Thursday, August 26, 2010
NFC East: Most indispensable players
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
A team-by-team look at the most indispensable players (non-quarterbacks) in the division.
With the possible exception of the Eagles, I believe that every team in the division would be in big trouble if its starting quarterback went down, so obviously that position is indispensable. But for one blog post only, it's not all about the quarterback.
We've chosen four players whose presence on the field is essential to their team's success. In narrowing down my list, I tried to think of which players each team would have the most trouble replacing. The biggest second-guess might come with the Dallas Cowboys because you could make a strong argument for nose tackle Jay Ratliff being one of the most indispensable players in the division. Alas, I went in a different direction.
With 64.5 sacks the past five seasons, DeMarcus Ware is arguably the best pass-rusher in the league.
With apologies to the Freeney and Allen camps, I believe Ware has become the most feared pass-rusher in the game. You take him off the field and the Cowboys lose a lot of their identity.
Ware's capable of putting up huge sack totals, but it's his ability to constantly draw double- and even triple-teams that puts him in an elite class. With Ware on the other side, Anthony Spencer is becoming one of the league's best pass-rushers.
Ware's willingness to sacrifice numbers to elevate his teammates is a huge part of his game. And he's one of the rare pass-rushers who also does an excellent job against the run. You could make an argument that he's the best defensive player in the league, and that makes him indispensable to the Cowboys.
Starting to notice a trend here? I think Tuck is trying to replace Michael Strahan as the backbone of this unit. When Strahan retired after the Super Bowl win, Tuck wasn't quite ready to inherit the leadership void. But now that Antonio Pierce is no longer in the locker room, general manager Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin have basically told Tuck that he must be The Man.
Last season, Flozell Adams reached out and tripped the Giants' defensive end in Week 2, leading to a painful shoulder injury. Because he was limited the rest of the season, Tuck didn't feel like he had the right to criticize his teammates.
Now that he's healthy, he will be the messenger for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka might have Tuck-like skills, but they don't have his credibility inside the organization. As Tuck goes, so go the Giants. In my book, that makes him indispensable.
I believe Jackson is now the most dangerous player in the league. Whether it's on punt returns or crossing patterns, he constantly puts pressure on the other team.
Having a player who is that dangerous can cover up mistakes in other areas. The Eagles feel like they're never out of a game because of players such as Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson won't have as many catches as Maclin this season, but he'll find the end zone at least 12 times when you combine his punt returns and receiving touchdowns.
We all made a huge deal of Devin Hester a few years ago, but obviously Jackson is the more complete player. Someone pay this man so he can go on about his business.
In Orakpo, the Redskins have an elite pass-rusher who's learning how to separate quarterbacks from the ball.
What I love about Orakpo is his willingness to make changes. He's constantly in the film room studying offensive tackles and he doesn't want any of them to have a book on him. He has a wide array of counter moves and he's quickly embraced the concepts of Jim Haslett's 3-4. Here's what Orakpo told me during my recent visit to Ashburn, Va.:
"I'm always going forward in this defense" he said. "I want to be chasing the quarterback at all times, and this defense makes that possible."
In a division with some elite pass-rushers, Orakpo has refused to take a backseat to anyone. And I love his honesty. The Houston native grew up hating the Cowboys and he's taken it to the next level now that he's playing for their rival. Everyone wants to talk about Donovan McNabb this season, but if the Redskins are to make a playoff run, the defense must lead the way. Orakpo's the most indispensable member of that unit.