The NFL started officially tracking tackles for loss with its in-stadium stat-keeping process in 2000, giving analysts another way to evaluate defenders in addition to tackles, sacks and interceptions. Since that time, few players have racked up the TFLs as rapidly as Tampa Bay's Lavonte David in 2012, and only one rookie has done better.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell made an immediate splash as a rookie in 2001, earning a Pro Bowl berth with an 83-tackle, nine-sack campaign. He was chosen as the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press, surely in no small part due to his whopping 23 tackles for loss, which led all NFL players, not just rookies.
After that, David's 20-TFL season in 2012 is the best on record for a rookie. Here are the top 10:
ROOKIE TACKLE FOR LOSS LEADERS (2000-2012)
- LB Kendrell Bell (PIT)
2. LB Lavonte David (TB)
3t. DE Dwight Freeney (IND)
3t. LB Von Miller (DEN)
- LB Clay Matthews (GB)
6t. DE Courtney Brown (CLE)
6t. LB Brian Urlacher (CHI)
6t. LB Daryl Washington (ARI)
9t. LB DeMarcus Ware (DAL)
9t. DT Kevin Williams (MIN)
Statistically, sacks are a subset of tackles for loss – that is, every sack a player gets also counts as one tackle for loss – so it's not surprising to see the above list dominated by pass-rushers. David is something of an anomaly on the list in that almost all of his TFLs came on running plays (he did have two sacks). That's not to say that high TFL numbers driven by high sack totals are less important or legitimate, as sacks are obviously very impactful plays. It simply suggests that David was one of the main reasons that the Buccaneers made their unprecedented turnaround from 32nd against the run in 2011 to first in 2012.
Could David follow Bell as a Defensive Rookie of the Year pick? Even in a year loaded with strong candidates, especially at the linebacker position, it can't be ignored. Carolina's Luke Kuechly had more overall tackles – an NFL-leading 164 – but was well down the TFL list at 12. Carolina's Bobby Wagner matched David with 139 tackles, as they tied for seventh in the NFL, to go with nine tackles for loss. Cornerbacks Casey Hayward in Green Bay and Janoris Jenkins in St. Louis are also considered prime candidates for the award.
TFL's alone won't decide the award, but David was definitely among the top performers in the entire NFL in that category. In fact, there were two Buccaneers in the top five, a list that begins with the two players most likely to win this year's overall NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
2012 NFL TACKLE FOR LOSS LEADERS
- DT J.J. Watt (HOU)
- LB Von Miller (DEN)
- LB Lavonte David (TB)
4t. DE Michael Bennett (TB)
4t. LB Aldon Smith (SF)