We’ve written the past two days about ESPN’s ongoing survey of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to rank the top 10 players in the NFL at each position. Wednesday’s installment in the series ranked the league’s best linebackers, where Devin White and Lavonte David were both honored. The Bucs duo was recognized with a pair of top five rankings, including White earning the No. 1 spot.
“He’s a missile,” a high-ranking NFL official said. “So athletic and strong while doing whatever he wants.”
White, who continues to be one of the more polarizing players in the league, was recognized by NFL personnel and players as the game’s best linebacker. That is high praise for a player who wasn’t even ranked in ESPN’s survey a year ago. Although he struggled in coverage throughout the regular season, White elevated his game in the playoffs and grabbed a pair of interceptions. His performance against the Saints in the divisional round was one of the best I’ve ever seen by a linebacker.
Still, it’s humorous to watch the range of opinions on White. Pro Football Focus has routinely graded White much lower than consensus, recently listing him as the 25th best linebacker in the league entering the 2021 season. Contrast that with the results of ESPN’s survey ranking White as the best, and you have a discrepancy that doesn’t exist for most players.
The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. White is certainly not the best linebacker in the NFL right now, but after next season he may be. His immense talent and strong close to the 2020 season should have his stock trending up entering the year. Even if White doesn’t jump to No. 1 at his position, ranking him 25th is a stretch. I think he’ll be top five, easily.
David Still Elite
For now, David is still the best linebacker on the Bucs, although ESPN’s survey doesn’t agree. David still received exceptional praise, finishing fifth in the rankings. The only linebackers ranked above David were White, Fred Warner, Bobby Wagner and Darius Leonard.
“He’s still the bell cow of the [Bucs] defense,” an NFC personnel evaluator said. “Not the athlete he once was but he can still move. He’s the guy who’s never got enough due.”
“Zero drop-off with him. He just plays with Devin White, who was running around getting 15 tackles a game in the playoffs,” an NFC exec said. “But Lavonte can do whatever you need — run through the hole, make a play in the gap, a great blitzer and can cover.”
The Bucs are blessed to have two of the NFL’s elite linebackers, regardless of how you rank them. It’s one of the thinnest positions in the league, and Tampa Bay is hoarding half the premier talent.
On Monday and Tuesday’s rankings, Bucs DT Vita Vea slotted ninth among defensive tackles, while Shaq Barrett was just outside the top 10 edge rushers. ESPN’s series continues with cornerbacks tomorrow.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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