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NFL Houston Texans

5 Irreplaceable Players for the Houston Texans in the 2013 NFL Season

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5 Houston Texans Who Must Stay on Their Game

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Greg M. Cooper- USA TODAY Sports

In the past two seasons, the Houston Texans have been a major force in the AFC, and many fans and experts expect them to take the next leap forward in 2013. Though they have gone 10-6 and 12-4 in 2011 and 2012, respectively, they have failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs in either season.

This year, the team has put more effort into procuring more talent, most notably adding former Baltimore Raven Ed Reed. The 34-year-old is arguably the greatest safety of all-time, though he is coming off a hip injury which the Texans didn't know about when they signed him, so the team will have to be prepared to replace him right off the bat.

The Texans have shown incredible resilience when faced with injuries over the past couple years, and they likely will need to do the same this season. In 2011, the team lost their quarterback, Matt Schaub, and their best defensive player, Mario Williams, to season-ending injuries, causing many to believe that they would collapse. But then-rookie T.J. Yates was a more-than-capable fill-in and led the team to a strong finish and a first-round victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

In 2012, the Texans lost star linebacker Brian Cushing for the season and dealt with on-and-off ailments to receiver Andre Johnson and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, yet they still won their division with a 12-4 record. They gave the New England Patriots a great challenge but still lost in the divisional round of the playoffs.

This season, the Texans will be hoping to get lucky on the health front, but it is likely that they will have to rely on their depth once again. Schaub, Johnson, running back Arian Foster, Reed, Cushing, and Joseph all have chronic injury problems, and the odds are that at least one of them will go down. Of course, there are several spots on the field where a player's health and production seemingly are the key to a good season. Here are the Houston Texans' five most irreplaceable players.

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5. Whitney Mercilus, OLB

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Brett Davis- USA TODAY Sports

Mercilus, the Texans' 2012 first rounder, was good but not spectacular in his first NFL season, registering 25 total tackles with six sacks. The team is taking a big leap of faith with him in 2013, however, as they will rely on Mercilus and injury-prone Brooks Reed to be their primary pass-rushing linebackers. The team has lost an elite pass rusher in each of the past two offseasons (Mario Williams in 2012, Connor Barwin in 2013) and has relied exclusively on the draft to replace their production. This year, they drafted pass rushers Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams, but neither one is polished enough to start right away. Mercilus will have to be relied upon to supplement J.J. Watt's rush from the outside, and if he doesn't, the team could be in trouble.

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4. Johnathan Joseph, CB

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Kirby Lee- USA TODAY Sports

Joseph is an elite, Pro Bowl-level cornerback, but the issue isn't as much his good play as it is the bad play of the players behind him. His fellow starter, Kareem Jackson, is also a great defender, but beyond the starters it's an unknown. One key example of this came on Thanksgiving day last season when Joseph sat out and was replaced by nickelback Alan Ball who continually got burned by Detroit Lions receivers.

With the Texans having added injury-prone safety Ed Reed to the defensive backfield this year, they need to make sure they are satisfactorily covered at all times. The fact is that the Texans' backup corners just are not very good, so Joseph needs to stay healthy in order for the team's defense to have the best shot at success.

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3. Arian Foster, RB

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Thomas Campbell- USA TODAY Sports

With Andre Johnson's recent regression, Foster is now clearly the Texans' most important offensive playmaker. He led the NFL in touchdowns last season with 15 and racked up 1,424 rushing yards. He's only 26 years old, and if he can keep his big body healthy, he still should be able to play at a consistently great level for three or four more years.

Behind Foster, the team is not completely devoid of options; 24-year-old Ben Tate ran for 942 yards in 2011 before being banged up most of last season. But there's no real replacement for an elite back like Foster.

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2. Duane Brown, LT

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Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports

Brown has quietly become the NFL's best offensive tackle over the past couple of seasons and was a starter in the 2012 Pro Bowl. The Texans have made significant attempts to increase their depth at tackle, particularly on the right side, and selected tackles Brennan Williams and David Quessenberry in the 2013 draft. But losing Brown would still be a major roadblock in the Texans' season.

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1. J.J. Watt, DE

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Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports

Watt is not only the Texans' most irreplaceable player but one of the most irreplaceable players in the entire league. He's one of few truly dynamic 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL and is on track through his first two seasons to become the greatest one of all-time. Watt led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2012 and had a ridiculous 16 passes deflected, the most out of any non-defensive back in the league. He's brought a revolutionary aggressive style of play to the 3-4 end position. To put it in perspective, the 3-4 end with the next most sacks in the league was Watt's fellow end, Antonio Smith, and he only had seven.

Beyond Watt, the Texans have Smith, who gives them steady production. But while the rest of the Texans' ends are above-average, they are all role players who cannot come close to delivering the production that Watt can.