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Some evidence Lavonte David’s play declined last year

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The last games of 2016 suggest he’ll get back to form this year, though.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lavonte David didn’t receive the best reviews for his 2016 play. After years of looking like the best 4-3 linebacker in the NFL, he seemed to have a bit of a down year. David seemed to react a little more slowly than he did previously, especially during the first half of the season, and the end result was significantly fewer tackles: 67 solo tackles, compared to 85 the year before and 100+ in his first three seasons.

Of course, there’s not all that much evidence for a numerical decline beyond his tackles, which is a pretty iffy measure as is. David had more splash plays in 2016 than he’d had since 2013, although most of those did come during the second half of the season.

But there is some evidence of a real decline in the numbers: Lavonte David was number two in Football Outsiders’ defeats ranking this year with 29. This is how they define defeats:

A tackle that results in a loss of yardage, including sacks.

Any play that results in a turnover, including tipped passes which are then intercepted.

Any tackle or tipped pass that leads to a stop on third or fourth down.

David has been at or close to the top of those rankings ever since he entered the league, so being number two isn’t exactly a decline. But the absolute number of defeats is: he had 42 in 2014, and 35 in 2015. In fact: his 29 defeats are the lowest number of his career.

Of course, defeats are rare and some variation is to be expected. 29 isn’t that far off 35, nor off the 30 he had as a rookie. There’s also the question of confounding factors: perhaps his numbers are declining because Kwon Alexander is taking away some of those opportunities, for instance.

But it’s at least a statistical indication of a dip in the quality of his play beyond raw tackle numbers, which aren’t the best at determining...anything, really.

None of this really tells us what we actually want to know, though: how will Lavonte David do this year? The second half of last year, when David registered most of his splash plays, promises a return to form for one of the best linebackers in the NFL.