The Elite Of The Elite Linebackers

November 13, 2011; Cleveland, OH, USA; St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (55) drags Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy (12) out of bounds in the fourth quarter at Cleveland Browns Stadium. St. Louis won 13-12. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

It is an utter travesty and clear evidence in the failure of the voting system that James Laurinaitis has been deprived of a Pro Bowl appearance. There are a number of reasons that may have contributed to this disrespect, whether is be the lack of media coverage that the Rams receive, the lack of talent around him that has consistently ranked the Rams defense in the lower tier of the league, or the presence of Patrick Willis in the same conference hogging all the publicity. Whatever the reasoning may be, Laurinaitis has received little attention on the national stage for his production and efficiency. But how can you truly gauge efficiency? Tackles, sacks, and pass deflection can hold a light to the true picture of efficiency, but in order to see the whole picture you need a much more detailed evaluation.

Pro Football Focus recently compiled a massive three-year database of statistics, analyzing individual players on anything from the amount of pressures a running back has given up to the average number of yards per route ran by a particular wide receiver. Included in that, of course, is some extremely useful information on tackling; specifically, total tackles, missed tackles totals, and tackle efficiency for all linebackers over the past 3 years.

In terms of overall tackles, Laurinaitis ranks 5th among all linebackers, and, more importantly, 1st in the NFC West. Laurinaitis has amassed 346 total tackles, a combination of 299 solo tackles and 47 assisted tackles. Other notable names within the Top 10 are London Fletcher with 389 tackles (1st), Patrick Willis with 343 (6th), and Ray Lewis with 309 (9th).

On the other side of the coin, PFF also reveals the linebackers most likely to have their tackles broken off, where they listed the players with the most missed tackles over the past three years. Included in the list are OLB Lance Briggs with 38 missed tackles (1st), who made the Pro Bowl roster as a starter in 2009, and MLB London Fletcher with 32 missed tackles (6th), who made the Pro Bowl in both 2010 and 2011. Granted, the more attempted you have at tackles, the  greater your chances of missing, but a Pro Bowl caliber player should not be on this list. Other notable payers on this list, possibly of interest to the Rams, are current OLB Rocky McIntosh (T-8) and ex-Ram MLB Will Witherspoon (T-10).

Now for the real analysis, the real judgement of efficiency. Raw numbers are a poor indicator of actual performance, since all statistics have to be taken within a greater, more encompassing context. For context, you need a variety of numerical values formulated to give a more accurate assessment of the desired variable. PFF combines the key elements of  ”tackling” to create their formula. Their equation for efficiency is pretty straightforward:

In more basic terms, it is the number of times a player attempted to tackle an opposing runner over the number of times they failed to bring the carrier down.  This puts “tackling” in context, since attempts will be counterbalanced through the weight put on missing tackles. The players at the high end of this list are those who maximize every opportunity to tackle a ball carrier, and very rarely make a mistake. Of the Top 10 players listed in total tackles, only three of those players are in Top 10 in tackling efficiency (TE), which goes to show that raw numbers do not tell the whole picture. Those three include: Patrick Willis with a 25.5 TE (2nd), Jerod Mayo with a 20.0 TE (8th), and…  James Laurinaitis with a 22.6 TE (6th).

Not only does Laurinaitis put up the numbers through raw totals, but he supports those numbers with efficiency in tackling, something that the Rams linebacking core has not had in the recent future. How a Pro Bowl spot has eluded Laurinaitis to this point is beyond comprehension, but at the end of the day, regardless of his lack of hardware, the St. Louis Rams have one of the greatest linebackers in the NFL as their defensive signal caller. Lets hope we can get him that contract soon and keep him in the Blue and Gold for a long, long time.

Topics: James Laurinaitis, Patrick Willis, St. Louis Rams

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