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NFL Power Rankings: Julio? Le’Veon? Ranking the 20 most important non-QBs left in playoffs

NFL Power Rankings: Julio? Le’Veon? Ranking the 20 most important non-QBs left in playoffs

If you just picked the team with the best quarterback this season in each of the eight playoff games, you’d be 8-0 on your picks.

We know how valuable quarterbacks are. While it’s still absolute nonsense that we assign a record to quarterbacks and treat it like a real stat, we know that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger will probably have more say in the outcomes of the three remaining NFL games this season than any other player. But the beauty of football is that it’s the ultimate team sport. Nobody is winning a Super Bowl alone. Not even Rodgers.

With that in mind, we removed the four quarterbacks and figured out who among the players remaining in the playoffs are the most important. These aren’t necessarily the best players left in the field, but the ones who will have the biggest impact in determining who wins Super Bowl LI:

<p type="text" content="20. Steelers TE Ladarius Green: Green makes the list because of how important his return would be, though it seems to be a long shot. He’s still in the concussion protocol. But if he can return, he adds yet another dimension to the Steelers’ offense. He’s a rare tight end who can stretch the field (16.9 yards per catch). But it’s far from a guarantee he’ll play again this season.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”21″>20. Steelers TE Ladarius Green: Green makes the list because of how important his return would be, though it seems to be a long shot. He’s still in the concussion protocol. But if he can return, he adds yet another dimension to the Steelers’ offense. He’s a rare tight end who can stretch the field (16.9 yards per catch). But it’s far from a guarantee he’ll play again this season.

<p type="text" content="19. Packers OLB Clay Matthews: Matthews is still the headliner of the Packers’ defense, but he didn’t have a great season. He had a career-low five sacks. He has two sacks in his last seven games. Nick Perry (11 sacks) took over as Green Bay’s best pass rusher, but the Packers could use a couple throwback performances from Matthews” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”22″>19. Packers OLB Clay Matthews: Matthews is still the headliner of the Packers’ defense, but he didn’t have a great season. He had a career-low five sacks. He has two sacks in his last seven games. Nick Perry (11 sacks) took over as Green Bay’s best pass rusher, but the Packers could use a couple throwback performances from Matthews

<p type="text" content="18. Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount: Blount had a surprisingly productive year, his best NFL season at the age of 30. But last week he had just 31 yards on eight carries, both season lows. The Patriots often feature someone different in the game plan each week, so don’t be surprised to see Blount carrying the load again before New England is done.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”23″>18. Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount: Blount had a surprisingly productive year, his best NFL season at the age of 30. But last week he had just 31 yards on eight carries, both season lows. The Patriots often feature someone different in the game plan each week, so don’t be surprised to see Blount carrying the load again before New England is done.

<p type="text" content="17. Falcons S Keanu Neal: Neal has basically taken the Kam Chancellor role in Dan Quinn’s defense, and has done it well. But he’s still a rookie, and generally that means fresh meat for a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers … or Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady. Neal will be on spot the rest of the way.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”24″>17. Falcons S Keanu Neal: Neal has basically taken the Kam Chancellor role in Dan Quinn’s defense, and has done it well. But he’s still a rookie, and generally that means fresh meat for a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers … or Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady. Neal will be on spot the rest of the way.

<p type="text" content="16. Patriots WR Julian Edelman: All of a sudden, Edelman has caught fire. He’s always reliable, but has 151 and 137 yards his last two games, his two highest totals this season. He’s a huge focal point in the offense, as always.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”25″>16. Patriots WR Julian Edelman: All of a sudden, Edelman has caught fire. He’s always reliable, but has 151 and 137 yards his last two games, his two highest totals this season. He’s a huge focal point in the offense, as always.

<p type="text" content="15. Steelers OLB Bud Dupree: Dupree, a first-round pick in 2015, came on late. He started the season on IR, but then had 4.5 sacks in Pittsburgh’s last four regular-season games. We know James Harrison will be a consistent presence at one outside linebacker spot. Dupree could be a vital playmaker on the other side.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”26″>15. Steelers OLB Bud Dupree: Dupree, a first-round pick in 2015, came on late. He started the season on IR, but then had 4.5 sacks in Pittsburgh’s last four regular-season games. We know James Harrison will be a consistent presence at one outside linebacker spot. Dupree could be a vital playmaker on the other side.

<p type="text" content="14. Packers TE Jared Cook: Cook was making an impact well before his great catch on Aaron Rodgers’ unbelievable throw to beat Dallas. Green Bay moves him around to create matchup issues. He’s been a lot more important to the offense than his numbers would indicate.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”27″>14. Packers TE Jared Cook: Cook was making an impact well before his great catch on Aaron Rodgers’ unbelievable throw to beat Dallas. Green Bay moves him around to create matchup issues. He’s been a lot more important to the offense than his numbers would indicate.

Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook makes an incredible toe-drag catch on a perfect pass from Aaron Rodgers with time winding down to set the Packers up for a playoff win over the Cowboys.

<p type="text" content="13. Falcons LB Deion Jones: Jones has had a nice rookie season, with plenty of tackles and some big plays in pass coverage. His athleticism will be a plus against the pass offenses Atlanta will face the rest of the way.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”32″>13. Falcons LB Deion Jones: Jones has had a nice rookie season, with plenty of tackles and some big plays in pass coverage. His athleticism will be a plus against the pass offenses Atlanta will face the rest of the way.

<p type="text" content="12. Packers OT David Bakhtiari: Bakhtiari hurt his knee against Dallas, though he returned to play. He has been the most underappreciated part of the Packers’ surge. He has played some great football, especially against Giants end Olivier Vernon in the wild-card round.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”33″>12. Packers OT David Bakhtiari: Bakhtiari hurt his knee against Dallas, though he returned to play. He has been the most underappreciated part of the Packers’ surge. He has played some great football, especially against Giants end Olivier Vernon in the wild-card round.

<p type="text" content="11. Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower: Hightower has been instrumental in his on-field leadership role at inside linebacker. Making the right calls will be huge for New England’s defense against the high-powered offenses remaining in the playoffs. And Hightower will be one of the key pieces in slowing down Pittsburgh’s run game this week.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”34″>11. Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower: Hightower has been instrumental in his on-field leadership role at inside linebacker. Making the right calls will be huge for New England’s defense against the high-powered offenses remaining in the playoffs. And Hightower will be one of the key pieces in slowing down Pittsburgh’s run game this week.

<p type="text" content="10. Falcons DE Vic Beasley: Beasley is the NFL’s sack leader, but he hurt his shoulder in the regular-season finale and didn’t look like himself last Saturday. The Falcons don’t have a great defense, and they need Beasley’s playmaking off the edge – especially with Aaron Rodgers coming to town.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”39″>10. Falcons DE Vic Beasley: Beasley is the NFL’s sack leader, but he hurt his shoulder in the regular-season finale and didn’t look like himself last Saturday. The Falcons don’t have a great defense, and they need Beasley’s playmaking off the edge – especially with Aaron Rodgers coming to town.

<p type="text" content="9. Packers CB LaDarius Gunter: Gunter has become an unlikely matchup cornerback for the Packers in the playoffs, shadowing Odell Beckham and then Dez Bryant. Bryant had a nice game against him. Gunter will presumably see a lot of Julio Jones this weekend. Gunter isn’t a prototypical No. 1 cornerback, and has looked overmatched at times the past two weeks. How he fares against Jones could determine if the Packers advance to the Super Bowl.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”40″>9. Packers CB LaDarius Gunter: Gunter has become an unlikely matchup cornerback for the Packers in the playoffs, shadowing Odell Beckham and then Dez Bryant. Bryant had a nice game against him. Gunter will presumably see a lot of Julio Jones this weekend. Gunter isn’t a prototypical No. 1 cornerback, and has looked overmatched at times the past two weeks. How he fares against Jones could determine if the Packers advance to the Super Bowl.

<p type="text" content="8. Steelers WR Antonio Brown: While Brown has been usurped as the most important skill-position player on the Steelers offense, he’s one of the best receivers in football and can dominate any game he’s in. He has 11 catches for 232 yards and two touchdowns these playoffs.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”41″>8. Steelers WR Antonio Brown: While Brown has been usurped as the most important skill-position player on the Steelers offense, he’s one of the best receivers in football and can dominate any game he’s in. He has 11 catches for 232 yards and two touchdowns these playoffs.

<p type="text" content="6 and 7 (tie). Falcons RB Devonta Freeman and Falcons RB Tevin Coleman: It’s impossible to separate the two, because they’re both so crucial to what the Falcons do. Part of the reason Matt Ryan had an MVP-caliber season is because defenses have to worry about stopping Atlanta’s run game. Against the Seahawks’ strong run defense last week, they combined for 102 yards on 25 carries and added 102 receiving yards. And having two capable running backs means Atlanta doesn’t have to overwork either one of them.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”42″>6 and 7 (tie). Falcons RB Devonta Freeman and Falcons RB Tevin Coleman: It’s impossible to separate the two, because they’re both so crucial to what the Falcons do. Part of the reason Matt Ryan had an MVP-caliber season is because defenses have to worry about stopping Atlanta’s run game. Against the Seahawks’ strong run defense last week, they combined for 102 yards on 25 carries and added 102 receiving yards. And having two capable running backs means Atlanta doesn’t have to overwork either one of them.

<p type="text" content="5. Patriots RB Dion Lewis: Lewis was the star of New England’s divisional playoff win, though two fumbles were troubling. When Lewis is healthy, he’s a key part of the offense. The Patriots have never lost a game when he has been active, and that’s not entirely a coincidence. You could see his burst was back on his three touchdowns last week. He’ll be a huge part of the offense (and special teams) as long as New England is alive.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”43″>5. Patriots RB Dion Lewis: Lewis was the star of New England’s divisional playoff win, though two fumbles were troubling. When Lewis is healthy, he’s a key part of the offense. The Patriots have never lost a game when he has been active, and that’s not entirely a coincidence. You could see his burst was back on his three touchdowns last week. He’ll be a huge part of the offense (and special teams) as long as New England is alive.

<p type="text" content="4. Packers WR Jordy Nelson: You could make an argument that he should be even higher. We know what a lot of the players on this list will bring to their teams. We don’t even know if Nelson will play this weekend. He has broken ribs. Although it seems at times that Aaron Rodgers can turn anyone into a star, we know Green Bay’s offense isn’t the same without Nelson. We saw that last year when Nelson had an ACL tear. You can’t just replace someone who had 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. If he can return and look like himself, the Packers’ championship chances increase dramatically. Whether Nelson can play, and play well, the remainder of the season might be the most important unanswered question in the NFL playoffs.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”44″>4. Packers WR Jordy Nelson: You could make an argument that he should be even higher. We know what a lot of the players on this list will bring to their teams. We don’t even know if Nelson will play this weekend. He has broken ribs. Although it seems at times that Aaron Rodgers can turn anyone into a star, we know Green Bay’s offense isn’t the same without Nelson. We saw that last year when Nelson had an ACL tear. You can’t just replace someone who had 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. If he can return and look like himself, the Packers’ championship chances increase dramatically. Whether Nelson can play, and play well, the remainder of the season might be the most important unanswered question in the NFL playoffs.

Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm breaks down some of the players who left people scratching their heads at their decision to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.

<p type="text" content="3. Patriots CB Malcolm Butler: This week, the Patriots face Antonio Brown. If they advance, they’ll face Julio Jones or the hottest quarterback alive, Aaron Rodgers. You need a top cornerback to bring to those battles, and the Patriots have one in Butler. He had a fine season, and he can raise his profile even further these next two games. And we already know he wouldn’t be scared by the Super Bowl stage.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”49″>3. Patriots CB Malcolm Butler: This week, the Patriots face Antonio Brown. If they advance, they’ll face Julio Jones or the hottest quarterback alive, Aaron Rodgers. You need a top cornerback to bring to those battles, and the Patriots have one in Butler. He had a fine season, and he can raise his profile even further these next two games. And we already know he wouldn’t be scared by the Super Bowl stage.

<p type="text" content="2. Falcons WR Julio Jones: Jones was the best receiver in football this season. Despite missing two games he had 1,409 yards, only 39 fewer than league leader T.Y. Hilton. He averaged 17 yards per catch, and the only other 1,000-yard receiver to do that was DeSean Jackson. Jackson had 56 catches, Jones had 83. It seems crazy now, but the Falcons’ huge trade up to get Jones sixth overall in the 2011 draft was debated heavily at the time. If Jones helps Atlanta to two more wins, it’ll look like one of the best trades in league history.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”50″>2. Falcons WR Julio Jones: Jones was the best receiver in football this season. Despite missing two games he had 1,409 yards, only 39 fewer than league leader T.Y. Hilton. He averaged 17 yards per catch, and the only other 1,000-yard receiver to do that was DeSean Jackson. Jackson had 56 catches, Jones had 83. It seems crazy now, but the Falcons’ huge trade up to get Jones sixth overall in the 2011 draft was debated heavily at the time. If Jones helps Atlanta to two more wins, it’ll look like one of the best trades in league history.

<p type="text" content="1. Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell: Ben Roethlisberger probably wouldn’t be ranked in the top four if we included quarterbacks. That’s because Bell has become the most important player in Pittsburgh’s offense. About Week 11, the Steelers decided riding Bell was their best chance to win a Super Bowl. His carries in each game since then: 29, 23, 29, 38, 23, 20, 29, 30. He has 100 rushing yards in seven of eight games, and 93 in the other game. He has 167 and 170 rushing yards the last two weeks. He hasn’t been a huge factor in the passing game in the playoffs, but had 616 receiving yards in the regular season. It’s fairly rare this century for a team centered around a running back to win a Super Bowl, but Pittsburgh is two steps away. And Bell can become a free agent this offseason.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”51″>1. Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell: Ben Roethlisberger probably wouldn’t be ranked in the top four if we included quarterbacks. That’s because Bell has become the most important player in Pittsburgh’s offense. About Week 11, the Steelers decided riding Bell was their best chance to win a Super Bowl. His carries in each game since then: 29, 23, 29, 38, 23, 20, 29, 30. He has 100 rushing yards in seven of eight games, and 93 in the other game. He has 167 and 170 rushing yards the last two weeks. He hasn’t been a huge factor in the passing game in the playoffs, but had 616 receiving yards in the regular season. It’s fairly rare this century for a team centered around a running back to win a Super Bowl, but Pittsburgh is two steps away. And Bell can become a free agent this offseason.

Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm breaks down some of the players who left people scratching their heads at their decision to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.

<p type="text" content="– – – – – – –” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”56″>– – – – – – –

<p type="text" content="Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!
Follow @YahooSchwab” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”57″>Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Source: www.yahoo.com

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