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Pittsburgh Steelers 5 most indispensable players

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NFL.com recently came out with their list of the most indispensable players in the NFL, which got me thinking about the Steelers most indispensable players. Which players are most critical to the Steelers success?

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

NFL.com's Adam Schein took a shot at identifying the nine players around the league who are  most integral to their team's success, and Le'Veon Bell made the list on the offensive side of the ball.  Bell was number five behind Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, Falcons WR Julio Jones, and Giants WR Odell Bekham Jr. Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, Bengals WR A.J. Green, Browns LT Joe Thomas, and Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch.

Here are the five players I would identify as indispensable to the Steelers:

QB Ben Roethlisberger

Schein excluded quarterbacks from his list of the NFL's most indispensable players, but I'm including Big Ben on mine. Honestly, some teams' starting quarterbacks are so weak that it doesn't matter when they are hurt. Not the case with the Steelers.

When Roethisberger is out of the game, or in the game without all of his faculties, the outcome is usually not great. During the post-season game against the Ravens he clearly had his bell rung he called it whiplash at the time) and stumbled back in just in time to come back and throw an interception.

Backup Bruce Gradkowski has ten years of NFL experience and has functioned as a both a starter and back-up during his time in the league. The Steelers third-string situation is as desperate as Dustin Diamond and his post-Saved-by-the-Bell antics. In other words, we're talking maximum-level desperation. Neither Landry Jones or Tajh Boyd are very inspiring players, and they are a significant weak link in the Steelers system. With Haley's offense, however, Roethlisberger's chances of getting injured are slimmer than they once were.

RB Le'Veon Bell

I agree with Schein that Bell is a game-changer, but last year the Steelers were facing a unique situation because of the unexpected departure of LaGarrette Blount. Todd Haley mentioned the challenge of that particular situation, via TribLive.com, saying, "I am a lot more confident than where I was last year. That's a good thing. We didn't have any warning (Blount's cut) was going to happen last year, and you are in the midst of a season and are practicing with the guys you are going to play with, so it was a little different of a situation."

I have faith in Todd Haley's abilities to work with DeAngelo Williams and the other running backs to come up with a viable plan during Bell's suspension, and with the O-line functioning better, it could be possible for well-prepared players to continue productivity on the ground.

That said, if the Steelers don't have a running game, it could cripple their offense. If opposing linebackers don't view the run as a threat, they are more apt to rush Big Ben. And, without a run game, play-action works about as well as just telling the defense what our plan is before the play The prospect of an ineffective run game is as scary to me as being outside while it is raining arctic lampreys, but I do not think it is a given that the Steelers will have no run game without Bell. It might not be as awesome, but it could be enough-- and that's all it needs to be.

WR Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown led the league in receiving yards with 1,698, and only dropped five of 134 catchable passes in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. AB also tied for first in broken tackles among wide receivers in the NFL last year, according to Football Outsiders. Surely Brown's experience as a punt returner helps in this regard.

While Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant are also competent, there is a steep talent drop off between AB and those below him on the depth chart. Brown's presence on the field and the coverage he demands from opponents help Wheaton and Bryant succeed when they are targeted.

Brown's synergy with Big Ben can't be underestimated either. Brown run routes correctly and can adjust on the fly. Ben can trust him to be where he needs to be.

C Maurkice Pouncey

Pouncey has been an essential part of the offensive line since he was drafted in 2010. His contributions to the once-feeble line have been invaluable both in terms of his physical abilities and awareness and acumen. With Pouncey at center, and now Mike Munchak as O-line coach, Roethlisburger has time in the pocket. That equates to fewer injuries and smarter plays that leverage the Steelers many offensive weapons.

Though Cody Wallace is a competent back up (and has some interesting moves in the scrum) and BJ Finney could have potential, the offensive line is critical to the success of Bell, Brown, and Big Ben. The most important man on that line is Pouncey.

ILB Lawrence Timmons

The Steelers defense is not what it used to be, but Lawrence Timmons is a perennial menace to opposing offenses and provides continuity on a unit in transition. Though entering his ninth season, Timmons is at the top of his game, racking up 134 tackles during the 2014 season. He is also in a position to provide mentorship to younger players.

While there is much potential among the younger linebackers, Bud Dupree is an unproven rookie, and both Jarvis Jonesand Ryan Shazier have underperformed as former first-round picks. Furthermore, Sean Spence and Vince Williams are steadily improving, but to this point cannot match Timmons' productivity.

A linebacker corps without Timmons is less of a hypothetical than discussions of other players' indispensability. His salary cap hits might prove too much for the Steelers, though Timmons has indicated he is open to restructuring his contract or signing an extension. That is good news for a front seven that needs the consistency and production Timmons can provide.


What other players would be tough to do without?