All-Indispensable Team (cont.)
Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Ware
If you listen closely at Cowboys camp, there are hints and whispers of Ware reaching a Lawrence Taylor-type level. Anyone who has seen Ware develop into the most feared pass-rusher in the NFL the past four years couldn't possibly argue the point.
He has gotten better and more productive every season, going from eight sacks as a rookie, to 11.5, to 14 and then a head-spinning 20 sacks in 2008. Could 25 be on the way in 2009? With the defensive line getting better and the Cowboys drafting help at linebacker, who knows? If nothing else, everyone's better around him. He also is a leader by example, does things right and continues to work to improve his game. Losing Ware would be more deflating than losing anyone else on the team.
Tony Romo grabs the headlines and snags the famous starlets. Ware is more important. Period.
Detroit Lions, Shaun Smith
It sounds crazy calling this notorious attitude problem not even yet at the top of the depth chart as pivotal to the Detroit Lions. But it is the Lions we're talking about. And all attitude and distractions aside, when healthy and on the field, Smith can contribute a lot to Jim Schwartz' defense.
One of the key aspects of Schwartz' defense is funneling as much as possible into the middle of the defense, where the 6-2, 325-pound Smith will be.
Keep in mind also, the Lions acquired Smith on the cheap, one-year, $1 million, after he wore out his welcome in Cleveland, reportedly punching quarterback Brady Quinn in an altercation. Nevertheless, if Smith keeps his nose clean, stays healthy and plays to his regular level, the Lions were in desperate need of a gap-filler who can make plays. Smith is it.
Green Bay Packers, Greg Jennings
Jennings has gone from underrated and overlooked on a national scale to quite possibly the best receiver in the game. Sure, it's probably still either the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald or the Texans' Andre Johnson that leads the way, and certainly Terrell Owens and Randy Moss would have something to say. But at 26, Jennings is in the discussion.
His rapport with Aaron Rodgers is crucial to all Packers hopes. He can bail out the offense on third-and-long, or be the go-to guy on fourth-and-3 at the goal line. Jennings set career highs in receptions and receiving yards in 2008. He only figures to get better and perhaps turn Green Bay into a pass-happy power in the NFC North. Without question, he's the last player the Packers could afford to lose.
Minnesota Vikings, Adrian Peterson
What, did you really think I was going to say Brett Favre?
The fact is, there is enough quarterbacking depth that the Vikings could withstand an injury to Favre that keeps him out of some games. Did you forget already that the Vikes won the division in 2008 without Favre?But who else could it be that is without question, unequivocally so important, the Vikings should wrap him in bubble wrap in-between Sundays?
Peterson is the Vikings' everything.
With the Favre acquisition, numerous experts are predicting good things for him, since he won't be expected to do as much with Peterson in the backfield. But what happens if Peterson goes down? Devastation to all Vikes hopes. That's what happens. Favre could well have his worst season ever if he has to try to lead the Vikes into passing mode.
New Orleans Saints, Pierre Thomas
The New Orleans Saints simply cannot count on Reggie Bush being a regular contributor to the ground game. Sean Payton and the Saints may say otherwise, but with recurring swelling in his surgically repaired knee, Bush should be considered off the grid until further notice.
That means a premium now must be placed on keeping tailback Thomas on the field. Even when Bush is on the field, he likely will be used much more often as a slot back. Thomas should be the first choice running between the tackles.
Saints coaches believe Thomas could be a 1,000-yard running back, which could lead to great things offensively, considering Drew Brees' talent and the prolific passing game. Thomas even has been used as the Wildcat back in training camp this year. Big things could be in store for him. Without Thomas, the Saints' only choices would be the unproven Mike Bell and Bush, whose production between the tackles is next to nil.
New York Giants, Brandon Jacobs
Eli Manning will be scrutinized for his money. The Giants receiving corps will have to step up. The defense once again will need to make plays in the biggest games. But let's be real here. All Giants hopes begin and end with Jacobs. He is more important than any other part of the Giants' formula for success. And a premium was placed on Jacobs' health with the departure of 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Ward to Tampa in the offseason.
Game-in, game-out, the Giants have depended on a bruising one-two punch in their powerful running game. Ahmad Bradshaw has stepped in for Ward, and has looked good thus far as a complement to Jacobs. But the depth is not the same and the margin for error has shrunk. Ball-control, play-action, playmaking and wearing down opposing defenses all depends on Jacobs being the featured back.
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