Ken Palmer, TheGiantInsider.com
New York Giants
Despite all New York's offensive talent, the entire unit took
a nosedive last season because of the loss of one player – and one player
When veteran receiver Amani Toomer suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the 2006 campaign, the Giants offense was never the same. Toomer has the most dependable hands on the squad, runs the best routes and has that veteran craftiness that can't be taught. He's also become quarterback Eli Manning's security blanket, which was obvious because Manning fell apart last season after Toomer went down.
New York's all-time leading receiver, who has somehow never earned a Pro Bowl nod, is not only the most important cog in the offensive machine, but perhaps on the entire team as well.
Matthew Postins, BucsBlitz.com
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The one non-Pro Bowl player the Buccaneers cannot live without right now is
wide receiver Joey Galloway. That's right -- Galloway.
He's never been to a Pro Bowl, despite five 1,000-yard seasons and three seasons with 10 touchdowns or more. Perhaps his finest season -- 2005, in which he set career highs of 83 catches and 1,287 yards, plus scored 10 touchdowns -- went unrewarded. He was only a Pro Bowl alternate.
Without Galloway the Buccaneers are without a deep threat and their No. 1 target. Pure and simple. His importance is underscored by the fact that he gets preferential treatment at camp, practicing just one session most days, so his body doesn't break down (he has a history of hamstring problems).
Without Galloway the Bucs' passing game would definitely flounder.
Charlie Bernstein, JagNation.com
The Jaguars got to experience life without Leftwich last season, as he missed
10 games with an ankle injury, and the backup quarterback, David Garrard was put
in one of the best possible situations with the league's third-ranked rushing
attack and second-ranked defense. With those impressive end of the year
statistics, the Jaguars were only able to go .500, and the main reason behind it
was one of the worst passing games in the league once Leftwich went down. Teams loaded up the box to stop the run, against Garrard
had no fear of
getting beat through the air.
Although Leftwich isn't yet an elite quarterback, the Jaguars offense becomes instantly one-dimensional when he doesn't play.
Denis Savage, SilverandBlack.com
It may have been just his second season in Silver and Black but middle linebacker Kirk Morrison proved to be indispensable. He led the Oakland defense in tackles and provided much more than that on and off the field – leadership and accountability.
While he may not make the flashy play, the San Diego State alumnus and
Oakland native is a sure tackler and solid tactician. He is seldom out of
position and provides excellent instruction to the rest of his group.
Morrison is the type of young player the Raiders are trying to cultivate throughout the roster – smart, instinctive, and fully invested in the well-being of the team. Losing Morrison for any stretch of time would take away from the Raiders defense significantly from a game perspective and a mental one. He is the heart that makes the defense beat.
John Crist, BearReport.com
Although neither Nathan Vasher nor Charles Tillman was selected to the Pro Bowl last season, you would be hard pressed to find a better cornerback combination in the NFC.
Vasher did make the trip to Hawaii in 2005 and has intercepted 16 passes in three seasons, but Tillman is still yet to be honored despite 10 INTs the last two years and a reputation as one of the best tackling corners in the league. Vasher missed two games late in 2006 with a bum hamstring and Tillman also missed a pair due to a bad back, and Chicago's pass defense suffered greatly as a result. The Bears surrendered 907 yards through the air in a three-game stretch with Ricky Manning Jr. in the starting lineup, including 268 yards and 3 touchdowns to unheralded backup Tim Rattay in little more than a half at home against a bad Tampa Bay team.
Manning proved to be a very good player in the nickel package, but he was simply not up to the task when asked to replace first Vasher and then Tillman as a starter.
Barry McBride, TheOBR.com
Of those players, I'll go out on a limb and say the athlete who would be the most missed at this juncture is OLB Kamerion Wimbley. Outside linebackers are critical in Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense scheme and Wimbley is the first player since Miller to create some level of havoc in opposing team's backfields.
While the Browns roster is still thin at many positions, making the loss of starters difficult to overcome, Wimbley is a special talent on the defensive side and such a terrific representative of the team that losing him would be especially devastating.
Doug Farrar, Seahawks.net
Seahawks nose tackle Marcus Tubbs hasn't made a Pro Bowl yet (though his
cousin Winfred did as a linebacker for the 49ers in 1999), but he may be Seattle's
most valuable defender if you're going on absence alone. In the eleven games
Tubbs missed last year, the Seahawks' defense gave up 65 more rushing yards
per game. Seattle's linebackers are fast pursuers - not blocks of granite -
and Tubbs is needed to soak up blockers and help create lanes. This is crucial
when you face the 49ers' Frank Gore and the Rams' Steven Jackson twice a year.
A healthy Tubbs will do a lot to right the ship for a Seahawks defense that underperformed in 2006. The Seahawks drafted Brandon Mebane of Cal in the third round as a stopgap.
Todd Korth, PackerReport.com
Green Bay Packers
The Packers would be hurting without Al Harris. The veteran cornerback is
usually assigned to cover opponents' top receivers, and often shuts them down.
Durable, Harris has played in 144 straight games (154 including playoffs). He had three interceptions in 2006 and was second on the team with 20 passes defensed. Harris was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate last year, though, many observers felt he played well enough to be on the NFC squad.
Michael Lombardo, SDBoltReport.com
San Diego Chargers
Jammer was the best player in the secondary last season. He led the team with four interceptions and finished second with 76 tackles. Although he doesn't make as many big plays as the team would like, he routinely shadows the opponent's top receiver and is rarely caught out of position. He is also the best run-stuffing corner in the league.
After struggling with untimely penalties early in his career, Jammer has adapted his physical style of play in accordance with the league's nitpicky pass-interference enforcement. He is now a crafty veteran, a team leader, and one of the most irreplaceable players on the roster.
Chuck Hixson, WarNest.com
Of the non-Pro Bowlers on their squad, the Eagles would likely be hurt most
by the loss of center Jamaal Jackson. While they've got depth and stability at
the guard and tackle positions on their offensive line -- tackles Shawn Andrews
and Jon Runyan have played in 103 consecutive games together -- they're weakest
at the center position which was taken over by Jackson last year in a camp
battle with Hank Fraley.
While Jackson himself is a converted guard, the odds of another quick and seamless conversion aren't very good and since the Eagles rely on their offensive line more and more with their balanced offensive attack, losing Jackson would be a major blow to their offense. Also keep in mind that Jackson may be very close to being the next Pro Bowler on the Eagles roster.
Jon Scott, PatriotsInsider.com
New England Patriots
Out of the Patriots players who have never been to a Pro Bowl, center Dan Koppen would be the toughest player to replace. When Koppen was out of the lineup with an injury, the Patriots were still able to run their offense but were much less effective. Selected by the Patriots in the fifth round (154th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft, Koppen immediately became a starter as a rookie. He filled the void left by former Pro Bowl center Damien Woody.
Koppen led the Patriots line to the Super Bowl in 2003, making all the calls and protection adjustments his rookie season. He anchored the center of the unit that sprung Corey Dillon for a franchise-record 1,635 yards rushing and another Super Bowl in 2004. Without Koppen, the Patriots could get by, but they're much better on offense with the former Boston College star in the lineup.
Steve Waters, BroncosUpdate.com
Williams hasn't missed a game during his career in Denver and has played in more regular season games than any other defensive player during that time, starting at least 14 games each season. In 2004, he became the first rookie in Broncos history to lead the club in tackles with 114 while finishing third in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. He recorded 86 stops last season.
Replacing long time middle linebacker and team captain Al Wilson -- who was released during the offseason -- will be a tough task for Willliams. But replacing Williams might be an even tougher task for the Broncos.
Tim Yotter, VikingUpdate.com
For the Vikings, they have Pro Bowl players on the interior of both their
offensive and defensive lines, but offensive left tackle Bryant McKinnie hasn't
reached Pro Bowl status yet. Some believe he might be on the brink of that
status, which might be overstating the case, but the Vikings rewarded him with a
seven-year contract that could be worth more than $50 million so the team
obviously believes in his value.
Making his performance even more crucial to the Vikings' success is the lack of experienced depth behind McKinnie and the fact that he will be protecting the blind side of a second-year quarterback with two NFL starts. McKinnie is certainly playing an important role to the success of the 2007 Vikings.