Tackles are a befuddling statistic. Not because it’s confusing, or is a bad thing to track in and of itself, but because it’s so easy to misuse. Having a lot of tackles isn’t, on it’s own, a necessarily telling fact. Having a lot of tackles doesn’t help the team unless the tackles prevent a successful play by the offense (see Landry, LaRon).
There are multiple ways that people have attempted to quantify “good” tackles, including “defeats” (Football Outsiders), “stops” (Pro Football Focus and FO), success count (Advanced NFL Stats). Note: most of those counts include pass deflections, interceptions, etc.
Today I ran across this article by Matt Hamilton on The Football Educator, a site run by former Broncos GM Ted Sundquist. In the article, Hamilton wanted to more accurately nail down how many tackles inside linebackers should have been credited with, and then separate which of those were actually quality tackles.
“For those who aren’t aware, tackles are recorded by spotters in the press box during games and are rarely subject to correction. As a result, tackles are often misidentified, or when in doubt, are given to the team’s most prominent tackler. Over the past two seasons I couldn’t begin to count how many tackles were falsely credited to players like Rey Maualuga, Ray Lewis, and Luke Kuechly at times when they were literally 10+ yards away from the play.
“The only way to accurately keep track of tackles is through the use of coaching tape. The other major issue with tackles is that there is nothing (other than tackles for loss) to quantify one tackle from another. Shouldn’t a tackle 1 yard from the line of scrimmage be separated from a tackle that occurs 15 yards downfield?
“These realizations led me to the creation of what I call “Impact Tackles.” I defined an impact tackle as such:
- A tackle resulting in a gain of 3 yards or fewer that does not result in a 1st down
- A tackle that prevents a conversion on 3rd or 4th down
- A tackle for loss
- A sack
- A tackle that forces a fumble”
Hamilton then proceeded to chart every tackle by an inside linebacker over the last two seasons.
Hamilton doesn’t include all of the data in his article, but one of the things he revealed was that Jerrell Freeman ranked sixth over the last two years in average “impact tackles per game” with 4.44 IT/G. To put that into context:
“I found that the average starter fell around 3.5 Impact Tackles per game, the pro bowl caliber players fell around 4 per game, and the elite players averaged upwards of 4.5.”
Freeman’s 2013 was especially impressive, averaging 4.94 impact tackles per game, third-highest in the league. This tends to match up well with Pro Football Focus’ numbers. Freeman was fifth in the league in run stops in 2013, and seventh in run stop percentage. He was ninth in both metrics in 2009. I also took the liberty to combine run stops and stops on passing downs, and then divide them by the players total snaps from 2012-2013, and came up with some interesting numbers:
Is Freeman a top 10 inside linebacker in the league? I wouldn’t say so. As Hamilton actually refers to in his article, the Colts stack Freeman as to keep him free of offensive linemen, making it as easy as possible for him to flow to ball carriers and make stops, which is why it’s so important to Chuck Pagano that the Colts have big, run-stuffing defensive linemen.
But, the whole exercise has opened my eyes a bit to Freeman’s value. While I wouldn’t give him top-ten status as of now, he definitely is an above-average player whose durability and versatility (he’s been a three-down linebacker for every game over the last two years) gives the Colts flexibility in their schemes. I’ve referred to him at time in the past as an average starting linebacker, and I don’t think that’s fair. He offers something that most linebackers do not. He may not be elite, or close to the upper echelon, but he’s more than just an average player.
Anyway, go read Hamilton’s article. Besides the numbers, it’s well-written and offers come on-point analysis on what is valuable and what is not for defenders.