of his passes for 619 yards as a platoon player in 2013. But his value has skyrocketed in recent months. Philip Nelson's transfer in January leaves Leidner as Minnesota's only quarterback with significant game experience. Perhaps more important, Minnesota wants to be a power offense that controls the ball and the clock and wears down its opponent. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound Leidner brings a lot to the field as a ball-carrier, and if he makes just minimal strides with his passing, he could be very dangerous going forward. This spring, Leidner established himself as the team's unquestioned leader on offense. Although reserves Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy both are good athletes, Leidner would be a significant loss as Minnesota looks to bolster its offensive production.
Coordinator Tracy Claeys expects more from a pretty stingy defense in 2014, citing improved depth throughout the unit. But after losing disruptive defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman to the NFL draft, the Gophers want to maintain a threat up front. Cockran certainly provides one after a breakout sophomore season in which he led the Big Ten in forced fumbles (4) and finished third in sacks (7.5). Listed at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds, Cockran has both height and speed and could become even more of a force as he grows into his frame (he wants to play this season at 255 pounds). The Gophers have some experience on the line with players such as end Michael Amaefula and tackle Cameron Botticelli, but Cockran is the potential game-changer, and after losing Hageman, the Gophers need No. 55 on the field.