The selection- Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Honorable mentions: Von Miller, DeAndre Levy, Dont'a Hightower, K.J. Wright, Alec Ogletree
Coming into what is easily the most difficult decision I have had to make yet, I had a lot of trouble even sorting out the honorable mentions list. I essentially just ruled out rookies because there was not enough of a sample size. With the guys that I did end up considering, this was pretty much a toss-up. It is also very difficult because you have a mix of talents among the guys I analyzed. The only thing that kept me from picking Von Miller is that he more purely fits a 3-4 system, where the outside linebacker is often a designated pass rusher. Miller also has his hand on the ground a lot and plays just about zero pass coverage so I decided that I could not pick him to fit the mold of a prototypical 4-3 linebacker. In the end, I settled on the unheralded Tampa Bay backer. Lavonte David most certainly has the ideal package for a 4-3 outside linebacker.
David is not much of a pass rusher, as he recorded just one sack this past season. However, he has shown that he can rack up better numbers than that as he is only a year removed from tallying seven quarterback takedowns. Where David does excel though is when the quarterback drops back to pass and he drops into coverage. The 25-year old has broken up 19 passes over his three-year career, including 10 during the 2013 season. The only linebacker I considered that has a higher average per season than David is Alec Ogletree. In addition to breaking up passes, David is snagging a few of them as well. The Buccaneers’ stalwart has snagged six interceptions since 2012. He is an asset in pass coverage and allows coaches to trust the schemes they want to run.
When the quarterback hands it off, David is even better. The Bucs' young stud wrapped up the ball carrier behind or at the line of scrimmage 56 times over the past three years. None of the other linebackers that were considered registers more than nine stuffs per year. David is churning out about 19 every season. David is quick to read the play and has a nose for getting to the football. He brings the ball carrier down when he gets there too, evident by his 143 tackles per season average. The crazy thing about how many tackles and stuffs David racked up this year is that he did it in only 14 games. David could have had one of the best seasons as a run stopping linebacker ever if he played every game.
Slowly, David is becoming a more disruptive player as well. After not forcing a single fumble his rookie year, he forced two in his second and four this past year. His total from this season tied for third among all defensive players. David is clearly finding ways to jar that ball loose more frequently now, which makes him even more valuable as a tackler. He is becoming a reliable source of generated turnovers with 11 in the past 2 seasons.
From a technical standpoint, David is a little undersized at 6'1" but he plays fast and shows good form in his tackling. Speed is an uncoachable trait that David has plenty of. He also can be relied on as a three-down linebacker. He will never have to be subbed out in run or pass situations because of his ability to do it all. Tampa Bay was a pretty terrible team this past year but David is certainly a bright spot to build around. His raw talent and young age give him even more room to grow as well as a pass rusher. David has shown he has the skill to be one of the elite cover and run stopping linebackers in this league. That lethal combination makes him the perfect player to build a 4-3 defense around at outside linebacker.
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