There are some guys who just don’t deserve to fall on draft day. It seems like anyone who has ever watched some film on a guy, knows he’s a bona fide stud, yet he still finds a way to take a tumble. Now, I’m going to take the injury factor out of consideration here. There’s just too much information we could never possibly know about this, and it’s often a valid reason for a player falling. Another potential reason for a fall is character issues, but that’s a controversial issue even amongst arm chair GMs, and not one worthy of getting in to in this article.
However, there are two other cases that seem to occur too frequently, and it results in some really good players sliding down boards. One of these reasons is the “small” misnomer. It’s true that some guys just don’t have the size to play like they did in college, but too often I think “small” gets mistaken with short. Compact frames can often generate a lot of power (see players like Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Harrison, etc.), and in some cases can be beneficial, or contribute to a player’s style. A second reason is that of positional value. To me, there are two things that make positional value a silly concept. One, the league works very much in a cyclical manner. Something that’s out of vogue today could be very much in demand tomorrow. Secondly, playmakers make plays. It’s the coaches’ job to maximize the value of the player by putting him in a position to succeed, but a true player always finds a way to make his presence felt regardless . Both of these cases seem to apply to Tampa Bay Buccaneers OLB Lavonte David.
Now, did Lavonte David take some kind of horrific slide? No, he was picked 58th overall. However, if you believe that’s where his play and his value should have had him pegged, well, I’d certainly disagree with you. I rated him as the 11th best player in the class, ahead of fellow linebacker prospect Luke Kuechly. Not only did David display the ability to potentially play multiple different linebacker spots, but he also showed a tremendous array of skills while at Nebraska. In scouting David, one of the most prevalent things I noticed was his explosiveness. Going back to his compact frame (and muscular lower half, despite being thin up top) generating power, David consistently rocketed out of his stance, kept his momentum moving forward, and really popped into contact as a tackler. It goes hand in hand with his explosiveness, but there was also his tremendous speed. While seeing speed on tape can be obvious, I think it’s fair to say that his speed was just flat out different than another fast OLB prospect, UNC’s Zach Brown. Unlike Brown, Lavonte really seemed to understand concepts of leverage and angles in pursuit. In addition to this, Brown wanted to use his speed to run around blockers. Lavonte wanted to use his speed to run through blockers. If there was a hole to be found in David’s game, it was his occasional difficulty in disengaging from blocks. I found his play to be very reminiscent of 2010 1st round OLB Sean Weatherspoon.
For a kid that’s too small and is playing a devalued position, David is looking quite good and playing an integral role in the Tampa Bay defense. In re-watching the game against the Kansas City Chiefs, you can see more than a few examples of his stellar play. The first one comes on a quick screen to WR Dexter McCluster. David is circled in the red, and the Chiefs offensive lineman (the LG) is circled in the white.
While the guard didn’t take the optimal route to block David, he should still be able to cut him off and execute the block. However, due to David’s explosiveness out of his stance and closing speed, the result will be David beating the blocker to the spot, and hitting McCluster for no gain.
Another example comes on this Shaun Draughn run. As you can see from the picture, there’s a lane to run through. There is a safety present at the top of the picture, but the play should result in at least a solid chunk gain, providing the safety can make the open field tackle. In this position, David would normally be in grave danger of being engulfed or being pushed to the ground by the offensive lineman.
However, David does several things right to prevent this from happening. First, he gains leverage by getting his right arm on the offensive lineman to prevent the blocker from getting a solid grasp of him. After this initial win, David uses his compact build to knife down low where the lineman struggles to bend and reach him. Finally, David is able to use his short area quickness to make sure Draughn doesn’t beat him through the hole. What could have been a big play is simply mitigated to a 2 yard gain.
There are moments when you are watching tape, and you just say, “Wow”. Normally this will come off an electrifying catch, a big sack, an impressive INT, etc. One of my wow moments for David during this game was not of that variety however. Pictured below is one that caught my eye:
Now, it doesn’t look like anything special as of now. David lost his balance a bit when he got hit in pursuit and started in this compromised position about even with Charles. What transpired after is what makes David a special player.
Now, Charles had to make a slight cut in his run, but we also saw the starting position of Lavonte. The fact that he was able to chase down one of the most explosive backs in the league in order to save a potential touchdown is something that truly impressed me.
Not only was this article done in order to examine the play of Lavonte David, who appears to be flourishing, but it was also done to serve as a bit of a reminder. Short doesn’t equal small. Playmakers make plays. Lavonte David is a playmaker. In fact, I didn’t even discuss it in this article, because I wanted to talk about David in more “typical” situations, but in a great example of a coach putting his player in a position to succeed, David was sent on a run blitz in which his timing and speed were simply too much for the Chiefs OL to handle, and he was able to drop Jamaal Charles for a 5 yard loss. Simply put, players like Lavonte David shouldn’t be falling, because it’s going to make a lot of teams feel really dumb.
Just in case.