We have been writing about the last two days ESPN’s ongoing investigation of more than 50 league leaders, coaches, scouts and players to rank the top 10 players in the NFL at each position. Wednesday’s rate in the series ranked the league’s best linebackers, with Devin White and Lavonte David both honored. The Bucs duo were recognized with a pair of top five rankings, including white, who earned No. 1.
“He’s a missile,” said a senior NFL official. “So athletic and strong while doing what he wants.”
White, who remains one of the more polarizing players in the league, was recognized by NFL staff and players as the game’s best linebacker. That’s high praise for a player who was not even ranked in ESPN’s survey a year ago. Although he fought in the cover throughout the regular season, White raised his game in the playoffs and grabbed a few interceptions. His performance against the Saints in the division round was one of the best I have ever seen of a linebacker.
Still, it’s humorous to see range of opinions about white. Pro Football Focus has routinely ranked White much lower than consensus and recently listed him as the 25th best linebacker in the league entering the 2021 season. Compare that to the results of ESPN’s survey ranking White as the best, and you have a discrepancy that does not exist for most players.
The truth is, as always, somewhere in between. White is certainly not the best linebacker in the NFL right now, but after next season he may be. His enormous talent and strong close to the 2020 season should have his share on the way into the year. Although White does not jump to No. 1 in his position, it is a stretch to rank him as 25. I think he will easily be five.
David Still Elite
For now, David is still the best linebacker at the Bucs, though ESPN’s survey does not agree. David still received outstanding praise and finished as fifth on the rankings. The only linebackers ranked above David were White, Fred Warner, Bobby Wagner and Darius Leonard.
“He’s still Bell’s Cow of the [Bucs] defense, ”said an NFC personnel evaluator. “Not the athlete he once was, but he can still move. He’s the guy who’s never had enough due. ”
Zero drop-off with him. He just plays with Devin White, who ran around and got 15 tackles a game in the playoffs, ”said an NFC director. “But Lavonte can do whatever you need – run through the hole, make a play in the gap, a big blitzer and can cover.”
The Bucs are blessed to have two of the NFL’s elite linebackers, no matter how you rank them. It is one of the thinnest positions in the league, and Tampa Bay provides half of the leading talent.
On Monday and Tuesday, Buc’s DT Vita Vea placed ninth among defensive tackles, while Shaq Barrett was just outside the top 10 edge rushers. ESPN’s series continues with cornerbacks tomorrow.