In a "Can't-lose players" post on the ESPN NFC East blog, Dan Graziano identifies Hakeem Nicks as a player the New York Giants cannot afford to be without. Graziano did not consider quarterbacks, so Eli Manning could not be the choice.
It's an interesting selection as I see it.
To his point, the Giants passing game was not even close as potent last season when Nicks missed time or tried to play through his multitude of injuries.
But then again, the New York Giants still owned the No. 14 offense in the league, with production in the same range as the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. And in terms of the passing offense, the team ranked 12th, so yeah, not too shabby.
Graziano's argument centers around the fact Nicks' presence on the field when 100 percent healthy makes the Giants offense click on all cylinders, making the passing game more palpable to open up holes in the running game.
"We saw what happened to the offense last season when Nicks was either missing time or playing hurt," Graziano wrote. "As great as Eli Manning and Victor Cruz are, Nicks at the No. 1 wideout spot is a major, versatile weapon who makes the offense function at a higher level when he's on the field."
Obviously, a lot of the credit Nicks deserves gets taken away by the big-play ability Cruz provides, in addition to his ongoing contract talks. And there is no doubting Nicks' contributions to the offense, but he is not the Giants' most indispensable player.
Why, you may ask? Well, as I pointed out earlier, the Giants offense was still in the top half of the league with Nicks not even close to 100 percent. With young wideouts like Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan poised to have larger roles in 2013, perhaps the team opts not to renew his contract and instead sticks with one of the young up-and-comers.
Think about the Giants -- now what comes to mind? A pass rush. Correct.
So who becomes the team's most irreplaceable player -- how about the Giants' top pass rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, whose back surgery prompted panic among the fans as they worried about who would be sacking opposing quarterbacks this coming season.
The Giants defense revolves around its defensive line generating pressure, which was the obvious driving force in both of the team's Super Bowl victories against the New England Patriots. And a mediocre pass rush last season was the main reason why the defense struggled.
Pierre-Paul's production as a pass rusher is and should be the most critical part of the Giants' success. You just have to ask yourself: are the Giants about their passing game or sacking opposing quarterbacks?
Around the NFC East
Graziano's other selections for "can't-lose players" around the division included Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy and Washington Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield.
For the 'Boys, picking an offensive lineman just seems a bit obscure. Without question, Dallas' best player is linebacker DeMarcus Ware, the heart and soul of the defense. Much like Pierre-Paul's importance to the Giants, without Ware, Big D's defense is irrelevant. He's a pass rusher, a leader, and year and year he proves his worth.
The pick of McCoy for the Eagles is fitting, especially with the hiring of Chip Kelly and the new up-tempo offense. Kelly's scheme cannot function without a speedy, versatile back, and that's exactly what the Eagles have in McCoy. At this point, it's already a lock he'll be Philly's MVP in '13.
Excluding quarterbacks from the discussion, Alfred Morris is the Redskin's most irreplaceable player. The key to every Mike Shanahan team is the running game. And I know what you're thinking -- Shenanigans -- he can plug in any back into his system and get production. But last season, the rookie out of Florida Atlantic helped the team win even when Robert Griffin III sat out due to injury. Cofield did not revitalize the 'Skins last season; it was the rookie tandem of RGIII and Morris.
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