Speed and agility -both physically and mentally- are hallmarks of great linebackers. The job isn’t easy. These guys are assigned to a position that requires a player to exercise the dexterity to not only adapt, but to understand their roles as the play develops. This makes the position one of the key positions on defense.
And sometimes, having only one excellent linebacker may not be enough. With the re-signing of Lavonte David, the Buccaneers have retained what many consider to be the best linebacker duo in the NFL.
The 2020 Season
By the time 2020 was over, Bucs fans were reassured of something they already knew: David and Devin White are special players. They were a major reason why the defense helped propel the team to the playoffs. Once they were there, they were instrumental in shutting down offenses lead by future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. It didn’t stop there, either. They also aided in locking down one of the most explosive and potent offenses led by Patrick Mahomes.
This was no fluke. The defense has been playing at a high level with David and White over the last two years and everything came together perfectly during the Super Bowl run.
True Side-Line to Side-Line Presence
White’s one-of-a-kind speed and range allowed him to rack up 97 solo tackles in 2020. That was good enough for third out of all defenders. David wasn’t too far behind, either. He finished the year with 84 solo tackles, which ranked as the 12th-most of all defenders. Furthermore, the 181 combined solo tackles were second only to Houston’s Zach Cunningham and Tyrell Adams, who combined for 182 solo tackles.
What pushes the Buccaneers duo over that of the one in Houston is their tackling ability. David and White have a combined missed tackle percentage of 8.8%. Houston’s duo combined had a percentage of 9.1%. It’s a small difference, but football is a game on inches.
Getting In The Backfield
Again, firmly within the top three defenders on the season, White found his way into opposing backfield, registering 15 TFLs last year. David finished with 12. The two players were instrumental in establishing the league’s best run defense for a second consecutive year.
Getting to the Quarterback
White’s 9.0 sacks firmly placed him at the top of all inside linebackers when it came to taking down quarterbacks in 2020. With David, who is not necessarily utilized for that purpose, they both totaled 10.5 sacks. Adding to the pressure created by these two players, White again found himself on top of another stat. White led all inside linebackers with 16 quarterback hits. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF, subscription required), White’s pass-rushing productivity rate of 16.2 lead all NFL defenders with at least 100 pass-rush snaps in 2020. All defenders, not just the linebackers. This statistic measures pressures created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks. David himself added three quarterback hits.
To put these stats in a better perspective, David and White beat the likes of Bobby Wagner, K. J. Wright, and Shaquem Griffin combined. Seattle’s linebacker corps is a strong unit. To have the Buccaneers duo outpace them in these two categories of applying pressure to the quarterback is a tremendous feat.
In order for a team to be successful players must compliment each other. This is no different for linebackers, especially your inside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme. Your two defensive quarterbacks must be able to play their roles accordingly, which allows others to do their jobs. According to PFF, David was the sixth-best linebacker in coverage. Coupled with White’s fifth-best grade in the pass rush category, you create a multifaceted defense with flexibility.
Only one other team had a linebacker in the top ten for both those categories: Seattle.
When comparing linebacker duos there is no doubt that David and White should be in the conversation as the best. Additionally, in a 3-4 scheme there IS NO BETTER duo of inside linebackers in the league, PERIOD! With the return of Lavonte David in 2021 under a new contract, opposing offenses should be worried!