Silverman: Ware, Polamalu, Johnson Among Most Valuable Non-QBs
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By Steve Silverman
(CBS) The New York Jets got the worst news possible Monday when an MRI revealed that cornerback Darelle Revis had a torn ACL, would need surgery and is done for the season.
Revis is the Jets’ best player and the best cover cornerback in the NFL by a wide margin. Champ Bailey of the Broncos is excellent and may one day be a Hall of Famer, but he just doesn’t have Revis’s flair or ability.
Revis is also head coach Rex Ryan’s favorite player on the Jets. He has made no secret of that and must get his team prepared for the remaining 13 games without him.
It’s a difficult job and the Jets may not recover.
In most cases, the team’s best or most important player is usually its quarterback. In this piece, we will look at the eight most irreplaceable non-quarterbacks in the league.
OLB DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys – Ware may be the single-most unstoppable defensive player in the NFL. He turned himself into a sack machine last year, recording 19.5 sacks and he already has 4.0 this year. Ware has the perfect proportions at 6-4 and 254 pounds to dominate on an every-week basis. He combines strength and speed with a relentless desire to wreck plays and cause havoc. He may be salivating as he looks at film this week when he sees the Bears’ offensive line on film.
SS Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers are loaded with talent in their front seven and that’s why they have been a consistent playoff team that can threaten to win a championship during their best years. However, Polamalu is the sheriff in the secondary. He is a vicious hitter who sends the message to receivers early in the game that life is going to be difficult over the next four quarters. Polamalu will often drive through blockers and go after the quarterback in the pocket. After he hammers receivers and harasses the quarterback, the opponent has no idea where Polamalu is going to line up next.
WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions – Johnson is basically an unstoppable wide receiver who combines strength, athletic ability and a desire to make big plays. That has allowed him to become a receiver who helped change the direction of a franchise that was known for losing and ineptitude. There’s no way for defensive backs to single-cover the 6-5, 236-pound Johnson. He had a ridiculous 32 catches of 20 yards or more last year and he already has nine this season. If Johnson were not on the field, the Detroit offense would be ordinary.
MLB Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers – This is a difficult call because the 49ers are loaded with defensive talent. If they didn’t have Willis, they would still have Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman. However, Willis is the man in charge for Jim Harbaugh’s defense. His speed when running to the football is often shocking. He has the ability to force fumbles just from his power on impact. He forced four fumbles last year and he is the No. 1 priority for opposing offenses. If he is not accounted for, he can change the pace of any game.
OLB Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers – Bears fans and players have seen far too much of Matthews and they know that he belongs on the list. While he is not as important as Aaron Rodgers to long-term success of the team, the Packers would be nearly bankrupt on defense if not for Matthews’ big-play ability. He leads the NFL with 6.0 sacks through the first three games this season and seems quite a bit stronger than he was even last year. His quickness off the snap is devastating.
DE Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears – Another tough call, because the Bears have outside linebacker Lance Briggs to do the bulk of the tackling and iconic middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. While Urlacher has knee issues and is a step slower, Peppers just keeps on going. He is a remarkable physical specimen at 6-7 and 287 pounds. He is coming off an 11.0 sack season and he should reach double figures again after starting the year with 2.5 sacks.
RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – Peterson has made a remarkable comeback in a relatively short period of time from the ACL injury he suffered last December. He has the strength, speed and explosion that makes him one of the most physically imposing backs who has ever played in the league. While he is not as productive as all-time greats like Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson, he has the same kind of physical skills. Peterson has fumbled once in each of the last three years after having a fumbling issue early in his career. Peterson rushed for 1,298 yards or better in each of his first four seasons and had 970 yards in 12 games last year before he suffered his ACL tear. His productivity takes much of the pressure off of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.
DT Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens – On a team loaded with impressive defensive stars, the 28-year-old Ngata is at the height of his talent and deserves the recognition over future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Ngata is impossible to move in the middle of the defensive and had a huge tackle total last year for a lineman with 64 stops. He also had 5.0 sacks. Ngata is on track again for another memorable season after coming up with 9 tackles in the Ravens’ Week Three win over the Patriots. He has 16 tackles and 2.5 stops so far this year.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.