A Closer Look: Kwon Alexander's Impressive Debut Campaign

A Closer Look

Kwon Alexander's Impressive Debut Campaign

Article by Scott Smith


Over the past two years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have devoted almost all of their draft picks to remaking the offense, and the results were clear this past fall. Despite a disappointing 6-10 finish, the Buccaneers broke a slew of offensive franchise records.

Tampa Bay did use one of its' 2014-15 draft picks on a defensive player, however, and the results from that selection have proved outstanding as well. With the 124th overall selection of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers chose LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, and it may prove to be the best fourth-round pick the team has ever made.

Though he missed the final four games of the season due to a commissioner's suspension, Alexander still was one of the most productive defenders to come out of the 2015 NFL Draft, particularly among linebackers. In fact, Alexander is among the leaders in his linebacker draft class in a variety of categories.




There were 36 linebackers selected in the 2015 draft, including some who profiled as 3-4 edge rushers, and 15 of those were taken before Alexander. Among that group, the Bucs' rookie ranked second in tackles (93), fourth in tackles for loss (6), sixth in sacks (3.0), tied for fifth in quarterback hits (5), tied for first in interceptions (2), first in passes defensed (nine) and tied for second in both forced fumbles (2) and fumble recoveries (3).

Those numbers and ranks are based on play-by-play totals compiled by Elias Sports Bureau, and those are all of the defensive statistical categories tracked on game day (other than a breakdown of tackles by solos and assists). Alexander is the only player on that list to rank in the top six in every category.

 


Not only was Kwon Alexander a valuable player for the Buccaneers defense in 2015, he should also be considered a draft day steal for the Bucs front office. Using Chase Stuart’s draft model, which gives the average 5-year total approximate value (AV) for each draft position using all players drafted from 1980-2007, we can see how much Alexander stands out in a historical context.

Approximate value is a metric calculated by PFR to assign a single, comparable number to every player regardless of the position or role they play for their team. In just one season in the league, Alexander has already exceeded the total value we would expect from the 124th selection in the draft over five seasons. Kwon’s teammate and fellow linebacker, Lavonte David, has also far exceeded his expected 5-year total and has already surpassed the expected value a team would typically receive from the number one overall selection in the draft.

 


While Alexander was clearly one of the best rookie defenders in the NFL in 2015, his instant impact on the Buccaneers' defense transcended his first-year status. Alexander and Pro Bowl alternate Lavonte David formed one of the most dynamic linebacker tandems in the entire NFL, both making plays in the backfield, in the box and in pass coverage. As the middle linebacker, Alexander also took on the responsibility of calling plays for the defense, which is a significant challenge for a rookie.

David was a Pro Bowl alternate because, as usual, most of the all-star spots for outside linebackers were taken up by 3-4 edge rushers with gaudy sack numbers. David and Alexander are only asked to rush the passer on occasion, but they proved adept at it when given the chance. They also excelled against the pass and were able to cause turnovers, as well.

In fact, Alexander and David represented half of the total number of linebackers in the NFL this season to combined at least three sacks with at least two interceptions and at least two forced fumbles. Alexander is the only rookie on that list.

 


With two interceptions and one fumble recovery, Alexander had three takeaways on the season. That made him one of just seven defenders to combined at least three sacks with at least three takeaways in 2015. Interestingly, three of the seven players on that list were Buccaneers, as the feat was also accomplished by David and defensive end Jacquies Smith. The other four were Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, Denver linebacker Von Miller, Kansas City cornerback Ron Parker and Arizona safety/linebacker hybrid Deone Bucannon.

Alexander and Bucannon are the only rookies on that list, and indeed Alexander's combination of statistical production was quite rare for a first-year player. Of his 93 total tackles in 2015, 59 were solo stops, which was also among rookie leaders. By adding that tackle total to his aforementioned three sacks, two interceptions and two fumbles, we can put Alexander in some elite company. Since the sack became an official statistic in 1982, only six rookie defenders (at any position, not just linebacker) have hit all of those markers.

That's six out of a total of 4,495 defensive players drafted over those 34 years.

 


Obviously, Alexander's season ended a little earlier than expected, which was the only blemish on his impressive debut. In a way, however, it makes his placement in the above charts even more impressive. While plays such as interceptions and forced fumbles are difficult to project, it's safe to say that Tampa Bay's impactful rookie would have added significantly to his tackle totals and likely made a few more big plays down the stretch.

In that regard, however, Tampa Bay can look forward to even bigger numbers from Alexander in his second NFL season. The Buccaneers may not have taken many draft swings on defense over the past two years, but when they did, they hit a home run.

Story by Scott Smith. Graphics by David Sharpensteen.
Web Design by Eric Rook. Video by Scott Peterson and Josh Lane.
Additional Research and Concepts by Eric Holland.