Each NFL team’s most important offensive player
Every NFL team has that one offensive player who makes his team go. It can often be the quarterback, but some offenses are built around a talented running back or a dominant No. 1 receiver.
Which offensive player is most vital to each team’s success? Which player does everyone look to to get it done when it’s most needed? Here’s a look.
Arizona Cardinals — David Johnson, RB
It’s not really a coincidence that the Cardinals struggled so much last season after Johnson suffered a season-ending wrist injury after just 11 carries in the season opener. The 26-year-old scored 20 touchdowns the year before, so losing him meant the absence of their biggest playmaker. He should be ready to go this season, and Arizona will be desperate for him to return to the form that saw him lead the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage in 2016.
Atlanta Falcons — Julio Jones, WR
The Falcons will want to get Jones’s contract situation squared away as quickly as possible, because Matt Ryan needs him. His yardage numbers are incredible, and he’s collected at least 1,400 yards receiving in every season since 2014, even in spite of the occasional health issue. 1,500 yards is well within reach for Jones if he is healthy in 2018.
Baltimore Ravens — Michael Crabtree, WR
Crabtree is one of several players who has been brought in to try to add some life to what has been a very dull offense. He was a thousand-yard receiver two years ago, and while it may be a stretch to get him there again with Joe Flacco throwing to him, he’s at least going to be key to giving the Baltimore quarterback better weapons. Beware, though, because if Lamar Jackson gets a chance, the could very quickly seize this spot.
Buffalo Bills — LeSean McCoy, RB
Provided McCoy stays on the field, he’s the most established and accomplished offensive player the Bills have. He ran for another thousand yards last season, and has proven to be fairly durable and versatile as well. Given that the Bills are intent on giving rookie quarterback Josh Allen time on the bench to get acclimated to the league, McCoy is going to carry a heavy load for this offense.
Carolina Panthers — Cam Newton, QB
When Newton plays well, Carolina usually wins. When he struggles with inconsistency and bad decisions, things get tough. That’s the way it’s always been for the Panthers and their mercurial quarterback, who can look like an MVP one week and an average NFL quarterback the next. Cam is incredibly talented, but he needs to cut down on his 16 picks from 2017 and take better care of the ball going forward.
Chicago Bears — Mitchell Trubisky, QB
As talented as Jordan Howard is, there are lingering questions about his role in a Matt Nagy offense that asks running backs to play an active role in the receiving game. Thus, we’re going with Trubisky, who showed flashes of promise in his rookie season despite spending a lot of it shackled with few weapons to utilize. He has a bit more surrounding him this year, and there’s a chance that the second-year quarterback could take a big step forward.
Cincinnati Bengals — A.J. Green, WR
Green hasn’t quite been the statistical juggernaut he once was the last two years, but injuries had a lot to do with that in 2016. He got back over the thousand-yard mark last season, and should do so again with health. The Bengals’ offense hasn’t been good lately, but Green remains one of the NFL’s best receivers. The recipe for their success is getting the ball in his hands.
Cleveland Browns — Duke Johnson, RB/WR
One would think that the Browns would have been more aggressive in using a talented offensive playmaker like Johnson as they trudged toward an 0-16 season, but they just didn’t get the guy enough touches. He still managed over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, and he scored seven total touchdowns in what was otherwise a lost season. Cleveland may have added competition in Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb, but there still should be room for Johnson to shine.
Dallas Cowboys — Dak Prescott, QB
Ezekiel Elliott is the better player, but he should have a strong season no matter what as long as he stays on the field to run behind Dallas’ outstanding line. The vital cog here is Prescott, who must prove now that he can step up and be the undisputed leader of a team without the likes of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten with him. His second NFL season was a disappointment as his yardage went down and his interceptions went up, but he was still statistically solid. The Cowboys are looking for greatness; it’s time to see what he’s made of.
Denver Broncos — Case Keenum, QB
How real is this journeyman’s mid-career revival? The Broncos are betting on it being legitimate after signing him to be their starting quarterback. Keenum won 11 of his 14 regular season starts for Minnesota, throwing for 3,547 yards in the process. Denver’s struggles at the quarterback position in recent years have been well-documented. They have playoff ambitions, and in order to reach them, Keenum must be the same player he was for the Vikings.
Detroit Lions — Matthew Stafford, QB
It remains true that as Stafford goes, so go the Lions. When he completed at least 65 percent of his passes last season, Detroit was 8-2; when he didn’t, they were 1-5. They can’t really win without him having a good, efficient game. He surpassed 4,000 yards for the seventh straight season, improved on his touchdown tally from 2016, and kept his interceptions fairly low. Any success the Lions have offensively is pretty much down to him.