Four of our top five outside linebackers in a 4-3 scheme have three or fewer seasons of experience.
While outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense often get more recognition – just look at last year’s Pro Bowlers – because they are asked to blitz more often, there is plenty of talent available at outside linebacker in 4-3 schemes these days.
The thing that stands out most with our top-five list is the youth at the position. Our leader has only three years of experience and there are two rookies from 2014 on the list, which bodes very well for the future of the position for years to come.
In only three seasons, David has become a force in the Buccaneers’ 4-3 defense. Truth be told, he was an impact player from the outset. Last year, he had a career-high 146 tackles, including 101 solo (only two linebackers had more than 100 solo), one sack, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. All that came despite missing two games. He is strong defending the run (although he was credited with 21 missed tackles by Pro Football Focus) and in pass coverage. His range and speed make him dangerous in all aspects of defense.
Collins was more of a do-it-all outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense and one of the top tacklers in that scheme. He had 116 tackles, four sacks, five passes defenses, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and two recovered, despite playing with a hip injury late in the season. He is decent in coverage but excels in stopping the run and getting to the quarterback on blitzes, when he had 20 quarterback hurries and four sacks. He also had four forced fumbles, three passes defensed and two interceptions in 15 games played.
With one of the best defensive lines in front of him in 2014, Levy helped lead the Lions to the No. 2 overall defensive ranking and No. 1 against the run. He had 151 tackles, including a league-leading 117 solo and a safety, 2½ sacks, five passes defensed and one interception. He has been improving his production each of the last three seasons, but now the question is how he will perform without Ndamukong Suh
and Nick Fairley
in front of him. Getting Haloti Ngata
is a nice consolation prize.
Mack is one of two rookies in 2014 to make our top five for outside linebackers in a 4-3 defense in 2015. In a below-average defense in Oakland, Mack was a standout. He played more than 1,000 snaps and was a force against the run, earning Pro Football Focus’ top grade in that area, finishing the season with 76 tackles, including 59 solo. He was also impressive rushing the quarterback with four sacks and 40 quarterback hurries. If he isn’t considered elite yet, he will be soon.
Like Mack, Barr lived up to his first-round draft billing. And, like Mack, Barr’s ability to rush the passer is one of his stronger suits, even if that isn’t called for as much by outside linebackers in a 4-3 defense as it is in a 3-4. Barr missed four games due to a knee injury that caused him to finish the season on injured reserve, but he still had 70 tackles, including 55 solo, four sacks, and was credited with 11 quarterback hurries. He still needs some work in pass coverage, but with a full season he could jump to Pro Bowl status in 2015.
Thomas Davis, Dont’a Hightower, Vincent Rey.
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