The quarterback position is the most important in football, and probably in all of sports. It’s nearly impossible to win without one that’s better than mediocre, and finding an elite QB can change a franchise for more than a decade – especially when he’s taken in the sixth round (read: Tom Brady). But Super Bowls aren’t won by just the guy under center. It’s a team sport where 53 guys contribute on a weekly basis. These 32 players are extremely valuable to their respective teams, some even more than their quarterback. Here is each team’s most valuable non-QB.
Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB
The Cardinals defense simply wouldn’t be the same without Peterson. Tyrann Mathieu is also an important part of the secondary, but it’s not easy to find a true shutdown cornerback in the NFL, which is exactly what Peterson is. Larry Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell are also very valuable and would be tough to replace in Arizona.
Getty ImagesGregory Shamus
Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones, WR
Had it not been for Jones in 2015, the Falcons probably wouldn’t have won more than five games. He carried the offense and will do so again in 2016. Replacing 1,871 receiving yards and eight touchdowns isn’t easy to do, which is why he’s so crucial to Atlanta’s success. Jones is second to only Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown among the league’s best receivers.
Getty ImagesScott Cunningham
Baltimore Ravens: Elvis Dumervil, OLB Baltimore Ravens: Elvis Dumervil, OLB
Marshal Yanda is one of the very best guards in football, but he doesn’t play a primary position. Dumervil, however, can change a defense with his pass-rushing ability on the edge. His production dropped last season, but he had 17 sacks in 2014. Dumervil has to produce for a lackluster Ravens defense.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY SportsMitch Stringer
Buffalo Bills: LeSean McCoy, RB
McCoy dealt with a handful of injuries last season, playing just 12 games. He was still a Pro Bowl selection and showed he can be the quick, shifty back he was in Philly with 1,187 total yards. The Bills were once deep at running back, but issues this offseason have emphasized McCoy’s role in the offense. He’s a big part of their rushing attack, which was No. 1 in 2015.
Getty ImagesRob Leiter
Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly, LB
Kuechly is among a small group of defensive players who could legitimately win league MVP. He’s far and away the best linebacker in the league, having racked up 591 tackles, 11 interceptions and seven sacks in four seasons. He can cover and stop the run, while also properly lining up his teammates on defense. Kuechly is one of the most irreplaceable players in football.
Getty ImagesScott Cunningham
Chicago Bears: Alshon Jeffery, WR
The Bears don’t have the best roster in football, and they could win up winning fewer than six games in 2016. That won’t happen if Jeffery puts together a 2013-like campaign with 1,300-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns. When healthy, he’s dominant. He just needs to remain focused on the field and put in the work to better his game. Without him, quarter Jay Cutler would be extremely thin on reliable targets.
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
Cincinnati Bengals: Andrew Whitworth, LT
Whitworth doesn’t get much attention playing in Cincinnati, but he’s the Bengals’ best lineman and one of the top left tackles in football. Andy Dalton doesn’t get sacked much, and Whitworth is a big reason for that. Wideout A.J. Green is also a vital component on offense, but Whitworth helps keep Dalton healthy, which is most important.
Getty ImagesGeorge Gojkovich
Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas, LT
Thomas has been the Browns’ best and most valuable player for nearly a decade. Nothing more needs to be said.
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Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant, WR
The Cowboys have a few options here. Tyron Smith is one of the two best left tackles in the NFL, and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott will get Dallas back to its old ground-and-pound ways. But Bryant is the only playmaker outside at wide receiver. Terrance Williams proved he’s not a No. 1 target last season, and quarterbacks looked lost without Bryant on the field. He elevates the offense more than anyone not named Tony Romo.
Denver Broncos: Von Miller, OLB
Miller was the Super Bowl MVP. He single-handedly carried Denver in the playoffs, and he’ll have to do so again this season. The Broncos wouldn’t be able to replace his production, which could touch 20 sacks. Miller is a legitimate NFL MVP candidate.
Getty ImagesPatrick Smith
Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah, DE
Ansah emerged as an outstanding pass rusher last season, ranking third in the NFL with 14 1/2 sacks. The Lions lack playmakers on defense, but Ansah is one of the few. He should be in for a big 2016 campaign, which may include 20-plus sacks in the pass-happy NFC North.
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
Green Bay Packers: Jordy Nelson, WR
Need evidence of how valuable Nelson is to Green Bay? Aaron Rodgers had the worst season of his career (production-wise) without him last season and the offense wasn’t nearly the same. Receivers were dropping passes left and right, and Green Bay was more reluctant to take shots downfield than in recent years. He needs to stay healthy in 2016.
Getty ImagesTom Lynn
Houston Texans: J.J. Watt, DE
Watt had a shot at winning the MVP award two years ago but was ultimately passed on despite receiving 13 votes – the most for a defender since Lawrence Taylor won it in 1986. Watt may not be a serious contender this season if he misses time recovering from offseason back surgery, but his absence will further prove his value to Houston. He’s a game-changer across the defensive line.
Getty ImagesBob Levey
Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis, OLB
You could make the argument that no team will need to be carried by its quarterback more than the Colts this season. Luck is undoubtedly Indy's MVP, but Mathis is a dominant player on defense. If he can stay healthy and rack up 15-plus sacks, he’ll have a sizable part in the Colts making the postseason.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsBrian Spurlock
Jacksonville Jaguars: Allen Robinson, WR
There’s a good chance this selection could change by midseason. Myles Jack, Dante Fowler and Allen Hurns will also be key contributors, but Robinson is the team’s best offensive player. He burst onto the scene in 2015 with 1,400 yards and a league-high 14 touchdowns, which makes it frightening to think about what he’ll do this season. Robinson could be the league’s best wideout down the road.
Jim Steve-USA TODAY SportsJim Steve
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles, RB
Charles has missed significant time twice in recent years, and the Chiefs have overcome it for the most part on both occasions. That doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable, though. He’s never had a season with under 5.0 yards per carry, which is astounding. When healthy, Charles completely changes what the Chiefs can do on offense – both on the ground and in the passing game.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Los Angeles Rams: Todd Gurley, RB
Aaron Donald is the premier defensive tackle in the NFL, but he doesn’t have as big of an impact on the Rams as Gurley. Los Angeles is going to feed Gurley the ball 25-plus times this season given its messy quarterback situation and putrid receiving corps. Without Gurley, one has to wonder how the Rams would move the ball on offense at all. He’s an Adrian Peterson-type player.
Getty ImagesMichael Thomas
Miami Dolphins: Ndamukong Suh, DT
Suh didn’t live up to the hype of his massive contract last season, but he had a noticeable impact on Miami’s defense in his first season with the team. Now with a new coaching staff and a year in the Dolphins' scheme under his belt, Suh should be even better. He beats out safety Reshad Jones as the team’s best defender, and outside of those two the Dolphins don’t have many playmakers on that side of the ball. Suh has to play like he did in Detroit.
Getty ImagesJerome Davis
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson, RB
It was just four years ago that Peterson was named league MVP, so why can’t he do it again? He’s certainly the most valuable player in Minnesota, which made this an easy choice. Peterson will be a workhorse yet again in the Vikings’ backfield and is in line for another 1,500-plus-yard season. He’s still the best running back in football and is irreplaceable for the Vikings.
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
New England Patriots: Rob Gronkowski TE
Gronkowski could conceivably be the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL. He’s the Patriots’ best receiver and excels as a run blocker, too. The Patriots felt what it’s like to play without Gronk for one game last season, and it’s certainly not something they want to experience again. Outside of Tom Brady, no one’s health is more important than Gronk’s.
New Orleans Saints: Terron Armstead, LT
The Saints aren’t likely to be contenders this season with Drew Brees aging and the defense certain to struggle again, but they’ve found a stud inArmstead. The young left tackle has played extremely well since taking over as the starter. He’s an athletic lineman, which helps in getting out to block speedy linebackers and in moving bodies on the second level. Armstead can help prolong Brees’ career.
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY SportsRon Schwane
New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., WR
Beckham is up there with Antonio Brown and Julio Jones as one of the best receivers in the game today, though he’s just a notch below. He’s a special player who can do it all – run intermediate routes, break slants for big gains and beat corners over the top. Beckham should be in for a huge season in 2016 on the arm of Eli Manning as the Giants look to improve from a horrendous 2015.
William Hauser-USA TODAY SportsWilliam Hauser
New York Jets: Darrelle Revis, CB
Don’t be confused: Revis isn’t the player he once was. But he’s still incredibly valuable to the Jets. He’s the unquestioned No. 1 cornerback in a secondary that would be relatively thin without him. Buster Skrine is mainly a slot corner, which leaves New York without a viable option at outside corner should Revis go down. The Jets need badly him to stay healthy.
Getty ImagesTom Pennington
Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, DE
There’s J.J. Watt and Von Miller, and then there’s Mack. That’s the company he keeps after just two seasons in the NFL, and he could put up bigger numbers than those two in 2016. Mack is arguably the Raiders’ best player regardless of age or position, and he’ll prove that once again this season.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT
There’s a reason the Eagles gave Cox a huge deal this offseason, and that’s because he’s an impact player. Now that he’s moving to a traditional 4-3 defensive tackle spot, he’s going to be even better. Cox is going to dominate opposing guards and centers in Philly’s Wide 9 formation up front. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is also incredibly valuable to the Eagles, but Cox gets the nod.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown, WR
This was a toss-up between Le’Veon Bell andBrown, but the Steelers have endured the loss of one but not the other in the past. Bell has missed plenty of games in his career, which Pittsburgh has overcome. Brown remains the best receiver in football and Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target. His value is even higher with Martavis Bryant suspended for the year.
Getty ImagesDilip Vishwanat
San Diego Chargers: Keenan Allen, WR
Allen was in the midst of a career year before getting injured last season, and his loss was a big blow to the offense. San Diego doesn’t have an overwhelming number of Pro Bowl-caliber players on either side of the ball, but Allen is one of them. The Chargers are thin at receiver, too, which only makes Allen more essential to the passing game.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY SportsJake Roth
San Francisco 49ers: NaVorro Bowman, LB
After going the entire 2014 season without Bowman in the middle of their defense, the 49ers got the stud linebacker back in 2015. He returned to form, racking up 154 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble, which are his typical numbers each year. Bowman didn’t look as explosive as he did before the knee injury, but he’s still an outstanding linebacker. Without him, the 49ers' defense would be a mess.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY SporDennis Wierzbicki
Seattle Seahawks: Earl Thomas, FS
Most would say Richard Sherman is the most important player to Seattle’s defense. That’s not the case because Thomas is. The rangy free safety is the perfect fit in Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme, taking away throws over the top of the defense. He remains the best free safety in the league and makes plays against the run and the pass. Seattle’s corners wouldn’t be able to play nearly as aggressively if Thomas weren't back there as a last line of defense.
Getty ImagesTom Pennington
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin, RB
Martin got back to his old ways last season, rushing for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. The Buccaneers still weren’t a great team, but he brought a nice balance to the offense. The Bucs don’t have much behind Martin, so he’s going to be the bellcow in the backfield. He’s exactly what Jameis Winston needs in his continued development given the pressure he can take off the quarterback.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Tennessee Titans: Delanie Walker, TE
Most fans don’t realize that Walker – not Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham or Jason Witten – led all tight ends last season with 94 catches. He was also third with 1,088 yards in an offense that ran through him each week. Walker is the Titans’ most reliable receiver and is a trusted weapon of Marcus Mariota. The two will continue to develop a chemistry that will improve his numbers this season.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed, TE
Reed was given a huge contract this offseason, and deservingly so. When healthy, he’s a wide receiver-like weapon for the Redskins. Reed can make plays outside and in the slot and completely changes Washington’s passing game. No player on the Redskins, and very few in the NFL, can replicate his playing style and skill set.