The NFL regular season, if nothing else, is a war of attrition. The way teams protect themselves against injuries often dictates their fate. Sometimes that means holding onto an extra lineman or sixth cornerback. In other instances, it doesn't matter how much a team does because a player is irreplaceable. Whatever the case, the teams that lack a backup plan when the inevitable strikes rarely raise the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.
While the Green Bay Packers last Super Bowl victory came during a season when the team had double-digit players on injured reserve, such injury woes rarely result in success. The team needs to stay far healthier in order to compete for another championship.
So which players can Green Bay least afford to lose? Let's evaluate.
5. Mike Daniels
The Packers' defensive line took several hits during last season. Nose tackle B.J. Raji tore his biceps during the preseason, forcing a not-quite-yet-prepared Letroy Guion into service. Datone Jones missed multiple games with an ankle injury and failed to make the expected Year 2 leap. However, the defensive front performed admirably due to the contributions of third-year end Mike Daniels.
Daniels gives Green Bay something no one else on the team can — consistent interior pass rush. Should he go down, the defense would become reliant on Jones, Josh Boyd and a bevy of unproven players to replace his production, a scary proposition for the Packers.
4. Clay Matthews
Based on the second half of the 2014 season and the early returns of OTAs, it appears Clay Matthews will continue splitting his time between outside and inside linebacker. As such, he can accurately be counted as the Packers' best player at two position groups.
What keeps Matthews from ranking higher on the list is the depth behind him as well as the fact that Green Bay has survived short absences from the All-Pro linebacker in the past. On the outside, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Neal can create enough pass rush for the team to get by. The depth isn't quite there at inside linebacker, but with the Packers playing fewer snaps in base than ever before, it can somewhat minimize Matthews' absence.
Still, should Matthews miss more than a few games in 2015, the Packers will suffer the consequences.
3. David Bakhtiari
David Bakhtiari isn't the Packers best offensive lineman. He probably isn't even the team's best offensive tackle. However, he protects Aaron Rodgers blindside, and more importantly, he might be the only one who can.
Green Bay experimented with Bryan Bulaga at left tackle before the 2013 season, but a torn ACL opened the door for Bakhtiari's ascension. Bakhtiari's the only member of the line to start at left tackle since that time. Should an injury sideline him, Bulaga could shift back over. However, it's unclear whether head coach Mike McCarthy would consider moving him from his post at right tackle.
If Bulaga isn't the backup plan, then the most likely option is JC Tretter. Tretter played the position in college, but has only limited tackle experience in the NFL. At this stage, it's hard to consider him a viable backup to Bakhtiari. The only other left tackle option the Packers appear to have is former D-III lineman Jeremy Vujnovich.
2. Sam Shields
In years past, Sam Shields may not have cracked the top 5 of least replaceable players on the Packers. Last season in particular, the team possessed so much depth at cornerback that simultaneous injuries to Shields and Tramon Williams barely fazed the defense.
However, with Williams and Davon House departing this offseason, Shields becomes the only corner on Green Bay's roster with extensive starting experience on the boundary. Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde expect to spend time at opposite Shields, but both comes with concerns. As for the rookies, Damarious Randall is transitioning from college safety while Quinten Rollins has played just one season of football over the last five years. If Shields goes down, the secondary could be a mess.
1. Aaron Rodgers
Of course, the reigning MVP is going to top any list of the Packers' least replaceable players. As the quarterback of one of the league's more complex offenses, there are only a handful of players around the league that are comparatively irreplaceable. If Rodgers suffers a season-ending injury, the Packers' championship hopes would be extinguished.