One bright side this season has been the play of the first three rookies the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected in the 2012 draft. Or, well, two of them at least - Doug Martin has yet to break out. But both safety Mark Barron and linebacker Lavonte David have looked outstanding. For Mark Barron, this should be a given: he was selected with the seventh overall pick, and while rookies can take a while to get going it should be no surprise that he's looked like the best safety of a rather weak class.
Lavonte David has also looked like the best player at his position so far this year, despite the fact that five non-pass-rushing linebackers were taken ahead of him in the draft. David had to sit on the board until late in the second round, but has so far outperformed ninth overall pick Luke Kuechly, 25th overall pick Dont'a Hightower, 46th and 47th overall picks Mychal Kendrick and Bobby Wagner, and finally 52nd overall pick Zach Brown. David didn't come into play until the 58th pick of the draft.
David just keeps racking up tackles. He's not a particularly powerful player, and can struggle to take on blocks, but he has outstanding instincts and appears to know exactly where to go on any given play. He's already the best coverage linebacker on the team, though he could stand to improve in that facet. In fact, he's probably the best coverage linebacker in the NFL already. He's certainly the linebacker most trusted by his team: the only snaps he's missed this season have been to minor injuries, causing him to miss a few plays.
The other rookie linebackers, though, aren't even staying on the field for passing downs. Hightower took just 10 snaps this week, a rather shockingly low total for a first-round rookie, though he does have to compete with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. That's a little misleading, as Hightower was injured, but he's certainly not in on every play as he leaves the field in dime packages. Bobby Wagner is starting for the Seahawks, but comes off the field on passing downs. Even vaunted rookie Luke Kuechly is only on the field in base packages. David has outperformed them all, as he leads all rookies in tackles with 33 (28 solo). Incidentally, Mark Barron is second among rookies with 22 solo tackles, and third in total tackles with 27.
It appears the Buccaneers have hit on Lavonte David, and his play - and that of the entire linebacking corps - has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. They're flowing to the ball, playing hard and tackling well. With Foster and David standing out, the Bucs may finally have a solid group of linebackers again.