At a time of year when there isn’t a lot of tangible news regarding the Seahawks, my mind often turns to the hypothetical. I have a bit of a pessimistic streak so when I speak about hypothetical situations what I’m usually getting at is apocalyptic level disasters. The Seahawks are clearly a good team and I have faith in the talent on the roster and in the front office. There is also enough depth on this team that it is hard to imagine any major disasters befalling the Seahawks in 2014. However, in a salary cap league it is impossible to be two deep at every position so today I thought I would look at the most indispensible players on the Seahawks roster.
There are two factors that come into play here. The first is the talent of the player in question and the second is the quality of their replacement. There are some very talented players that have been left out of my top 3 list below, such as Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin, through no fault of their own, because the Seahawks have strong depth at that particular position. Without further adieu, here are the players, in my humble opinion, who Seattle can least afford to lose in 2013:
1. Earl Thomas
Russell Wilson may be a demigod but it is my belief that an injury to Earl Thomas would be a more crushing blow to this team. Having just turned 24 Thomas is already a two-time Pro Bowl safety who is immensely important to this defense. Without Thomas patrolling center field Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner would be far less free to be aggressive at the line as both rely on Thomas for help over the top. The Seahawks can only have success with their bigger and slower corners due to Thomas’s ability to prevent plays over the top. Earl Thomas is essential to preventing big plays and plays the quietest, most essential role in the Legion of Boom which allows the other three members to be physical and do what they do best. Kam Chancellor does not have even close to the kind of range that Thomas does and spends a great deal of time near the line of scrimmage, putting even more pressure on the free safety. Richard Sherman may get the headlines but I think more of his success than he’d be willing to admit is predicated on the presence of Thomas.
In addition to Thomas’s vital importance to the defense, he is also invaluable because he has no reliable backup. Chris Maragos is the only other free safety on the roster. Maragos has appeared exclusively on special teams and is utterly unproven as an NFL safety. Like Thomas he is fairly small (5-11 200lbs) but he doesn’t come close to Earl Thomas’s speed and range, mainly because virtually no safeties do. Perhaps he has some hidden talent but as a 26 year old with no professional experience at his position, and who went undrafted, my hopes are not high. The only positive is that he has been around the system for a couple of years but I doubt that is enough to prevent him from being the biggest drop off from the starter of any 2nd string player on the team.
2. Russell Wilson
Obviously the franchise quarterback was going to make an appearance on this list. Everyone is familiar with Wilson’s fantastic rookie year and his potential for growth as he only got better as 2012 went on. Wilson was a top 10 quarterback in 2012 and looked even better down the stretch. His running ability makes the offense more flexible and his accuracy makes it more efficient. Not only that but, now he has Percy Harvin to throw to. There is plenty more praise I could heap onto Wilson but at a certain point that gets repetitive. The man is good.
The only reason Wilson appears at number two on this list is the because he has a very competent backup this year. Earlier in the off-season I was very concerned about the prospect of Brady Quinn as the backup to Wilson but I am very pleased that the Seahawks went out and signed Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson is a below average starting quarterback, but a great backup. Pete Carroll knows he can win with Jackson, and this Seahawks could probably still be a wildcard threat with Tarvaris at the helm. The supporting cast on offense and the defense are both great and the reins of the offense could be turned over to Marshawn Lynch with Jackson as the role player quarterback. I think of the Seahawks as a Super Bowl contender and that wouldn’t be possible without Wilson but this team has the talent to be functional and above average with Jackson. It should be recalled that Jackson was 7-7 with a far worse squad in 2011 with a not awful passer rating of 79.2 and almost decent 6.9 yards per attempt.
3. Max Unger
After stumbling out of the gate slightly as a rookie, Unger has established himself as top center in the NFL. In 2012 Unger was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro and seems to be one of those players who makes those around him better. While the offensive line isn’t necessarily the strength of this team it would be hard to imagine how it would perform without him. Unger isn’t just one of those glue guys, he’s one of those glue guys who is actually good. He has started 31 of the last 32 games for the Seahawks and has gotten the better of his opponents in almost all of those games.
Not only is Unger a fantastic player, but he has a backup who isn’t really anything special. Lemeul Jeanpierre has mainly stuck with the Seahawks due to his versatility as opposed to some kind of latent talent ready to bloom. The guard/center did get some playing time in 2011 and did not acquit himself disastrously but the downgrade is significant.
Football is a violent game where every team is likely to experience significant losses in terms of injuries. The Seahawks are no exception and though I think the front office has done a fine job of building depth on this roster the three players I’ve listed above strike me as players they simply cannot afford to lose. That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the best, not looking to slight Richard Sherman here as I know he wouldn’t appreciate that, they are just the most difficult to replace in my view. With some luck from the football gods Thomas, Wilson and Unger, all who have been relatively durable in the past (except for Unger’s lost 2010), will be kept from harm. If you want to be a Super Bowl contender there is very little margin for error and these are guys that Seattle needs.