Signature Stat Snapshot: Tackling Efficiency

Mike Renner looks at who the best and worst tackling linebackers have been this year.

| 5 years ago

Signature Stat Snapshot: Tackling Efficiency

First off, let’s refresh everyone on one of our key Signature Stats for defenders, Tackling Efficiency. Measuring how many tackles a defender misses per the attempts they have.

The equation for it is as follows:

Tackling Efficiency = (Tackles + Assists + Missed Tackles) / Missed Tackles

Like many of our Signature Stats, Tackling Efficiency is calculated as a proportionality, and in this case on a per tackling attempt basis. We do this so that we can better evaluate and compare players who have differing amounts of playing time.

A couple weeks ago I took a look at Tackling Efficiency for players in the secondary. In that article I stated that a sure tackling corner is a luxury and a poor tackling coverage safety can still be a good safety.  Linebackers, though, are a different story altogether. You won’t find many guys toward the bottom of this list who are sniffing the Pro Bowl (or should be at least) and Tackling Efficiency is fairly indicative of performance because tackling is such a big part of what linebackers do. Only one player in the Top 10 has received a negative grade so far, and only one in the bottom 10 has received a positive grade.

Note: We only looked at inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers with at least 200 total snaps

Why ‘Effective Tackler’ doesn’t always equate to ‘Effective Linebacker’

A good case study for this is Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. If you looked at his tackling efficiency over the past two years you would see that it has actually gone up this year from last (16.0 to 26.0). Then, when you look at his PFF run grade you see that he went from +9.0 last year to -1.1 last year. This may leave you scratching your head. Well, the reason for this grade decrease is because finishing a play is only half of the equation, getting to the play is just as important and Jackson just hasn’t done that as well this year. Last year his run snaps per tackling opportunity, or how many running snaps it took for him to attempt a tackle, was 4.65. This year it has climbed considerably to 6.86. This means he is getting to approximately two-thirds as many plays as he was last year, and definitely worthy of the grade decrease. Some prime examples of this on the opposite end (poor tackling efficiency but great play in the run game) are inside linebackers Daryl Washington (7.3 tackling efficiency, 4.52  run snaps per tackling opportunity, and run defense grade of +7.0) and Kavell Conner (8.3 tackling efficiency, 3.28 run snaps per tackling opportunity, and run defense grade of +4.7).

Here’s a list of the 20 top tackling linebackers.

RankNameTeamComb. Tackle EfficiencyTotal SnapsTotal Missed TacklesTotal TacklesTotal Assists
1DeMeco RyansPHI7256015714
2Lawrence TimmonsPIT505041409
3Ray LewisBLT484211389
4Takeo SpikesSD4331012814
5Brian CushingHST292301244
6Sean LeeDAL283032459
7Jerod MayoNE27.756836911
8D'Qwell JacksonCLV265992428
9Vontaze BurfictCIN25.54222418
10Karlos DansbyMIA2360935412
11K.J. WrightSEA22.35093559
12Patrick WillisSF2250335310
13Luke KuechlyCAR21.331634417
14Bobby WagnerSEA20.350246512
15Bruce CarterDAL19.74613542
16D.J. SmithGB19.53462316
17Lance BriggsCHI17.35363427
18Bryan ScottBUF16.53132265
18Kelvin SheppardBUF16.52862247
20Nick BarnettBUF16.354644912

Inside vs. Outside

Inside linebacker and outside linebacker are different positions, and general managers look for different traits and skill sets with each. This is obvious, but what is not obvious is how it plays out when tackling. So let’s take a look at the numbers. When it comes to tackling efficiency inside linebackers total numbers are: (Note: 49 inside linebackers qualified)

Total Tackling Efficiency: 11.28

Run Tackling Efficiency: 14.30

Coverage Tackling Efficieny: 8.14

This vast difference between coverage and run tackling efficiency is to be expected. When linebackers are making plays in the running game, the running back most of the time has no choice but to take on the linebacker in a limited area. If the linebacker is making a tackle on a receiver and isn’t making the play directly after the catch, the receiver will have much more room to work with and a variety of moves to employ. Now on to the outside linebacker numbers: (note: 38 outside linebackers qualified)

Total Tackling Efficiency: 9.88

Run Tackling Efficiency: 11.99

Coverage Tackling Efficiency: 8.075

These numbers are interesting because outside linebackers are lower in every regard, yet the difference is really only in Run Tackling Efficiency. This difference likely harkens back to the differences in positional responsibilities. Outside backers are traditionally lighter and faster because they take larger roles in coverage and have to be able to make tackles out on the edge of the field. One might think that outside linebackers would play a lot more coverage snaps but the data showed that the outside linebackers were in coverage 58.7% of the time, while inside linebackers were 57.8%.

Let’s also explore the differences between the snaps per tackling opportunity.

Inside linebackers

Total Snaps per Tackling Opportunity: 7.77

Run Sanps per Tackling Opportunity: 5.08

Coverage Snaps per Tackling Opportunity: 12.7

Outside linebackers

Total Snaps per Tackling Opportunity: 8.21

Run Snaps per Tackling Opportunity: 6.05

Coverage Snaps per Tackling Opportunity: 10.96

These numbers are again not terribly surprising. As I stated earlier outside linebackers are more active in the passing game and inside linebackers in the running. In fact using run snaps per tackling opportunity as a measure for outside linebackers makes little sense. The reason for this being that teams game plan to run away from the best outside linebackers giving them no chance to make tackles.

After that here’s the 20 worst tackling linebackers this year.

RankNameTeamComb. Tackle EfficiencyTotal SnapsTotal Missed TacklesTotal TacklesTotal Assists
87Bart ScottNYJ4.63379275
86Jasper BrinkleyMIN4.7550154313
85Mychal KendricksPHI4.951711367
84Craig RobertsonCLV533710373
83Jon BeasonCAR5.12557236
82London FletcherWAS5.256013496
80Thomas DavisCAR5.43249328
80Kyle BosworthJAX5.42035166
78Koa MisiMIA5.93667295
78Chase BlackburnNYG5.94399386
77Miles BurrisOAK6.14158329
76Nick RoachCHI6.33043133
75Moise FokouIND6.52014184
74Stephen TullochDET6.65539473
73Rey MaualugaCIN7.1570115611
72Zach BrownTEN7.22365265
70Daryl WashingtonARZ7.356211627
70Will WitherspoonTEN7.32134205
69Akeem AyersTEN7.6545105412
68Akeem DentATL82945314

I have greatly enjoyed doing these signature snapshot articles because I think they provide a peek at all the amazing data that PFF provides. If you have any feedback on the piece, how you’d like the data to be presented or what signature stats you’d like to see in future. Comment in the article or send me a message on twitter.


Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner


| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • dave

    What happened 49ers? :(

  • john Doe

    Great article. Please keep ’em coming. Helps a ton in IDP leagues

  • Al

    Would have thought Clay Matthews would be among the top tacklers

    • william

      usually sacks guys dont rack up tackles as well.

      • Al

        Matthews is solid against the run, but he wasn’t included in the analysis cuz he’s 3-4 OLB not 4-3

      • JJ

        Pass rushers have a tendency to attack ball carriers like a QB, just burst and dive instead of breaking down to make the tackle.

    • izach

      why? clay isnt a great tackler in general, he may do well when run at (every decent LB should be) but in coverage and chasing down plays i notice he slips off more than youd like, but i think he has gotten better but is still primarily a pass rusher

  • Al

    How much of these stats are based on luck because one missed tackle hurts your percentage a lot. Is there a difference when you watch DeMeco Ryans on film compared to Mychal Kendricks?

    • william

      luck has nothing to do with a missed tackle.A lot of it is judgment/awareness ,followed by technique

    • Mike Renner

      Good question. One thing I forgot to point out in the article is how the scaling works. DeMeco Ryans’ 73 is negligibly different from Takeo Spikes’ 43, but Nick Barnett’s 16.3 is significantly better than Akeem Ayers’ 7.6.

      I wouldn’t classify it as luck, but more small sample size. Even over the course of the season you are only looking at 100 or so tackling attempts, so one bad day against Adrian Peterson can significantly knock down your Tackling Efficiency. So Tackling Efficiency will vary from year to year, but you don’t go from being rated 5th in Tackling Efficiency in 2010 to the worst in 2012, like Bart Scott has, without a distinct drop in play.

      Applying this to Mychal Kendricks we see that he had a rough game against the Steelers where he missed 6 tackles. Take away that game and his Tackling Efficiency is a 7.5 which is better but still bad. So you can’t chalk up the difference between DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks(which is noticeable) to just one bad game. I hope that answers your question and thanks for reading!

  • Al

    Just saw that article is on 4-3 OLB and ILB

  • izach

    the bownsd’qwell jackson vs the cards washington example, has me confused, so d’qwell is making less plays becuase his teammates are now stepping up so the tackle is made before he can get there and thats a negative on him, even tho he is now missing less tackler? and washington is usually the first to get there but misses more often .so basicly being the first to the play even if you fail is better than actually being a surer tackler?

    • Mike Renner

      I don’t think I agree with the assumption that getting to 2/3 of the amount of running plays can be solely attributable to play of teammates. If you work out the numbers, on 100 running plays, Washington will make about 19 tackles whereas Jackson will only make about 14 tackles with these numbers. I’d want the guy making more plays even if he misses more(to some degree). Some of this can be attributable to teammates, but Jackson is just getting taken out by more blocks and getting to less plays.

  • Ken

    ILB and OLB are in coverage almost almost =% but are they covering same position players?, tight end / RB / HB?

    • Guest

      This one depends a lot on player and scheme.

  • lame article


  • joof

    are you saying that M Kendricks both misses tackles and doesnt get to the tackle position as well as other olbs?? Im wondering if he just finished his tackles then he would be out of the worst tackling players category…and if he got to the tackle area more without only assisting or at least not missing all the time than he would be one of the best lbs bc he is good against the pass……and final question, how do you signify a missed tackle?? is it a direct hit that does not help get the runner down or the plays when the player dives but has little chance at getting the player down

  • Garyjoraanstad

    Why isn’t Greenway from Minnesota listed in these ratings?  He has the most tackles of anybody in football.