The NFC South's most irreplaceable players
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The season-ending injury to New England's Tom Brady made me wonder who are the most irreplaceable players in the NFC South. We'll skip the obvious and rule out quarterbacks because losing one of them would be devastating to any team. Just ask John Fox and the Carolina Panthers what it was like to be without Jake Delhomme almost all of last season.
Carolina Panthers: Jordan Gross
You could make a very strong argument for Steve Smith, Jon Beason or Julius Peppers. But the Panthers won on Sunday without the suspended Smith. They've got enough depth at linebacker that they could survive without Beason and the Panthers essentially did without Peppers (in theory) last year. But Gross is the best player on an offensive line that could be very good. He's a rock-solid left tackle and there aren't many of those around the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joey Galloway
The "White Tiger" didn't have much impact Sunday and that's part of the reason the Bucs lost to the Saints. The Bucs need more out of Galloway going forward because he's truly the only big-play threat on this team. Antonio Bryant and Ike Hilliard aren't going to run by anyone or stretch the field. If you took Galloway out of this offenses, defenses would do what the New York Giants did in the playoff game last year and put eight men in the box to shut down running back Earnest Graham.
New Orleans Saints: Jonathan Vilma
I went back-and-forth between Vilma and receiver Marques Colston and I know Vilma has played precisely one game for this franchise. But the Saints have put the fate of their defense into Vilma's hands as he tries to resurrect his career after problems in the 3-4 defense with the Jets. Vilma was brought in for one reason: He can make plays that no other New Orleans linebacker can.
Atlanta Falcons: Todd McClure
With Michael Turner averaging 220 yards rushing in his Falcons' career, the running back would be an easy choice. But the Falcons still would be able to move the ball if Jerious Norwood had to be the featured back. McClure isn't a big name, but the veteran center is hugely important with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan behind him. McClure has started 97 consecutive games and he's holding together a young offensive line that looked pretty good in its debut.