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David Playing at All-Star Level

Posted Oct 22, 2013

Coaches and teammates of Bucs LB Lavonte David believe he's already a Pro Bowl-caliber player, and Thursday night's game will be an opportunity for David to get some national exposure

"That line gets thrown out all the time about players that rack up a bunch of tackles — 'He was all over the field!' But most of the time those tackles are made well after the offense has already gained successful yardage on the play and do little more than pad the stats. This time, however, David was legitimately making plays pretty much every time he was involved."

- Pro Football Focus

On Sunday in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers road game at Atlanta, especially in the first half, linebacker Lavonte David was "all over the field."  Oh, he started most plays in the same general area, playing his weakside linebacker position, but once the football began to move he converged on it with the speed of a teleporter, no matter where it was headed.  It was a 'sideline-to-sideline' (and occasionally into the backfield) performance, no hyperbole attached.

Over the first 20 minutes of Sunday's game, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan could scarcely hand the ball off our dump it down on a short throw without attracting David to the football like a moth to a lantern.  During Atlanta's first four drives of the game, David racked up a stunning nine solo tackles, three of them for losses.

“He’s playing at a very high level, very productive," said Head Coach Greg Schiano.  "The last game was one of the more productive games we’ve had around here at linebacker, certainly in my time here.”

Now, high tackle totals can be misleading, because an opposing offense that sustains a lot of drives is going to create a lot of tackle opportunities, some of them at the ends of very successful plays.  But Atlanta's offense ran only 44 plays in the entire game, the lowest total by a Tampa Bay opponent since a 2008 game against Seattle (39 plays).  Yes, the Falcons hit some big plays downfield – a separate problem that obviously must be addressed – but David racked up his 10 tackles, his stops in the backfield and his one pass defensed (for good measure) on a relatively low number of opportunities.

-- LB Lavonte David had nine tackles on Atlanta's first four drives Sunday
And when he was there, the play went nowhere.  These weren't "chase" tackles 15 yards past the line of scrimmage; many of them were "blow up the play before it can happen" tackles.  Here's what happened on each of the 11 plays on which David either made the tackle or knocked down the pass:

1. Jacquizz Rodgers, run over right guard, -4 yards (on first-and-10)
2. Harry Douglas, pass short left, 4 yards (on second-and-14)
3. Darius Johnson, pass short middle, 12 yards (on third-and-20)
4. Rodgers, pass short right, 2 yards (on first-and-10)
5. Jason Snelling, run over left tackle, -1 yards (on first-and-10)
6. Rodgers, run over left tackle, 3 yards (on first-and-10)
7. Rodgers, pass short left, 8 yards (on second-and-seven)
8. Rodgers, pass short left, 4 yards (on first-and-10)
9. Snelling, run over left guard, -2 yards (on first-and-goal)
10. Incomplete pass intended for Rogers (on third-and-five)
11. Rodgers, run around right end, 7 yards (on third-and-17)

Given the down and distance, only one of those 11 plays – the eight-yard catch by Rodgers – could be considered an unequivocal success for the offense.  Rodgers did gain four yards on one first-down run, and that's generally considered an offensive success, but that's it for the check marks in Atlanta's column.  David prevailed in the other nine.  As the aforementioned folks at Pro Football Focus put it: "David was legitimately making plays pretty much every time he was involved."

That's something David's coaches and teammates have come to expect in the one-and-a-half seasons since he was taken early in the second round of the 2012 draft.

“Lavonte’s always played at a Pro Bowl level," said Mason Foster, David's running mate at middle linebacker.  "Look at his tape last year, he was always playing at a high level, making a lot of plays, and that’s just what he does. He’s built for that position, that spot. He’s running people down, running receivers down, he just makes a lot of plays for us. I love to watch him play.”

David did indeed set the bar high for himself as a rookie, when he stepped in immediately as the weakside starter and led the team with 139 tackles while adding two sacks, one interception, five passes defensed and an amazing 20 tackles for loss.  Those 20 TFLs ranked third in the entire NFL behind Houston's J.J. Watt and Denver's Von Miller – the two primary Defensive Player of the Year candidates – and were the second-best total ever for an NFL rookie.

Last seaon, David's name was in the discussion when the topic turned to Defensive Rookie of the Year.  This season – as Schiano and David obviously believe – it should be in the discussion when the topic of the Pro Bowl comes up.

Look at his tape last year, he was always playing at a high level, making a lot of plays, and that’s just what he does. He’s built for that position
-- LB Mason Foster

Will David make what seems like an inevitable and eventual trip to the NFL all-star game this winter?  Certainly, the Buccaneers' win-loss record will hurt his cause, though the 2-14 Kansas City Chiefs sent five players to the Pro Bowl last year.  David's status as a second-year player who will only be making his second appearance in a prime-time NFL game this Thursday night won't help his national profile, either.  Those who believe David is already a Pro Bowl-caliber player will have to hope that the league's players, coaches and fans have seen enough of him to get the same impression.

The good news: The numbers are there.  After ranking second in the NFL in solo tackles in 2012, David is in the top 20 once again.  And among those top 20 league tacklers, he is the leader with 4.0 sacks.  David's stat line is already robust through just six games: 47 tackles (37 solo), nine tackles for loss, four sacks for 24.5 yards, seven quarterback hits, one interception and five passes defensed.  Of those nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage, 6.5 of them were considered "stuffs" on running plays.  Only two players have more so far this season: Watt (9.5) and Chicago's Lance Briggs (9.0).

David started the season on a sack splurge, getting three in the Bucs' first three games.  Over the last two outings, he has piled up numbers in other categories – 19 tackles, four tackles for loss, two quarterback hits.  If he can continue that run on Thursday night against Carolina, with the rest of the league watching, David could inch closer to the Pro Bowl berth for which he seems so deserving.

(Note: Pro Bowl balloting on NFL.com has begun.  Click here to cast your votes right here on Buccaneers.com.)