Reason #1: Lavonte David’s ability to play in pass coverage
One thing that sets the great linebackers apart from the good linebackers is their ability to cover receivers, and this just so happens to be one of Lavonte David’s best qualities. He is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, and he is the best one on the Buccaneers.
As great as Devin White is, there were many times throughout the 2020 season where he got lost in coverage. Now granted, White has speed, and it’s because of this speed that he covered up a lot of his mistakes in pass coverage. This was not a problem with Lavonte David. This is not to say that David never missed an assignment, but more often than not, he was where he was supposed to be.
Part of being a linebacker in coverage means that they have to guard the league’s top receivers. This includes slot receivers, receivers who come across the middle of the field on slant routes, and of course, tight ends. Throughout his career, David has had to cover receivers like Julio Jones, Greg Olsen, Julian Edelman, Michael Thomas, and Travis Kelce.
In 2020, David had a total of six pass deflections, which led all Buccaneers’ linebackers. Jason Pierre-Paul also had six pass deflections and while he is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart, for most of the year he was lined up as an edge rusher. It should be noted that Pierre-Paul has long arms and has made a career out of batting down balls, so David is in good company.
Linebackers aren’t graded by their ability to break up passes. Sure, it’s a good quality to have, but it’s not considered necessary… Until it’s the Super Bowl and the opposing team has the best tight end in the league and that team likes to send named tight end over the middle of the field. Then, yeah, it’s necessary to have a linebacker that can play the pass well. Sound familiar?
In the playoffs, David had four pass deflections and was an integral part of their playoff success. He also had 26 total tackles and he played in every single defensive snap throughout the entire playoffs.
In Super Bowl 55, David’s assignment was to cover Travis Kelce all night long and to ensure that Kelce wasn’t a factor. Lavonte David completed that assignment and was awarded an A for his efforts. At halftime, Kelce only had five catches for 47 yards and zero touchdowns.
In the third quarter, Kelce picked up an additional 25 yards, which put him at 72 receiving yards heading into the fourth. The defense started to let up a little bit because of how bad they were blowing the Chiefs out, and Kelce eventually ended the game with over 130 yards, but he never found his way into the endzone.