We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.
Let's move on with Iowa State.
Most indispensable player: S Jacques Washington
2012 stats: 90 tackles, three interceptions, three pass breakups, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble.
Why Iowa State can't afford to lose him: It's all about experience here. Iowa State's not loaded with star power heading into 2013, but a three-year starter at one of the most important positions on the field in the Big 12 is huge. Washington has made 192 tackles in the past two seasons and enters his third year as the Cyclones' free safety.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Owasso, Okla., native is underrated at his position, but gives Iowa State's defense some much-needed leadership. He has the physical skills necessary to be a great player, but he hasn't been truly great just yet, and the Cyclones' secondary has been a little streaky the past couple years, with some memorable games mixed in with more frequent rough outings. ISU's pass defense was right in the middle of the Big 12 last season in about every statistic, but if they're going to jump back to being a top defense under defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, Washington's going to have to be the guy who leads the way.
If the defense improves and Washington can help limit Iowa State's big plays over the top, there's going to be a whole lot less pressure on ISU's offense to produce big plays it's not necessarily built to make. Washington earned All-Big 12 honorable mention honors a year ago, and in addition to the quality of his play, there's no one on the roster behind him who could equal his experience and leadership. That makes him a must-have player for the Cyclones.