Many experts say that Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly straight stole Rookie Defensive Player of the Year away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte Davidlast season. Part of this could have resulted from draft bias — Kuechly went early first compared to David’s late second-round selection — and Kuechly’s high tackle total also probably helps him in these award voting processes.
Maybe Kuechly also gets the middle linebacker bias against weakside man David, though Kuechly spent the first few games at weakside while the Bucs’ weakside is far more critical in use that its strongside backer. Either way, Kuechly finished ranked 8th in Pro Football Focus’ 2012 inside linebacker grading while David finished fifth among 4-3 outside backers. In other words, both rather deserving candidates.
NFL Network’s Chris Wesseling compiled some stats that bode well for David and this Bucs defense as a whole going forward, as the front-seven made up somewhat for Tampa’s last-ranked pass defense with the league’s top run defense in 2012.
“The Bucs made the unprecedented turnaround from last in the league in run defense in 2011 to first in 2012 behind David’s 20 tackles for loss — the second-most by a rookie since the NFL began tracking the statistic in 2000,” wrote Wesseling. “In fact, only J.J. Watt (39) and Von Miller (28) finished with more tackles for loss among all defensive players. David also finished first among all 4-3 outside linebackers in stops (70) and tackles (122) and second to Miller in quarterback hurries (14), according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics.”
Along with the likes of Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers, Tampa possesses an intriguing young front-seven as they continue to find their stride in Bucs camp.