I figure everyone else does lists, so why not do one? Basically, I want to rank, from first to third, who on the team is irreplaceable without positional degradation; this is not necessarily a "best players" list.
1. Carson Palmer. This one is obvious. The Bengals haven't finished with a record better than .500 since Palmer was 12 years old. Ouch! During the 2004 season, Palmer went 6-6 in games that he started and finished; left the game early against New England from injury and didn't play the rest of the season.
In 2005, Palmer had a passer rating of 100 or better in 12 games, finished the season with a 101.1 rating, an 11-5 starting record, and a 32/12 touchdown to interception ratio. The five-time FedEx Air Player of the Week award winner was constantly involved in MVP talk all season.
There's no way that Anthony Wright, Doug Johnson, or Erik Meyer (Dave Ragone was just traded) -- combining all their talents -- could replace Palmer. Do you require more?
2. Levi Jones. I would be concerned if the organization and the team's left tackle don't agree to an extension before the start of the season. Jones is one of the biggest reasons why Palmer was sacked only 19 times on 528 drop backs (3.6%); only Manning was comparable (17/470).
Dwight Freeney, KGB, Baltimore, Chicago (some of the premier defenses in the league) were shutdown against Jones. Palmer's confidence in his left tackle is greater than any receiver or lineman on the team. You could make the claim that a chunk of Palmer's success starts at his left tackle; but isn't that football 101?
While the old saying goes, "everyone is replaceable", replacing Jones would be a near impossible task.
3. Chad Johnson. Sure, he gets a bad rap from the media and observers outside of Cincinnati. Yes, he can be a little over-dramatic. But there's no one in this league that can haul an over the shoulder, 50-yard rocket, for a touchdown better than Chad. His speed and agility gives him an advantage against some of the best cornerbacks in this league.
Chris McAlister, who is usually matched up with Chad, is a two-time pro-bowl cornerback and one of the better defensive backs in the league. In 2004, Chad combined for 18 receptions, 260 yards and two touchdowns. In 2005, he caught 10 passes for 179 yards and two scores in 2005.
Chad may put on a Broadway Show whenever he gets some face time. But he backs it up. I don't care what anyone says, someone like Chad Johnson (dramatics and talent) could NEVER be easily replaced.
Rudi Johnson. This may surprise some. Chris Perry is a fine running back, but could he replace Johnson? His durability is still very questionable. He missed all but two games in 2004 and injury last season limited his contributions in mid-December. Perry has yet to rush for 10 attempts in a single game and has taken on a bigger role as a receiver out of the backfield. I'm not discounting his talents; he's shown signs of brilliance. However, I'm not convinced Perry is durable enough to replace Rudi Johnson.
Each of the past two seasons, Johnson has broken the Bengals single-season rushing record, scored 12 touchdowns, and carried the ball well over 330 times. He's not flashy at all and seems to enjoy being the least recognizable among the "triplets".
Johnson's durability is one of my biggest points. A running back is the most violent position in football. Not from a monster hit, but you're hit hard every play. Each run, you get slammed from all different directions. Each pass, you're blocking 300 pound linemen and full sprinting linebackers. On average, running backs have the shorted careers in football. Being the starting running back, having durability and breaking franchise records makes him tough to replace. Rudi fulfills that.
Willie Anderson. Before the 2006 NFL Draft, I would have included Anderson high on my irreplaceable list. Sure, some of it's sentimental because he's personally my favorite player. The three time Pro-Bowl tackle (2003, 2004, 2005) has been the voice of reason in the locker-room. When players come out publicly criticizing the organization, Anderson is one of the first to come out and defend the team. When Dillon left, Anderson made it known that it was a good thing for the team's chemistry. When Chad Johnson acts up, Anderson is usually the guy that tells Chad to shut up; and Chad listens! Yes, Marvin does to, but you have to admit, one guy can't control Chad.
While his post-career business ventures will surely take him out of football, it would be great if Anderson retires and remains with the team as a coach. His leadership is priceless. For all the losing he's gone through, he's been a great model of optimism in the past and committed to sticking with the team. His loyalty has been unquestionable.
It would be great if the Bengals and Anderson could agree on a career ending contract, but even I understand that won't happen. And the draft furthered that argument after Cincinnati picked up Andrew Whitworth in the second round. If Whitworth turns out to be half the man Anderson is (or was in his prime) then he'll be a fine lineman. I'm going to miss the other things about Anderson when he eventually leaves.
What is your top-three? Create an account and let me know; it's free and spamless.