Andrew Luck — No brainer. If any team knows the value of their franchise quarterback, it’s the Indianapolis Colts. Luck is the Colts’ foundation for rebuilding a contingent team. Losing him, at this point in the rebuilding process, would turn the entire team upside down.
Dwight Freeney – Freeney is one of the few veterans that will return to the Colts’ defense. The dynamic duo of Freeney and Robert Mathis will play a critical role in the newly implemented 3-4 defense. The Organization needs Freeney on the field as much as any other player on the Colt roster.
*Honorable Mention: Pat Angerer – Angerer will play be a huge part of rebuilding the Indianapolis defense. While exploding on to the National scene last season with 148 tackles, he became a silent leader. Angerer must maintain this level of play and continue to expand his leadership role in the Colts’ young defensive unit.
Arian Foster — We saw Arian Foster carry the Texans through a Matt Schaub-less stretch at the close of the 2011 regular season and into the playoffs. After suffering the loss of Schaub and Matt Leinart, the Texans looked to rookie quarterback T.J. Yates to lead the team into the playoffs. Foster made it possible for the young quarterback to bring Houston its first playoff victory.
Brian Cushing — Brian Cushing has always been an emotional leader in Houston. This will continue to be the case in 2012, and the team will feed off of his energetic style of play. The loss of DeMeco Ryans will only further the need of his leadership on, and off the field.
Chris Johnson – The equation for the Tennessee Titans has been simple over the last few years. When Johnson is successful; the team is successful. When Johnson struggles; the team struggles. It must be a priority for the team to get Johnson back to playing at an elite level. This will allow for the not-so-dynamic passing offense to evolve and add a second dimension to the Titan offense.
Jordan Babineaux – With the departure of Cortland Finnegan, Babineaux will have the opportunity to become the voice (although, who can really follow Finnegan) of the Titan defense. His athleticism along with experience within the defense is just as important as the fact that the Titans are very thin at the safety position.
Maurice Jones -Drew – Pocket Hercules. An absolute beast of a player. Drew has remained a bright spot for a team that rarely comes up in discussion unrelated to “teams likely to move to Los Angeles.” With the acquisition of Justin Blackmon, perhaps… maybe, quarterback Blaine Gabbert will find success alongside Jones-Drew in 2012. Gabbert’s
Jaguars will not find any success if Jones-Drew is unable to lead them there.
Daryl Smith – Daryl Smith is one of the rare consistent players in the league. With 48 consecutive starts (at linebacker) Smith is the epitome of toughness and durability. He has been a reliable anchor on a relatively strong defense. He may be underrated, but he is certainly indispensable.