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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Film Archives: Top 10 Plays of Lavonte David's Prolific Career 

A trip down memory lane at some of Lavonte David’s most memorable career achievements on the gridiron

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Legendary Buccaneer, Lavonte David, will remain in Tampa Bay for the 2023 season. The Bucs have agreed to terms with David on a one-year deal. Originally drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, David has become not only one of the most accomplished players in the franchise's history but has cemented his status as one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL.

"Everybody knew I wanted to be a Buccaneer throughout my whole career, and I wouldn't rather be [any] other place," David described. "I'm glad I'm back, I'm glad we [were] able to get everything tuned out. I'm happy to be back. I feel like I've still got some good football left to play in me. Hopefully I'm going to finish it out as a Buccaneer."

During his illustrious 11-year career in Tampa Bay, David has achieved both consistency and longevity – a rarity in the league. Overall, David has accumulated 1,346 tackles, 29.0 sacks, 143 tackles for loss, 62 quarterback hits, 12 interceptions, 59 passes defensed, 27 forced fumbles and 18 fumble recoveries. As one of the NFL's best-kept secrets for the previous decade, David is one of two players in league history with 1,000 tackles, 20.0 sacks and 10 interceptions through eight career seasons, joining Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. He has amassed the most solo tackles in the NFL since his arrival in 2012 with 947 and a league-high 18 fumble recoveries during that span. David has played in and started 166 regular-season games. He ranks fourth in franchise history in starts – behind only Barber, Brooks and Gruber – and fifth in games played.

He continued his reign of dominance in 2022, posting 124 combined tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and five passes defensed in 2022. In the Wild Card Round against the Cowboys, David led the team with 14 tackles. Last season, David's 88.5 coverage grade per PFF ranked second among off-ball linebackers. He is quick in making his run/pass keys and displays rare pursuit in tracking the football. He is consistently around the football and possesses the hip fluidity to create positive angles, impacting the short-to-intermediate route tree. Whether punching the ball out with textbook precision, outpacing a rusher to the flat or blowing up a screen pass, David makes his presence felt.

In a reminiscent tour down memory lane, let's break down David's skillset through some of his most memorable plays on turf:

1) October 20, 2013: Bucs vs Falcons

On the first defensive play following kickoff, David made a play in the backfield on an inside run stunt versus the rival Atlanta Falcons. David attacked the line of scrimmage off the snap and out-leveraged the center, who was in a zone-blocking technique up front. This provided David an advantage and allowed him to plow through the A-gap, continuing his destructive path. The fullback tried to redirect and chip David, but No. 54 ran through the attempted block and brought down Falcons' running back Jacquizz Rodgers before he could accelerate.

2) December 1, 2013: Bucs vs Panthers

This play is an example of David's route recognition. In facing Cam Newton and the Panthers, the Bucs defense was aligned in a two-high shell. Johnthan Banks broke outside to cover Steve Smith on a corner route and David was then tasked with playing the dig route. Using eye discipline and watching the receiver's hips, David did not overrun at the stem and was able to secure inside leverage. That maneuver prevented the receiver from breaking back towards the middle of the field and David was in prime position to intercept Cam Newton. Newton did not get his feet set and David reaped the reward. With rare read-and-react skills, David made a play on the ball.

3) November 22, 2015: Bucs vs Eagles

Up 38-17 in the fourth quarter, David secured the victory for the Bucs in hostile territory. This play was a result of David's film study and preparation on the opponent. Eagles' quarterback Mark Sanchez went to throw a screen to Daren Sproles, but David was already a step ahead. He immediately made a break downhill for the football following the snap and intercepted the pass intended for Sproles. David returned it 20 yards for the touchdown, providing Tampa Bay with a comfortable 45-17 lead. David perfectly read the quarterback's eyes and drove on the throw.

4) January 3, 2016: Bucs vs Panthers

In the third quarter, David delivered a hammer. Down 31-10, the Bucs desperately needed a momentum shift. Prior to the snap, it appeared the Bucs were in Cover Two with two safeties aligned deep, then post-snap, Tampa Bay transitioned to Cover One. Cam Newton passed the ball to Brenton Bersin on a slant but, the Panthers did not account for David's sideline-to-sideline range. David, who was on the opposite side of the field when Bersin caught the ball, raced across the field and made an open-field tackle on Bersin, punching the ball out in the process. The explosive lateral playmaker fired towards the ball with an understanding of leverage and spacing to not only achieve an effective pursuit angle, but one that put him in prime position to knock the ball out once he arrived. David then recovered the fumble – his second fumble recovery of the day – spearheading the team's defensive surge.

5) October 22, 2017: Bucs vs Bills

Tied at 20 in the fourth quarter, David gave the Bucs a boost. The Bills dialed up a wide-zone run, with both the guard and tackle serving as pullers, along with fullback Patrick DiMarco as the lead blocker. As LeSean McCoy took the handoff and made a cut-back inside, David was there to meet him at the hole after beating DiMarco's attempted chip block. Bucs' defensive end Chris Baker got a hand on McCoy as he passed to try and limit the ball carrier, which left McCoy exposed in a vulnerable position with one arm off the ball. David immediately took advantage, punching the ball out of McCoy's hands as he fell to the ground. David recovered the loose ball, putting the team's offense back on the field. His aggressive approach provided a defensive spark and showcased his mastered craft of forcing fumbles.

6) September 8, 2019: Bucs vs 49ers

For the first time in David's career, he played in a 3-4 alignment during the 2019 season, which allowed him to flow fast and scrape behind the defensive line. From second-and-10, the 49ers lined up in an I formation. Prior to the snap, the fullback motioned to the left as the lead blocker for the running back, Matt Breida. Devin White chipped the fullback in space and controlled at the point of attack, allowing David to make an outstanding tackle. David chased down Breida through the open gap as the play flowed to the sideline and brought him down in the backfield for a loss of two yards. The play set up third-and-12 for San Francisco, as David's lateral range was on full display.

7) September 22, 2019: Bucs vs Giants

With under two minutes to go in the fourth, the Giants desperately needed a touchdown. On third down, David lined up across from Evan Engram at the line of scrimmage. Engram ran a rub route, but David played it perfectly with tight coverage on the tight end. David was not distracted by traffic and did not hit the intended target, instead, he kept his eyes on the football. David got his hand up and batted down the pass, setting up fourth down for New York. David is known for his elite coverage skills and that play could be used as an instructional, highlight tool for linebackers across the NFL. Few players at the position could have succeeded on that play in single coverage but David fluidly flipped his hips and disrupted the catch, saving a touchdown.

8) September 29, 2019: Bucs vs Rams

During the second quarter, David energized the defense. In a Todd Bowles' disguise, David walked up to the line of scrimmage in an apparent blitz. After the snap, David bailed and dropped back as Jordan Whitehead was sent on a blitz. Rams' quarterback Jared Goff never saw the exchange and threw the ball in the direction of David, who made a leaping grab and returned it 26 yards. As soon as David dropped back, he kept his eyes glued on the quarterback and reacted, undercutting the receiver who broke inside at the stem.

9) October 18, 2020: Bucs vs Packers

On third-and-short, Todd Bowles dialed up a unique pressure package for Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Bowles placed David and Devin White at the line of scrimmage on the edges and dropped Shaq Barrett at the Mike linebacker spot. After the snap, David blitzed off the weak side like a missile. Running back Jamaal Williams tried to slow David's pursuit but was unprepared for his speed rush. The Bucs' defender quickly bypassed the attempted-tackle and dropped Rodgers in the backfield, forcing a Packers' punt. White is typically the focal point of pressure packages but on that particular play, David reminded spectators of his closing burst.

10) February 7, 2021: Super Bowl LV vs Chiefs

This is technically two individual plays by David but given the nature of the pass breakups and the venue, I combined them into a singular section. David has become invariably linked to his ability in coverage, establishing himself as one of the most renowned off-ball linebackers in the modern era of the NFL. His performance against Travis Kelce in Super Bowl LV solidified his place atop the hierarchy. Although Kelce finished the game with a stellar performance on paper – 10 receptions for 133 yards – David took away the zone buster. No. 54 held Kelce to 23 yards on 5 targets as the nearest defender per Next Gen Stats, neutralizing the threat and Patrick Mahomes' go-to target over the middle of the field.

11:38. On third down, the Bucs doubled Tyreek Hill, leaving David in a one-on-one with Kelce. The Chiefs motioned Kelce inside to the slot prior to the snap, trying to tip the Bucs' hand on coverage. David shadowed him inside and blanketed Kelce on the route. Initially, Kelce tried to generate separation with a quick break to the outside but slipped in the process. He got up and moved towards the sideline, then turned his hips back towards Mahomes and ran across the middle of the field in an attempt to box out David. The Bucs' longtime defender ate the cushion and disrupted the catch window, knocking the ball down. That timely play stalled the Chiefs' drive and put Tom Brady and co. back on the field.

1:18. On first down, David was paired against Kelce, once again. After the snap, instead of backing up off Kelce's release and maintaining a trail position to break off his backpedal, David stayed flat-footed, got his hands on the tight end, and challenged Kelce off the line of scrimmage to disrupt the tempo. Once Kelce broke inside, David stayed in his hip pocket and prevented Kelce from making the catch when the ball arrived. David ensured that Kelce was not a factor in Super Bowl 55, denying one of the top-tier tight ends in the league. The real essence of the Bucs' victory can be summarized by the number nine – the points scored by the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. David played an integral role in erasing one of the Chiefs' most lethal threats on the grand stage. The Bucs played a lot of shell coverage to take away the explosive plays over the top and used the linebackers to patrol the underneath passes. The very strategy itself is a testament to David's coverage ability and overall impact on the field.

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