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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

State of the Bucs: Inside Linebackers

Taking a position by position look at the Buccaneers heading into the 2021 season, continuing with inside linebackers.

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 21, 2021 - Inside Linebacker Devin White #45 and Inside Linebacker Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during practice at AdventHealth Training Center. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 21, 2021 - Inside Linebacker Devin White #45 and Inside Linebacker Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during practice at AdventHealth Training Center. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Position Group: Inside linebackers

Players (as of Feb. 7): Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter, Deone Bucannon, Jack Cichy (IR)

2020 Evaluation: The Bucs have the best linebacker duo in the league. Yes, I said it. And you can't even try to argue with me, though neither Lavonte David nor Devin White made the Pro Bowl or All-Pro. Biggest snub of the year but they got a Lombardi out of it, which is obviously much better. David and White can directly claim it too after the dominating defensive performance the defense put up against the league's number one offense, not allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to even score a touchdown in the biggest game of the season.

The pair led the team in tackles for loss, accounting for 27 of the team's total of 91. They combined for 257 total tackles between them, too.

They made plays on the ball, too. White and David had 10 passes defensed between the two of them, along with an interception (by David), four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in the regular season. David's two fumble recoveries tied for second in the NFC and third in the NFL.

White's team-leading 97 solo tackles ranked second in the NFC and third in the NFL. His 15 tackles for loss were tied for third in the league and he finished with the second-most sacks on the team behind only Jason Pierre-Paul. White had a ridiculous 9.0 sacks as an inside linebacker, along with 16 quarterback hits – both career highs. White had not one but two games with 3.0 sacks, taking Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan down three times apiece on the road. White may not have gotten his hands on a ball in the regular season but in the playoffs – he did it twice. He missed the Wild Card round on the reserve/COVID-19 list but came back in New Orleans for the Divisional Round like a bat out of hell. He amassed 10 tackles, one for loss and nabbed himself an interception off quarterback Drew Brees in perhaps his last game ever to clinch the Bucs' victory. White then had the cherry on top in the Super Bowl, too. It wasn't necessarily a game-sealing play since the Bucs had dominated all evening but it was a nice little sendoff as White picked off Patrick Mahomes in the fourth quarter.

While White was out against Washington, David stepped into his pass-rushing role and got himself a sack in the postseason on the surprisingly elusive Taylor Heinicke. David was also crucial, as he always is, against the run. Overall, NFL Next Gen Stats estimates that David accounted for 56 hustle stops since 2017, which is 12 more than any other linebacker in the league. Hustle stops are defined as tackles where the defender covers 20 yards of in-play distance to prevent the opposing offense of gaining a successful play. Over the last two seasons, David excelled in coverage as well, ranking third by Next Gen Stats metrics in coverage success rate with 61.5%. He's also second-best in that span in preventing yards after the catch, allowing opposing receivers an average of 3.1 yards after the catch per reception. In the Super Bowl, David allowed just 60 yards on 13 targets and held Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce to just 23 yards on five targets when he was the nearest defender. So, while David's stats show up on the box score, just how effective David is when he's on the field isn't even close to being quantified.

2021 Outlook: Since White is incredibly only in his second season, he's still got a few years on his contract and room for development – especially in the pass rush. He'll also have the best coverage linebacker to continue to learn from with David inking a two-year extension that keeps him a Buccaneer (thank God) for the foreseeable future. The best linebacker tandem will continue its dominance into 2021 and these are things you just absolutely love to see.

The Bucs will have to make some decisions further down the depth chart with Kevin Minter, Jack Cichy and Deone Bucannon all becoming free agents next week. Minter is crucial as a backup, having the most experience in Bowles' system and filled in admirably as needed throughout the season – especially against Washington when White was out. He had six tackles in the game and broke up a pass.

Should some of those guys not be back though, the Bucs could target the position in the draft and in fact, some pundits have mocked Missouri's Nick Bolton to the Bucs in a few mocks that we've seen. That may have been driven by the possibility David didn't return, though. We now know that not to be a possibility any longer so how that impacts the importance the Bucs place on the position remains to be seen.

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