If there is one thing that the NFL community learned from Sunday Nights game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and Ravens, it is that one player CAN make a difference. Ravens vs Steelers games are always amongst the tightest games of the NFL season, but both teams looked very different missing significant pieces. The Ravens elite secondary was carved up for 506 total yards through the air while, the Steelers defence – which has kept them in games all year – was shredded for 421 yards of offence by a team ranked 27th (298.1) in total yards per game. These consequences were in term due to huge injuries on defence for both teams; Jimmy Smith (achilles) on one side of the ball and Ryan Shazier (spine) on the other.
It is crunch time over the next three weeks for any NFL team with playoff aspirations, and there is desperation to stay healthy before January. Philadelphia’s post Carson Wentz form is to yet be seen, but Nick Foles might replace him in the same way that Case Keenum replaced Sam Braford. Quick step-in fixes usually aren’t too easy to find.
These are five players that if lost will sink there teams in absence:
Disclaimer: I tried to add some diversity in this list instead of listing five starting QBs from current playoff teams.
Top 5 Remaining Most Indispensable NFL Players
Alvin Kamara (Running Back) – New Orleans Saints
The emergence of a third-round pick is usually an added bonus to a team trying to bouce back from a season ago but Alvin Kamara has played out of his mind in his first full NFL season. Kamara along with Mark Ingram, have become a dynamic duo in the Saints backfield and have been the biggest factor in New Orleans top ranked total offence. What makes Kamara so special is his elusively and pass catching ability out of the backfield. The Saints have utilized this all season — giving them the most diverse offence in pro football.
In last Thursday nights Saints vs. Falcons game, Kamara exited the game with a concussion sustained on their very first offensive drive. The Saints then had trouble all game moving the ball on the ground — picking up only two of 18 first downs on the ground and rushing for 3.6 yards per carry. Kamara has averaged 7.0 yards per carry while Ingram has averaged 5.1. The Saints also put a lot of work into their screen plays — many of which hinge on Kamara. New Orleans simply looks one-dimensional without Kamara in the backfield; even with Drew Brees still playing at a high level.
If Kamara’s concussion is serious and lingers into the playoffs, the Saints then lose the component that makes them one of the NFL’s best teams.
Antonio Brown (Wide Receiver) – Pittsburgh Steelers
No matter how good Martavis Bryant and Juju Smith-Schuster are, the level that Antonio Brown is performing at cannot be paralleled. Through 14 games this season, Brown has already amassed over 1500 yards receiving and is tied for second in touchdown receptions. Having a good QB has always helped Brown, but his numbers on their own are showing that he elevates Ben Roethlisberger‘s stature as a quarterback. His statistical brilliances have even throw him into the MVP conversation — which would make him the first wide receiver to ever take home the award.
What makes Brown so indispensable is that he has great hands, and is one of the best receivers in space. His 398 yards after the catch are second among wide receivers. He might not have burner speed or towering height (5’10”), but Brown is quick enough to beat great corners off of the line off scrimmage and go up and get the ball in double coverage. He has also drawn less than double-digit targets in only two games in 2017.
Considering Pittsburgh’s defensive showing on Sunday against a less than stellar offence, Roethlisberger is going to be leaning on Brown to put up monster games in every game for the rest of the season.
C.J. Mosley (Inside Linebacker) – Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens defensive monstrosity of a performance against the Steelers last Sunday only further proved how valuable C.J. Mosley is to Baltimore. All eyes were on Marlon Humphrey‘s first real game as a no.1 cornerback in the absence of Jimmy Smith, but the rookie performed great in a bad game. The Steelers constantly found space underneath instead of over the top, mainly due to the ankle injury of Mosley. Terrell Suggs may be the vocal leader of the Ravens defence but Mosley is without a doubt the best overall player.
Mosley has quietly become perhaps the best interior linebacker in the league – next to Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner – and is one of the few linebackers good enough to stuff the run, and smother players in coverage. Through 13 games this season, Mosley ranks 4th in tackles, has two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three recovered — pretty impressive. The buzz around Shazier’s missing speed in Pittsburgh’s defence can also be echoed to Mosley in Baltimore’s. It is noticeable how Mosley’s ankle injury has caused him to lose a step but an injury to him would leave the Ravens without their two best defensive players and a gaping whole in the middle of the field.
The Ravens offence builds off defensive energy and Mosley’s loss to his ankle would quickly spell the end of Baltimore’s season.
Tom Brady (Quarterback) – New England Patriots
What is so crazy about Tom Brady‘s spot on this list is that I don’t think he should’ve been here at all during week one of the preseason. However, due to recent circumstances, Brady is left as the only quarterback of any value on the Patriots depth chart. His preseason backups Jacoby Brissett – whom threw for 341 yards in his final preseason game as a Patriot – and Jimmy Garoppolo – San Francisco’s new 2-0 starting quarterback – have both found new homes and have left Brian Hoyer as the only backup to Brady in New England. The two former-backups went 3-1 in their first four regular season games to begin 2016 and would have provided stable insurance options had Brady gone down at any point in 2017.
Now if Brady goes down, the Patriots could be in big trouble. Hoyer has already proved he is less capable than Goroppolo – losing every game he started for the 49ers in 2017 – and no amount of Bill Belichick magic can fix that. The Patriots also have no running game when Brady isn’t at his best. The Patriots committee of running backs has been decent this season (15th in rushing yards per game) but it hinges on Brady’s success. The most a single New England running back has run for in a loss this year was 49 yards. This all came to a climax last Monday when Dion Lewis led the Patriots backfield with 17 yards in their 27-20 loss to the Dolphins.
Considering the inconsistency of the Patriots defence, Brady’s loss would make the Pats and easy out in the playoffs against the majority of AFC teams.
Leonard Fournette (Running Back) – Jacksonville Jaguars
There is no denying that the Jaguars defence this year has been in the top-5 if not the best defence in the NFL — Blake Bortles simply has to not throw games away. Along with giving up the least passing yards per game (174.2), the Jags identity may lie with rookie Leonard Fournette. Head coach Doug Marrone made it clear at the beginning of the year he would “like to run the ball every play” and that run heavy approach has been perhaps the main reason the Jaguars have turned from bottom-five NFL team into an AFC playoff team in just one season.
Jacksonville leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (149.9) and Fournette has been their most intimidating back. Fournette is averaging 103.3 yards of total offence per game and has nine total touchdowns this year — half as many as his quarterback’s 18 total scores (16 throwing, two rushing). The Jaguars did win their two games without Founrette this season, but their opponents only scored a combine seven points in those games. Chris Ivory is a serviceable backup but his 3.6 yards per carry average doesn’t convince anyone he can replicate Fournette’s success.
Fournette is a battering ram at the goal line and never turns the ball over — despite his injured ankle. The run game is Marrone’s specialty and Fournette is the only player on his offence that can take over a game on his own.
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