All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.
First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.
And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?
Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.
Washington: DT Danny Shelton
2013 production: Recorded 59 tackles (36 solo) with 3.5 tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. He also broke up a three passes and blocked a pair of kicks.
Why Shelton is important: He’s not the flashiest guy on the defense. Nor is he expected to be. And you can make a case that Marcus Peters, the only real veteran in the secondary, is just as important. Even the uber-athletic Shaq Thompson or the playmaking
Hau’oli Kikaha would qualify.
But all of those guys can do their job well because Shelton is exceptional at his. By clogging up the middle with his 6-2, 332-pound frame, the preseason All-American (Sporting News) can completely alter a play simply by stepping to his left or right. Offensive coordinators must account for his presence at all times, even though he’s probably not the guy who is going to make the play.
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t make them. After all, 59 stops for a guy his size is pretty impressive. He looked impossible to stop when he tallied seven tackles (six solo) in the bowl win over BYU. But it’s his ability to occupy offensive players that allows his teammates to consistently make stops.
Worth noting that besides earning all-conference honorable mention honors last season, he’s also a two-time member of the Pac-12’s first-team All-Academic squad.
Other Most Important Players: