One of the background storylines this offseason has been Lavonte David and his (perceived) drop in play quality last season. David hinted at that a few days ago, telling the Tampa Bay Times that he was going to be better this year.
The Times focused on his dropped tackle numbers—something Pro Football Focus did, too.
The insertion of Smith’s new scheme resulted in David posting his lowest career tackle total of just 83 combined tackles in 2016. Compared to his first four seasons, this a drop of nearly 50 combined tackles, as he averaged 132.5 tackles from 2012–2015
Here’s my super radical theory: Lavonte David’s tackling less because Kwon Alexander is playing next to him and got better last season, and he was adjusting to a new scheme. That’s it.
To see why, let’s go back to the player David is most often compared to: Derrick Brooks. The Hall of Famer played for the Bucs from 1995 through 2008, never missed a game, but ‘only’ led the team in tackles eight seasons.
He lost out to Shelton Quarles once, Hardy Nickerson twice, Ronde Barber once and Barrett Ruud twice. That’s not because he was playing poor football or wasn’t tackling efficiently, it’s just that speedy middle linebackers (and a slot cornerback) can often get to the ball carrier a little faster.
Alexander is one of the fastest middle linebackers in the NFL, and was much better at not missing tackles last season than he was as a rookie—plus, he played in all of his 16 games instead of missing four due to a suspension, as he did as a rookie.
So sure, Lavonte David made fewer tackles, and he had a bit of a slow start to the year. But by the end of the 2016 seasons he’d amassed one interception (returned for a touchdown), four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and five sacks. That’s more splash plays than he’d had since his sophomore season under Greg Schiano.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith certainly suggested that they’d find more ways for David to make those impact plays, too.
“Lavonte, I think, at the end of the year really came on as a pass rusher. He became more effective as a pass rusher,” he said. “We were able to design some things to allow him to get in a charge and rush the passer.”
If David can continue to put up all those splash plays, then who is making the bulk of the tackles won’t matter to anyone.