Top 10 most indispensable players in the NFL, including Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill

indispensable players
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Every NFL player can be replaced. But not every player is easily replaceable.

When a star player leaves the field and the next player on the team depth chart takes his place, there is typically a drop-off in performance because the replacement player is incapable of performing at the same elite level.

For a select few NFL players, however, the decline in productivity is much more pronounced. They might even qualify as “indispensable” — meaning their team’s Super Bowl chances are tied directly to the player’s presence on the field.

Constructing a list of the NFL’s most indispensable players is about determining whose absence would hurt the most. While it’s difficult to assess overall impact unless the player is out for a significant amount of time, here is one list of 10 players whose teams could least afford to do without.

indispensable players

10. Trent Williams, 49ers LT

It might seem easy to insert a skill-position player in this and every other spot on this indispensable players list, and several would qualify from Williams’ own team — like Christian McCaffrey or George Kittle. But Williams’ impact on the 49ers’ offense cannot be understated.

Regardless of position, there might not be a better football player on the field each NFL weekend than Williams, a 10-time Pro Bowl performer. He protects Brock Purdy’s backside and erases the fiercest pass rushers in the game, and he obliterates everything in his path when the 49ers call a running play behind him.

YouTube is awash with highlights of Williams’ greatness, and there’s just not another player the 49ers could use in his place who’d have even close to having the same impact.

indispensable players

9. Myles Garrett, Browns DE

From Trent Willliams to the man that Williams referred to as “a Hall of Fame pass rusher.” Williams and Garrett matched up in one of the most titanic battles of the 2023 season, and it was Garrett’s team that came out on top, thanks largely to Garrett’s constant pressure off the edge.

There’s a reason the Browns’ defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL and was able to hand the 49ers their first loss of the season. While much of it has to do with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme, the scheme is only as good as the players executing it. And the Browns’ defense is only as good as its best player — Myles Garrett.

Without Garrett, the Browns might still have a top 10 defense, but Garrett is what sets it apart — and why he’s among the most indispensable players.

8. Micah Parsons, Cowboys LB

Parsons is an absolute game-changer, whether he’s bringing heat from the outside or chasing down a ballcarrier. He’s a freak athlete who’s the primary reason the Cowboys now rank in the top five in total defense on an annual basis.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can line up Parsons anywhere along the line of scrimmage and find plenty of favorable matchups because there are no players who can match his power, speed and athleticism. If the Cowboys were forced to play without Parsons for an extended period of time, it would be like removing the teeth from a shark.

indispensable players

7. Jalen Hurts, Eagles QB

As the Eagles were going 10-1 to lead the NFL through the first 12 weeks of the season, Hurts was leading the way and garnering support as the NFL MVP favorite.

His ability to rally the Eagles back from five halftime deficits this season is more than ample evidence of Hurts’ indispensability. As a dual-threat quarterback, Hurts used his arm and his legs to great effect to make sure the Eagles walked off the football field with a victory.

Although he might not have the overall passing stats of other quarterbacks, he’s proven repeatedly how important he is to the Eagles’ success. Without him, the Eagles could probably make the playoffs, but with him, they can win the Super Bowl.

indispensable players

6. T.J. Watt, Steelers LB

Early in the season Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called T.J. Watt “the greatest defensive player on the planet right now.” Tomlin might be biased because Watt plays for his team. But he also might be right.

When Watt is on the field, he can singlehandedly wreck the opposing team’s offense. He’s relentless coming off the edge, and he often leaves offensive tackles helpless with his physicality and assortment of moves.

The Steelers’ defense has long been a strength of the team — because of Watt. He missed a substantial amount of time last season due to injury, and the Pittsburgh defense wasn’t close to being the same. But Watt is back with a vengeance this season, and could end up with his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in three years.

indispensable players

5. Lamar Jackson, Ravens QB

The Baltimore Ravens own the best record in the AFC and are the likely favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. That would be far from a possibility without Lamar Jackson on the field.

Jackson, a former NFL MVP, is the Ravens’ offense. As he’s evolved as a quarterback, Jackson has become smarter and more efficient when it comes to using his right arm and his legs. And it has paid huge dividends for the Ravens, who have the AFC’s highest-scoring offense outside of Miami.

Last week in Baltimore’s 37-31 win over the Rams, Jackson threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns and ran for additional 70 yards. No one can replicate those numbers, and his impact.

indispensable players

4. Tyreek Hill, Dolphins WR

On Monday against Tennessee, Tyreek Hill hurt his ankle when he was being tackled near the sideline in the first quarter, and he needed to leave the game. He didn’t return until the third quarter.

While Hill was out of the game, the Dolphins’ offense, which leads the AFC in scoring, scored zero points, and they ended up losing the game, 28-27.

That might be all you need to know about what Hill means to Miami.

He’s the single most explosive player in the NFL today, heading toward toward becoming the first receiver in NFL history to reach 2,000 receiving yards. No team can adequately prepare for Hill’s game-changing speed because no one else can replicate it. On a list of the most indispensable players, Hill is the lone receiver because he stands alone.

3. Josh Allen, Bills QB

There’s no NFL team whose fortunes rise and fall based on one player more than the Buffalo Bills with their quarterback, Josh Allen.

On a list of the most indispensable players, Allen might be the ultimate “climb on my back” player. Allen shoulders more of the team’s load than any player in the league, whether he’s lasering passes to his receivers or tucking the ball and sprinting for a big gain.

As a testament to his placement on this list of the most indispensable players, Allen has passed for 25 touchdowns and run for 10 more, and it’s never a surprise to read the box score and see that he led the Bills in rushing again.

indispensable players

2. Nick Bosa, 49ers DE

The 49ers’ defense is loaded with talent, from linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw to safety Talanoa Hufanga (who’s out for the season) and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. But everyone in red and gold knows who’s most responsible for the 49ers’ defensive excellence: Nick Bosa.

Bosa is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and, after this offseason, the highest-paid defensive player in the game. But when you are indispensable as he is, why not?

In 2020, Bosa was carted off the field in Week 2 with a season-ending ACL tear. And the 49ers’ hopes went right with him. Since he’s been back, the 49ers have been fixtures in the NFC championship game. Even if his sack numbers are down, as they are this season, he supplies more pressure on a consistent basis than any defensive player in the game, including the ones on this list.

If any defensive player could top the list of the most indispensable players, it would be Nick Bosa.

indispensable players

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs QB

When you are a two-time NFL MVP and a two-time Super Bowl champion, you aren’t just qualified to appear on a list of the most indispensable players. The list begins and ends with you.

Mahomes is the single most indispensable player and has earned that lofty distinction. Sure, he’s had a down season compared to past seasons, and his numbers fall short of other quarterbacks around the league.

But there’s no downplaying Mahomes’ impact on the Chiefs, and there’s little doubt that he is the best player on the field. As long as the Chiefs have Mahomes, they are a Super Bowl threat every year.

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