Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Hasselbeck has company among indispensable
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jeffri Chadiha ranked Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck ninth on his list of the NFL's most indispensable players. Chadiha included no other NFC West players on his list, but I'm happy to help. Without further delay, here are a dozen players other than Hasselbeck who might be considered indispensable to NFC West teams:
- Orlando Pace, LT, St. Louis: Look what happened to the Rams when they lost Pace early last season. Their line imploded. Marc Bulger took punishment and succumbed to injuries. Right tackle Alex Barron played out of position on the left side.
- Walter Jones, LT, Seattle: The Seahawks are better prepared to handle injuries now that Mike Solari is coaching their offensive line, but Hasselbeck isn't the same player when he can't trust his protection. Take away Jones and the Seahawks can't give Hasselbeck nearly the same level of protection.
- Lofa Tatupu, MLB, Seattle: He's the heart of the defense and one of the more instinctive players in the league. Safety Brian Russell would be able to run things from the back end if something happened to Tatupu, but the defense wouldn't be nearly as dangerous. In an era of specialization and sub packages, Tatupu is an every-down middle linebacker who makes plays against run and pass alike.
- Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco: Willis has a chance to overtake Tatupu as the best linebacker in the division. He was that good as a rookie. The 49ers weren't successful enough last season to consider any one player indispensable, but Willis comes closest on defense.
- Marc Bulger, QB, St. Louis: Adding Trent Green as insurance made sense, but age and injuries make Green a risky proposition for the long term.
- Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco: Gore somehow put up respectable stats despite his association with the NFL's worst passing game. The 49ers added insurance at the position, but Gore is the heart of the offense.
- Edgerrin James, RB, Arizona: James is the opposite of flashy, but he's been durable and dependable past the age when some backs break down. The Cardinals need a reliable force in the ground game while they develop Matt Leinart.
- Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco: The 49ers haven't even named Smith as their starter, but that doesn't disqualify the fourth-year quarterback from this list (unless you're convinced Shaun Hill or J.T. O'Sullivan is ready to lead the 49ers for a full season).
- Torry Holt, WR, St. Louis: Holt is the only proven big-play threat in the Rams' passing game. He is the only receiver Marc Bulger can trust implicitly. Injuries have slowed Holt, but defenses still must respect him.
- Joe Staley, LT, San Francisco. The 49ers are counting on him as their left tackle. Free-agent addition Barry Sims provides insurance, and right tackle Jonas Jennings has experience on the right side. But life without Staley would be difficult for a 49ers team that already has injury concerns on the line (David Baas).
- Marcus Trufant, CB, Seattle. Trufant emerged as a dominant cornerback last season. Kelly Jennings hasn't fully established himself on the left side. Trufant's personality shines through when he's feeling good about his game, adding a needed spark to a secondary that struggled earlier in his career.
- Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco. The 49ers are counting on him to upgrade their defensive front seven. They can't get full value from other players, notably cornerback Nate Clements, without more from their front seven.
Note that my list doesn't claim to include only the 12 most indispensable players. I could make the case for including several others.
Clements might belong, but my thought there was that the 49ers needed more from their front seven first.
The Cardinals probably need to be better represented on this list, but they have two potential starting quarterbacks and two top-flight receivers. They might be as good or better with Kurt Warner taking over for Leinart. If Larry Fitzgerald suffered an injury, Anquan Boldin could probably help carry the offense (while getting that raise he wants).
Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson might belong on this list, but I left off safeties altogether because most of them have a harder time influencing games.
Hasselbeck might need counseling if the Seahawks lost Bobby Engram, who caught 94 passes last season. The Rams could be in trouble if they lose a starting linebacker. Most teams in the division aren't equipped to lose offensive linemen.
If I've left off anyone obvious, please let me know. You can hit the mailbag along the right side of the blog or leave comments here.