Look to Tampa for Your Sleeper Linebacker

| April 2, 2014

lavonte davidAt Pro Football Focus, Luke Kuechly graded out as the sixth best defensive player this past season … on the Carolina roster.

This didn’t stop the Associated Press from naming Kuechly its Defensive Player of the Year.

So how did a man who graded out as the sixth best defensive player on his own team manage to be voted the best defensive player in the entire league? He mainly achieved this feat because he was credited by the NFL with 156 total tackles. This put him fourth in the league in that statistic.

2013 NFL TACKLE LEADERS

PlayerTeamTotal Tackles
Vontaze BurfictCincinnati171
Paul PoslusznyJacksonville161
Kiko AlonsoBuffalo159
Luke KuechlyCarolina156
NaVorro BowmanSan Francisco145

Now don’t misconstrue what you are reading. Kuechly is a very good player. He earned our eighth highest grade at the inside linebacker position last season. But Kuechly’s high tackle total shows that the scheme a player is in, as well as the talent of the players around him, contributes to how many total tackles he ends up with.

As I write this, 10 teams will have new defensive coordinators next season.

New Defensive Coordinators for 2014

TeamNew Defensive
Coordinator
BuffaloJim Schwartz
CincinnatiPaul Guenther
ClevelandJim O'Neil
HoustonRomeo Crennel
TennesseeRay Horton
DallasRod Marinelli
DetroitTeryl Austin
MinnesotaGeorge Edwards
Tampa BayLeslie Frazier
St. LouisGregg Williams

But it’s down in Tampa where we may see a couple of defensive players break out.

New Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith and his defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, are expected to use a good amount of Tampa-2 within their base defense. When their scheme works at its best, the bulk of the pressure will come from the front four, while a group of speedy and athletic linebackers stay back in coverage. The Bucs have a major advantage for this system in that they have two of the highest rated defensive players in the game.

Gerald McCoy is a three-technique defensive tackle who should warrant constant double teams.

2013 OVERALL DEFENSIVE RATINGS

Defensive PlayerPositionOverall PFF Grade
J.J. Watt3-4 Defensive End111.6
Robert Quinn4-3 Defensive End77.2
Gerald McCoyDefensive Tackle57.3
Calais Campbell3-4 Defensive End41.7

And at the beginning of free agency, the Buccaneers agreed to terms with DE Michael Johnson, our fourth rated 4-3 defensive end.

2013 OVERALL 4-3 DEFENSIVE END RATINGS

Defensive EndRating
Robert Quinn77.2
Greg Hardy28.0
Cameron Wake27.2
Michael D. Johnson25.9
Michael Bennett24.2

With those two working in tandem, the Bucs should get consistent pressure from the front four. This should allow two Tampa linebackers to amass very high tackle totals. One of those linebackers will be Lavonte David, who graded out as our second best 4-3 outside linebacker last season.

2013 OVERALL 4-3 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER RATINGS

4-3 Outside LinebackerTeamOverall PFF Grade
Von MillerDenver40.3
Lavonte DavidTampa Bay26.4
Thomas DavisCarolina14.3
Vontaze BurfictCincinnati10.6

David is slated to play the WILL in this defense, and our IDP maven Jeff Ratcliffe recommends that David be the first linebacker selected in your draft. But the real key may be what we don’t yet know … who that other linebacker will be.

Last season, Mason Foster played middle linebacker for the Bucs, but he doesn’t seem to have the coverage skills needed to excel in the Tampa 2. Foster graded out next to last among inside linebackers last season in coverage in terms of average of yards allowed per snap. So it’s probably no coincidence that Frazier has already intimated that next year’s MIKE may not be on the roster yet.

But whomever the Bucs ultimately decide to play at the MIKE, the system almost guarantees that the player will be a quick, athletic type of linebacker, who will then become a sleeper to watch in fantasy.

 

Ashe started his writing career at the now-defunct CNNSI in Atlanta.  He moved on to CNN Domestic where he joined his first fantasy football league. He writes about sports and politics when he isn’t checking the waiver wire.

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