It is an undisputed fact that the most important position on a NFL team is the quarterback. Take a look around the league at the teams in playoff position: the Patriots, the Saints, the Broncos, the Lions, the Colts, the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Bengals, the Cowboys, the Eagles, the Panthers, and the Chargers all have quarterbacks that are playing at a high level*. And the bottom feeders of the league (the Jaguars, the Vikings, and the Buccaneers) are all very unsettled at the signal caller position.
*Yes, some of these teams have quarterbacks mired in a slump or struggling
The more interesting question though is this; what is the second most important position on an NFL team?
There are a lot of different answers here.
- Blindside Blocking Left Tackle – If the most important player on the field is the QB, the second is the guy who defends his back. The left tackle is crucial to holding back usually the opposing defense’s best pass rushers and knows that his mistake will lead to a crushing blow to his QB or a strip-sack…or both. So it is imperative to find a big bulldog of a left tackle to keep your franchise at ease in the pocket.
- Elite Pass Rusher – You have to be able to get to the opposing team’s MIP. And when you have a great one, the rest of the defense has it a little easier. When a defense can line up and only rush four on most plays, even the elite QBs struggle to find the open man. The Giants used this tactic with Jason Pierre-Paul to defeat Tom Brady and the Patriots and Clay Matthews and Von Miller have single-handedly raised their defenses up a level with their ability off the edge.
- The Go-to Game-Changing Wide Receiver – At this point just watch Calvin Johnson do his thing and you can see how important he is to the Lions. Without him, that team is barely in the playoff discussion; with him they are leading the division. If you can get one, a big time receiver evolves your entire offense, just ask the Bengals and the Falcons. The problem is just how hard it is to find a guy like this. Whether its the drops (Dwayne Bowe) or the ego (Dez Bryant), big time receivers can be very hit or miss. But getting an A.J. Green or a Larry Fitzgerald is of the upmost importance in today’s NFL.
- Man-to-Man Shutdown Corner – With the NFL becoming more and more passing oriented, it is even more crucial to have a defender that you can put out there and just know will take away the opposing team’s best receiver all by himself. Football is a game of individual battles and doubling a receiver leaves someone else vulnerable. When a defensive coordinator can move the safeties elsewhere to deal with the run and other issues, an offense will struggle. Having an elite shutdown corner like Richard Sherman or Joe Haden allows other defenders to make plays and shut down these high-octane offenses.
- Play-calling Tackling Middle Linebacker – If you caught this past weekend’s Saint-Cowboys game, you witnessed Drew Brees surgically pick apart the Cowboys defense. But what you may have missed is Dallas middle linebacker Sean Lee going down early in the first quarterback. Lee is one of the game’s best and as soon as he departed Brees made mince-meat of the Cowboy’s defenders. Having an intelligent, sure-tackling, playmaking middle linebacker has seemingly become less important throughout the league due to a heavier passing league and more and more 3-4 defensive alignments. But the top defenses in the NFL all have elite linebackers. The 49ers have two in Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman while the Seahawks have a great one in Bobby Wagner. And when a team losses one like Lee or the Patriot’s Jerrod Mayo, the rest of the defense struggles. The middle linebacker position may not be in the forefront of the NFL and that is truly a mistake, because when you are forced to meet Luke Kuechly in the hole bad things happen.
The above five positions are all important in the NFL and team’s draft and pay free agents accordingly. But the question is what is the second most important position on an NFL team, not second best. Which is why the answer to the above question may shock you because it is not even a starter.
The 2nd most important position on an NFL team is the backup quarterback.
That’s right, once you find that franchise QB, your next job is to bring somebody in to back him up. Here’s the interesting part; you aren’t looking for another starter or someone to push the incumbent. What you are looking for is someone who can come in during the worst-case scenario (Brady tears his ACL for example) and stabilize the ship. It is one of the hardest tasks in the NFL, go from the clipboard and headset to the huddle and the snap count. Why is this such an important position? Look around the NFL. Teams with quality backups have succeeded when the starter went down (the Eagles, the Bears, and the Browns) and haven’t completely fallen off the ladder. Teams without a strong backup plan (the Packers, the Buccaneers, and the Texans) have struggled and fallen out of contention early. Once again, this is not the 2nd best player on your team. But without a backup QB who can come in and manage a game, make throws, and run the offense, your team is dead in the water. The backup must have the trust of coaching staff to be able to run the game-plan at any point during a contest and that is not an easy thing. So ask yourself, does your team have a quality backup that you trust?