Now five weeks into the NFL season, play on the field starts to stand out across all positions. Offensive skill positions are gauged on not only their play on the field, but also their marks on the stat sheets. But what about those defensive players that stand out, more specifically, those linebackers, who do it all?
Tackle stats can be inflated as they are not an official NFL stat and a player can certainly make a tackle on a play he was poorly out of position on. Because of that, defensive players are much tougher to quantify on the stat sheet since they don’t have attempts, catches, or yards so when evaluating them PFF looks at their performance as how that play (tackle, pass defense, blitz) impacted the play.
With that in mind, we highlight our top 10 graded linebackers after the first five weeks of the season:
PFF Grade: 92.0
PFF Elite Stat: Wagner’s 40.0 tackling efficiency ranks fourth among linebackers.
Wagner is the only linebacker on the list to top a 90.0 ‘elite’ grade and for good reason. His coverage grade of 90.9 sits atop the NFL. With the importance of the pass in today’s NFL, a coverage linebacker is as valuable as ever. Add in his 11.2 run stop percentage (7th), his 22.6 pass-rush productivity (T-4th) and his 40.0 tackling efficiency (4th) and you see why his whole game is at another level.
PFF Grade: 89.2
PFF Elite Stat: David’s five run stops on 46 run snaps give him a 10.6 run stop percentage.
David has played less snaps than the others on this list due to an injury and a hurricane, but he started the season off strong racking up 10 defensive stops in just his first two games. If he continues that pace when he returns, we could see a 2013 level performance where he ranked first among all linebackers in overall grade (93.5).
PFF Grade: 87.9
PFF Elite Stat: Shazier’s 16.67 percent playmaker index ranks sixth-highest among linebackers. He’s gotten his hands on four passes, two pass defenses and two interceptions.
Shazier has been praised as one of the game’s best linebackers for a while now, however this is the first year he’s actually shown it. His 86.9 coverage grade ranks third among linebackers despite not cleaning up his tackling yet. Something the Steelers can live with in a player who can look like an All-Pro one week and a replacement player the next.
PFF Grade: 87.0
PFF Elite Stat: Smith’s 11.8 run stop percentage ranks fourth among linebackers.
Smith adds to a Jaguars defense that has playmakers at every level now including a pair of shut down corners. His tackling has improved cleaned up his tackling and it has showed as he ranks second in the league with a 90.4 run defense grade.
PFF Grade: 86.6
PFF Elite Stat: Timmons’ has been targeted 14 times in his two games back, allowing 10 catches, however six have been a ‘loss’ for the defense.
Timmons has been stellar in his return from suspension. Something unprecedented from the incredibly hard coverage assignments they had him running in Pittsburgh (along with missed tackles) leading to two poor seasons. He has accumulated nine total defensive stops and added a QB hit and two hurries in the past two weeks.
PFF Grade: 86.3
PFF Elite Stat: Barr’s 27.0 tackling efficiency ranks seventh-best among linebackers this season.
Barr has been back to the form he showed in 2015 when he was PFF’s second-highest graded linebacker at 91.4 overall. His 85.8 coverage grade ranks sixth among linebackers. Rushing the passer 33 times (eighth-most) if he could get home more often (three pressures) could take his game to the next level.
PFF Grade: 86.3
PFF Elite Stat: Martinez’s 14.0 run stop percentage ranks first in the NFL among all off-the-ball linebackers.
The Packers have finally found an inside linebacker. While Martinez might not excel in coverage, his stout play against the run it makes up for it. Martinez also has yet to miss a tackle on 24 attempts.
PFF Grade: 85.6
PFF Elite Stat: Woodyard’s 11.2 run stop percentage ranks seventh among linebackers.
Woodyard has been a solid run defender for the last couple of years. He’s aggressive downhill and shoots gaps routinely. He has the sixth most total stops (19) among linebackers in the NFL. His 87.9 run defense grade is fifth among all linebackers so far in 2017.
PFF Grade: 85.2
PFF Elite Stat: Whitehead’s 8.6 run stop percentage ranks 17th among all linebackers.
Whitehead is as stout as they come against the run. His 89.5 run defense grade ranks third at the position. This season has been a vast improvement from his 36.5 overall grade in 2016 which ranked 84th of 88 linebackers.
PFF Grade: 84.7
PFF Elite Stat: Kuechly’s 7.7 run stop percentage ranks 24th among all linebackers.
Kuechly by no means has been bad in 2017, he just isn’t at the elite level we’ve come to expect from a Hall of Fame caliber player who can cover Dez Bryant 25 yards downfield. He’s been targeted 29 times this season, second-most among linebackers. Most importantly, despite the high volume of targets, Kuechly has kept receivers in his coverage out of the end zone.