Every NFL team has a couple players pivotal to their success. The quarterback on every team is the most important player on the field, so we'll leave them out of this experiment. We'll dive into each AFC team's most valuable player and in the process, reveal where that teams' strengths and weaknesses lie.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Antonio Brown
There is definitely an argument to be made for Le'Veon Bell, who is one of the top two or three running backs in the league. But Brown is the best receiver in football, a pure technician with insane quickness and sideline awareness. He's who ben Roethlisberger trusts the most.
Baltimore Ravens: DT Brandon Williams
It's not often that a defensive tackle is the most important player on a team's defense. But Baltimore isn't a particularly talented group, and Williams is a dominant player on that team. In fact, when he wasn't on the field last year, the Ravens gave up three times as many rushing yards as they did when he was playing. His impact on that defense is tremendous, even if his position isn't glamorous.
Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green
The stud Bengals receiver has been spectacular every year in the league. Although he's got only an average QB throwing him the ball, Green uses his tall, springy frame to continue to rack up production. You take away Green from this offense, and the team would struggle to score more than 14 points a game.
Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett
Okay, so I'm projecting a bit here. But Garrett was really good as a rookie, and only figures to get better. He's immensely talented and surrounded with better players this year, with a season of playing time under his belt. He's got the tools to be a top-5 pass rusher in the league, and the Browns desperately need him to turn into that type of star.
Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Jalen Ramsey
Ramsey has emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in football, and it's only taken him two years to accomplish the feat. Ramsey was already voted as the best corner in the game by his peers on the NFL's top 100 list. He's big, long, athletic and is uber confident. His swagger is off the charts. His propensity for trash talk probably makes him the corner that wide receivers hate playing against the most.
Tennessee Titans: DT Jurrell Casey
Another nose tackle! Casey is the headliner on a defense that is an emerging unit in the league and will have some new direction after Mike Vrabel was brought in. The veteran defensive lineman may not look like the most imposing player, but he has been a dominant force in the league for quite some time. He's a big body who consistently racks up double teams and frees up other guys to make plays.
Houston Texans: WR DeAndre Hopkins
Part of me wanted to put J.J. Watt here, but he just hasn't been healthy in a few years and the threat of Jadeveon Clowney is enough to scare offensive coordinators. DeAndre 'Nuke' Hopkins is the premier contested catch artist in the league. Watching him and Deshaun Watson for the next few years will surely be exciting.
Indianapolis Colts: WR T.Y. Hilton
This one is easy. No player on that roster is irreplaceable besides Andrew Luck. Hilton is the next closest thing. Luck can carry a team with his talent, and right now it looks like that is exactly what he is going to have to do. Hilton is a very good vertical threat, with speed to burn. He may not be an ideal WR1, but you can do much worse than Hilton, who is probably one of the top 20 receivers in the game today.
New England Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski
Now, this is a bit of a stretch. The only people on the Patriots who are really irreplaceable are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. As long as you have the two of them, you can win a Super Bowl. We've seen them go to a Super Bowl without Gronkowski and without Julian Edelman, their two finest offensive players. Gronkowski gets the edge though because he dominates the matchup any time he steps on the field.
Buffalo Bills: RB LeSean McCoy
Shady may not be quite as electric as he was back in his days with the Eagles, but he can still be the focal point of an offense. He's shifty, can catch the ball, and can obviously still pick up yards on the ground. The Bills better hope he's good to go for the season; he's their best chance for success.
New York Jets: DL Leonard Williams
There's no other obvious choice on this roster. Williams isn't necessarily flashy, but that kind of comes with the position. He's better than solid, and this year will be surrounded by a very talented defense that may have to carry a team that will likely start a rookie at QB. Look for Williams to emerge as one of the leaders in that group.
Miami Dolphins: DE Cameron Wake
Old man Wake has been harassing quarterbacks for as long as I can remember. And now that Miami is shipping off more of their best players (Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh), Wake is still the most important guy outside of Ryan Tannehill. He needs to continue to play at a high level for this team to have a chance.
Kansas City Chiefs: S Eric Berry
Make no mistake about, Berry is the heart and soul of the Chiefs. When he's on the field, there is a difference. The playoff loss to the Titans would likely not have happened if he had been on the field. Getting him back healthy will be a huge boon for Kansas City, who needs to be better against both the run and the pass.
Los Angeles Chargers: DE Joey Bosa
Bosa is one of the quickest edge rushers in the game. He has already racked up 23 sacks in his first two seasons and that number only figures to increase. LA is a popular pick to go to the playoffs this year, and if they do, Bosa and that defense will be a huge reason why.
Oakland Raiders: DE Khalil Mack
Mack is probably the second best edge rusher in the NFL behind the next guy you'll read about. He's got an insane amount of power, as Eric Fisher can attest to. He's also athletically gifted and a student of the game. Oakland just needs to get some more talented players on this defense around Mack.
Denver Broncos: OLB Von Miller
Now, to the best edge rusher in the league. Miller's get off is nightmarish, and he has been a force to be reckoned with since he stepped foot in the league. His athleticism allows him to bend around the edge better than anyone else in football, and when you combine that with his quickness, it's easy to see why the guy is a future Hall of Famer.