Next man up is a mantra used by every NFL team. It is used by every team, because they are going to have injuries in a season. The question is to who and for how long.
I saw this interesting tweet a week ago and I decided to take a stab at answering this question.
Who is the most fragile team this year? If (insert team) lost (insert player), that's not not a QB, their season is over. @mikejurecki
— Michael Scheffe (@Sir_Scheffe) July 26, 2016
Michael asks a great question. When I start looking at teams to come up with the list, I eliminated teams like the Browns and 49ers right away because their season is done before anyone gets injured.
So here are the top 10 that I could come up with. There are a few that you could flip flop spots, but I think the list looks pretty good.
10. Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots
Rob Gronkowski is as good of a football player that we have in the league. Brady does not have an effective receiving core or dependable running game. Having Gronk on the field makes more space to operate for the rest of the offense and he converts third downs at an alarming rate. Sure Brady is great and could keep any game interesting without Gronk, but it is significantly more difficult without him.
9. Julio Jones and the Falcons
Julio Jones is a freak athlete. There is not another decent option at receiver or tight end to stretch the field for the Falcons. The running game is not bad, but it is not great either. Devonte Freeman can end up being a piece that can help win games, but without Julio the falcons would most likely finish last in their division.
8. Odell Beckham and the Giants
As OBJ goes, so goes the Giants. He is the offense and it needs him to take all of the attention off the defense to get anything going to the rest of the threats on offense. Could there be a shot that the Giants make the playoffs without OBJ? Sure. But the division is so bad that even if they did squeak in, it would be because the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins all imploded.
7. Khalil Mack and the Raiders
The first defensive player on the list. Mack had a career year last year and is part of a very improved defense and team for that matter. Without the pass rush that Mack provides, the rest of the team will suffer and the sleeper pick by most experts won’t make the turn and end up in the playoffs.
6. Fletcher Cox and the Eagles
Sticking with defense, Fletcher Cox is a terror on the interior of the line. He can single-handedly keep the Eagles in games. As I mentioned earlier about the NFC East, it is so bad that Cox will have a shot at the playoffs where anything can happen. Without Chip Kelley putting the defense on the field for more times than any other team in the league, Cox will be able to apply pressure at an even higher level.
5. Andrew Whitworth and the Bengals
Andrew Whitworth has been quietly one of the best tackles in football for a few years. Protecting the “Red Rocket” is critical for this team and it would be impossible to replace Whitworth. I know this is kind of cheating, because it is still about the QB, but without Whitworth this team will not make the playoffs.
4. Anthony Castonzo and the Colts
For the same reason as Whitworth above, but the Colts need a healthy protected QB more than the Bengals do. The Colts defense is suspect and there are not any great targets that the team would miss too significantly if they had to go without. We are expecting a bounce back performance from Luck this year and Castonzo is a big piece of that.
3. Michael Bennett and Seahawks
I know that Seattle is deep and most think they would be fine without any single piece, but Bennett is the exception. He is the reason that opposing teams can’t simply pick on the side opposite of Sherman all game. The cover three they play is susceptible to the 6-8 yard passes (i.e. Patriots in the Superbowl), but only if you can get Earl Thomas and Kam Chancelor spread out. That can’t happen if the QB does not have time. With Bennett on the field, QBs do not have time.
2. J.J. Watt and the Texans
The Texans might be a team that are out of the playoffs with or without Watt, but he is the best player in football right now. He is the engine to that whole team and without him they could finish in the bottom three or four in the league.
1. Adrian Peterson and the Vikings
The Vikings were a field goal away from beating Seattle in the playoffs. This team is built around AP and for good reason. He is the hardest player to tackle in the league and makes defenses pay for trying to stop him. They’re another Cinderella pick going into this year, but that can only happen with a healthy Peterson.
Honorable Mentions: Luke Kueckly, Von Miller, and Travis Kelce