Tampa Bay is a team used to seeing prototypical 4-3 weakside linebackers doing their thing. In
Derrick Brooks they watched a player who defined the position for over a decade and is now in the
Hall of Fame, and Lavonte David is his heir apparent.
Like Brooks, David is a smaller linebacker but lightening quick and makes up for that lack of size with how fast he can read the play, react to it and blow it up. David ended the season with a +26.4 grade, dwarfing the next best conventional 4-3 OLB’s +14.4 mark (setting aside Von Miller for the moment because of the unique way in which he is deployed).
David’s M.O. is to play with speed and play the game in the backfield, showing an ability to close on the football that we haven’t seen from anybody playing his position for a long time. He graded positively in every facet of the game that PFF grades; as a pass rusher, in coverage, against the run and in disciplinary terms when it came to penalties. In a similar tale to that of Gerald McCoy in front of him and Revis behind him, David got little help from the rest of the Tampa Bay linebacking corps.
While David was setting things alight, Mason Foster, the only other Bucs linebacker to play more than 270 snaps, was struggling, especially against the run. David notched 32 combined tackles more than Foster, despite playing a position that traditionally yields fewer, and made 45 more defensive stops from those tackles, showing that he was playing closer to the line of scrimmage than Foster was.
When it came to Run Stop Percentage David was the best ranked linebacker at his position, making a defensive stop against the run on 13.5% of his snaps, more than 3% better than the next placed linebacker.
Best Game: Week 7 vs. Atlanta (+5.0)
In this game against the Falcons David was actually beaten in coverage for a touchdown, (his only one of the year) and yet still finished with his highest grade of the season. How? He made nine defensive stops in the game (no other Buc had more than two), three of which were drive-killing plays on third down. Twice he made stops behind the line of scrimmage wrecking plays before they could ever get going.
Look at the speed with which he destroys this running play. He crowds the line before beating the block of an offensive lineman quickly and still beats the running back to the corner, forcing the play back inside to his help, shutting it down.
Key Stat: Made 83 defensive stops, 21 more than the next best 4-3 OLB.
If there’s one number that shows the kind of player David is, it’s this one. Not all tackles are created equal. A tackle 10 yards down field on 3rd-and-7 isn’t a particularly useful play, but one at the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-2 is. Defensive stops include any tackle that constitutes an offensive failure on the play. Short of the required distance on third and fourth downs, fewer than 40% of the required yards on first down, and so on.
David had 21 more stops than any other player at his position. In fact, he more than doubled the stop total for all but seven other 4-3 OLBs. David was making plays closer to the line of scrimmage than anybody else and did it without sacrificing his position in coverage, finishing just behind Carolina LB Thomas Davis at the top of the coverage grades for the position. In short, David was the perfect WLB in that 4-3 scheme in 2013, and may well have been every bit as good as Gerald McCoy in front of him.
Like McCoy, David can count himself extremely unlucky to have had such a fine season and yet still be overshadowed by at least two defenders, struggling just to place on the podium for the PFF Defensive Player of the Year standings. That being said, David had an outstanding season, and well deserves his spot at No. 5 in the PFF Top 101.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam