Wednesday, June 21, 2023

One non-QB each NFL team can least afford to lose in 2023


Which players are most important to their respective clubs?



June 21, 2023

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Quarterbacks may be the driving force of the NFL; having one of the game's few elite signal-callers is often the difference between contending for the playoffs and contending for a Lombardi Trophy. However, football is a team sport, which means the QBs still require help on both sides of the ball. And there are plenty of important pieces at other premium positions.

With that in mind, here's a look at one non-QB each team can least afford to lose in 2023:

Arizona Cardinals: OT D.J. Humphries

Presumably, they'll already be down QB Kyler Murray at the start of the year. Losing their most accomplished tackle, whose injury-related absence in 2022 helped fuel offensive dysfunction, would put the next QB in danger as well.

Atlanta Falcons: OT Jake Matthews

With Tyler Allgeier behind rookie Bijan Robinson and Jonnu Smith now behind Kyle Pitts, neither RB nor TE is short on depth. Young QB Desmond Ridder needs to stay upright to feed the weapons, however, and Matthews is a solid blind-side bodyguard.

Baltimore Ravens: C Tyler Linderbaum

New WR Odell Beckham Jr. is already an injury risk, but Lamar Jackson's chief concern in 2023 is staying on the field. Linderbaum was an underrated rookie cog up front, and he's instrumental to their ground attack as the QB of the line.

Buffalo Bills: WR Stefon Diggs

This is why his reported offseason frustrations with Buffalo were such a concern. Without his killer route-running and alpha mentality, Josh Allen has only the mercurial Gabe Davis as a proven WR weapon, though rookie TE Dalton Kincaid could help.

Carolina Panthers: OT Ikem Ekwonu

At the end of the day, it's all about keeping rookie QB Bryce Young comfortable in the pocket, especially at his unprecedented size. Ekwonu was solid as a rookie left tackle, and his continued presence there isn't getting enough attention.

Chicago Bears: WR D.J. Moore

Justin Fields is an electric enough scrambler to avoid a collapsing pocket, but what he really needs in 2023 is improved decision-making through the air. Moore is the only legit No. 1 target in their revised WR corps, and could be key to unlocking the QB.

Cincinnati Bengals: DE Trey Hendrickson

Star wideout Ja'Marr Chase is a home-run hitter, but Joe Burrow has proven he can survive by leaning on Tee Higgins and Co. Hendrickson, meanwhile, is sorely underrated as a persistent pressure artist, headlining Cincinnati's defensive front.

Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett

If Deshaun Watson were to lose No. 1 WR Amari Cooper, he could be in big trouble, with Elijah Moore and Donovan Peoples-Jones better suited for secondary roles. But what is the Browns defense without Garrett, who single-handedly terrorizes opponents?

Dallas Cowboys: OLB Micah Parsons

CeeDee Lamb is a star out wide, and his absence would surely affect Dak Prescott, who'll be counting on Brandin Cooks to help him downfield. But Parsons is the heart and soul of the team, his rangy athleticism enabling Dallas to be creative on "D."

Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Surtain II

No matter what happens with Russell Wilson's supporting cast, Sean Payton's chief hurdle will probably be getting the QB back into a comfortable scheme and mental rhythm. Surtain, on the other hand, buoys the stingy "D" with his cover skills on the outside.

Detroit Lions: OT Penei Sewell

An elite blocker in a 2022 breakout, Sewell is one of the biggest reasons Jared Goff was able to surprise skeptics with borderline top-10 production last year. His size and athleticism at right tackle are simply unteachable.

Green Bay Packers: WR Christian Watson

Left tackle David Bakhtiati is already such a frequent absentee that his loss wouldn't necessarily upend offensive plans. But Watson is the most accomplished and explosive in a young receiving corps, on which new starter Jordan Love will be leaning.

Houston Texans: OT Laremy Tunsil

Assuming rookie QB C.J. Stroud gets the nod under center, he'll need all the help he can get up front, not only because the interior remains a question mark but because Stroud isn't necessarily known for his mobility. Protect the signal-caller!

Indianapolis Colts: WR Michael Pittman Jr.

RB Jonathan Taylor is still their most dynamic all-around talent, but if rookie QB Anthony Richardson starts most of 2023 as expected, his own legs can help the ground game. Pittman, meanwhile, is basically the only sure thing at his position.

Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Travis Etienne Jr.

Why not new WR1 Calvin Ridley? Well, Trevor Lawrence and Co. fared reasonably well without him in 2022. Etienne, on the other hand, is an underrated multipurpose safety valve for the young QB, quietly accounting for 1,400+ scrimmage yards in his debut.

Kansas City Chiefs: TE Travis Kelce

It wouldn't have been crazy to vote for Kelce as MVP over Patrick Mahomes in 2022. He's as reliable as they come, forever finding green grass over the middle. And with Mahomes' WR room shuffling yet again, he'll remain the de facto No. 1 pass target.

Las Vegas Raiders: RB Josh Jacobs

You can see why Jacobs is holding out for financial security. Davante Adams may play a more important position, but with Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow out wide, Las Vegas can at least get by with WR reserves. Jacobs' power was their offense in 2022.

Los Angeles Chargers: OT Rashawn Slater

All eyes are on whether Justin Herbert can successfully grow as an aggressive passer under new coordinator Kellen Moore, but first he'll need to feel comfortable in the pocket, where Slater was elite at LT before an injury wiped out most of his last season.

Los Angeles Rams: WR Cooper Kupp

You might argue LT Joe Noteboom belongs here, considering Matthew Stafford isn't built to withstand another year of hard hits. But Kupp is the only real weapon at the QB's disposal, and his loss last year left them scratching and clawing for yards every week.

Miami Dolphins: OT Terron Armstead

Nothing is more important in Miami than Tua Tagovailoa's health after the QB's string of concussions prompted retirement consideration at just 25. Armstead is clearly their best blocker, so his absence could throw everything into a tizzy.

Minnesota Vikings: WR Justin Jefferson

Maybe the easiest pick of the entire list, Jefferson has rightfully drawn MVP consideration for his seamless play-making in Minnesota. Take him out of the lineup, and Kirk Cousins is left to lean on K.J. Osborn and rookie Jordan Addison out wide.

New England Patriots: OLB Matthew Judon

Most of Mac Jones' supporting parts -- both old and new -- are fairly replaceable, which speaks to their offensive struggles. Bill Belichick leans on the "D," however, and Judon's been one of his most consistent performers coming off the edge.

New Orleans Saints: DE Cameron Jordan

Who else is rushing the passer if the longtime veteran goes down? New QB Derek Carr probably can't afford to lose top WR Chris Olave, either, what with Michael Thomas' injury history. But Dennis Allen's team is still built on stuffing opposing offenses.

New York Giants: OT Andrew Thomas

His 2022 success confirmed his arrival as a top young tackle a la Penei Sewell in Detroit. For all the talk about getting Daniel Jones more help out wide, Brian Daboll's attack probably hinges more on Thomas standing pat at LT to keep the QB upright.

New York Jets: OT Duane Brown

Sauce Gardner is infinitely more talented at corner, and Garrett Wilson could be Aaron Rodgers' new Davante Adams. But what happens if Rodgers' LT goes down? Is he conditioned, going on 40, to transcend a bad pocket? The fact Brown is 38 himself, and coming off an injury-riddled season, doesn't necessarily bode well for A-Rod's setup in the trenches, as currently constructed.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR A.J. Brown

RT Lane Johnson, one of the best in the game at his spot, is probably more important overall. But he's already an annual candidate to miss a few games due to injury, and if Brown weren't active, DeVonta Smith would be Jalen Hurts' only truly trusted WR.

Pittsburgh Steelers: OLB T.J. Watt

Alex Highsmith filled out the stat sheet filling in for Watt in 2022, but the latter's injury-related absence was still felt throughout Mike Tomlin's defense. This remains a team built around that side of the ball, and Watt's ferocious edge work can't be replicated.

San Francisco 49ers: OT Trent Williams

Regardless of which QB opens 2023, be it Brock PurdyTrey Lance or even Sam Darnold, Kyle Shanahan's going to need his top tackle to be in full form. We all saw what happened last year, when protection broke down and their QBs dropped like flies.

Seattle Seahawks: OT Charles Cross

Once again, it's all about giving the QB a clean pocket. Geno Smith's turnover tendencies started to flare up down the stretch in his breakout 2022. With Jaxon Smith-Njigba joining the WR corps, Cross is an overlooked key to them staying in the mix.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Tristan Wirfs

Mike Evans is a fair candidate, considering he's the most reliable, consistent member of a WR corps lacking many answers beyond teammate Chris Godwin. But imagine Baker Mayfield under center if Wirfs, their best blocker, is knocked from the lineup.

Tennessee Titans: RB Derrick Henry

For years, they've made Henry the focal point of the offense. Nothing has changed. As Ryan Tannehill navigates yet another makeshift assembly of WRs, King Henry will be tasked with carrying Mike Vrabel's attack on his bruising shoulders.

Washington Commanders: WR Terry McLaurin

If Ron Rivera really believes new QB Sam Howell is capable of emerging as a long-term answer, he'd better hope the team's WR1 stays healthy, providing the second-year gunslinger with a downfield threat who's been relatively QB-proof in terms of production.


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