Three Years of Tackling Efficiency: Defensive Backs

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Tackling Efficiency: Defensive Backs

Yesterday we took a look at the tackling prowess of linebackers over the past three seasons. Which players made the most, which missed the most, and which did far more of the latter than their opportunities should have caused.

Today we’re moving away from the line of scrimmage and looking at how defensive backs have fared over the same time span. We have combined cornerbacks and safeties to look at them together in this one study, and the qualifying cutoff is the same 1,200 snaps that it was for the linebackers. This eliminates all rookies from the study.

Tackling efficiency is a simple ratio of missed tackles to number of attempts: Solo tackles + Assists + Misses / Missed Tackles = TE.  


The Active Crowd

Some defensive backs are far more physically active than others, and get themselves involved in the run game with their hitting far more regularly. No player has been involved in more tackles over the past three seasons than Antoine Bethea. Both Yeremiah Bell (261) and Tyvon Branch (258) have had more solo tackles than the 255 Bethea has notched, but he has added 56 assists over that period, taking his tally to a massive 311 total tackles in the 2009-2011 seasons. That’s a safety averaging more than 100 tackles per season, which is truly remarkable, and also quite the sign of the problems in the Colts’ defense during that span.

Branch falls one short of the 300 mark–continually used in the box for the Raiders, he also shows some remarkable ability to run down plays from behind–and Bell’s 294 was some way clear of the next most prolific tackle artist amongst defensive backs.


RankPlayerSnapsTksAsstot tkl
1Antoine Bethea320325556311
2Tyvon Branch323525841299
3Yeremiah Bell308226133294
4Bernard Pollard276622148269
5Roman Harper290422930259
6Quintin Mikell319422829257
7Dawan Landry312622927256
8Eric Weddle279722134255
9Charles Tillman309323321254
9Ryan Clark297720846254


The Tampa Two

Most of the time referring to the Tampa-2 conjures up images of discipline, sound fundamentals, and quality play to force mistakes from the opposition, but not on this occasion. The Tampa Two to which I am referring are Ronde Barber and Tanard Jackson, who lead the pack with more missed tackles than any other defensive backs over the past three seasons. Barber has racked up a massive half-century of misses, but what is even more staggering is the 43 that Jackson has managed to total on fewer than half of Barber’s snaps.

You have to wonder exactly what the Buccaneers were practicing over the past few seasons, because it certainly wasn’t sound fundamentals and the basics, those fell to pieces under Raheem Morris.

Michael Griffin and Quentin Mikell are the next two in line, with 41 and 40 missed, respectively, then Antrel Rolle of the Giants with 37.


1Ronde Barber306850
2Tanard Jackson145443
3Michael Griffin343941
4Quintin Mikell319440
5Antrel Rolle317637
5Asante Samuel246037
7Louis Delmas257936
7Sean Jones253236
9Charles Woodson300135
9Charles Godfrey271835
9Sherrod Martin230835


Tackling Efficiency – Good and Bad

The tackling efficiency for defensive backs displays a truly ridiculous gulf in ability between the incredibly sound tacklers, and those who would be better off just falling over in front of the ball carrier and hoping they tripped over them.

Leading the way at the top is Danieal Manning from Houston. Manning has missed just seven tackles–or, one in every 30.9 attempts–over the past three seasons, which is very nearly Takeo Spikes territory, and about as good as you could possibly expect from a defensive back. Manning isn’t alone at the top, however, because he’s joined there by cornerback Bradley Fletcher who has just four misses in the game time he has been able to see. That gives him a miss every 29.3 for the best mark amongst corners.

Kelly Jennings, Joe Haden, and Nathan Jones round out the Top 5 … the only five to have a ratio better than a miss every 20 attempts.


RankPlayerSnapsTksAssMTTackling Efficiency
1Danieal Manning251418722730.9
2Bradley Fletcher15551067429.3
3Kelly Jennings19208810425.5
4Joe Haden180710911525.0
5Nathan Jones1284899520.6
6Bryant McFadden19621426819.5
7Kyle Arrington185011910719.4
8Donte Whitner2624207361517.2
9Antoine Winfield1882161161117.1
10James Butler12738511617.0
11O.J. Atogwe2463163281216.9
12Jason McCourty1763145131016.8
13Brandon Flowers2997167161216.3
14Jairus Byrd2637168361415.6
15Kenny Phillips2096134251115.5


At the other end things get ugly, very ugly. In a rather fitting tie for last place Asante Samuel and Tanard Jackson have each missed a tackle for every 3.7 they attempted over the past three seasons. That is a shocking display of tackling, in particular for Jackson who is supposed to be a hard-hitting safety and able to bring down the ball carrier. Samuel is at least known to shy away from contact and make Deion Sanders type ‘business decisions’ when it comes to putting himself on the line, but it remains no better a display.

In third place is Nnamdi Asomugha, who has quietly been a terrible tackler for years now. This was never really noticed from his play in Oakland because he was targeted so infrequently, and only surfaced each year when we ran the numbers, but his new role in Philadelphia did nothing to dispel the trend. Asomugha has now missed 25 tackles over the past three seasons, which is one for every 4.6 he attempted in that time frame. He wants to be Philadelphia’s answer to Charles Woodson from the Packers, and if that’s the case it’s going to require more than a step up in coverage. Woodson’s ratio of missed tackles is better, putting him in the middle of the pack with a miss every 7.6 attempts.

Ronde Barber makes an appearance again at the ugly end, but at least the massive number of tackles he attempts in his active role has lowered his ratio away from Tanard Jackson territory. Barber’s ratio of a miss every 5.6 attempts is still terrible and far from the kind of secure tackling you need from a safety, which is what position he plans to now occupy for the Bucs.


RankPlayerSnapsTksAssMTTackling Efficiency
1Tanard Jackson14549816433.7
1Asante Samuel2460937373.7
3Nnamdi Asomugha2720874254.6
4Kendrick Lewis1789769205.3
4Sherrod Martin230812328355.3
6Sabby Piscitelli14921078265.4
7Sam Shields1371635155.5
8Chris Gamble26741307305.6
8Ronde Barber306820822505.6
8Jon McGraw154210214255.6
11Brandon McDonald1229637155.7
12Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie26081164255.8
13Drew Coleman1213708156.2
14Vontae Davis243312913276.3
14Shawntae Spencer2244974196.3



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| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

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