Over the spring/summer, the SIS R&D staff is convening on the Off the Charts Podcast to talk about their top players at a position. To do this, we pit two methodologies against each other: 

  • The “Scouts,” which comes down to the film-based opinions of Matt Manocherian and Bryce Rossler, each of whom has a lot of experience breaking down film and scouting players (Matt having done it for NFL teams).
  • The “Stats,” which involves James Weaver and Alex Vigderman devising a ranking based on a suite of metrics, and having that ranking speak for itself.

Officially, Sports Info Solutions does not condone the dichotomy between scouting and statistical analysis. Each of them provides data in their own way and should inform our evaluation of a player. 

When we originally produced the Football Rookie Handbook before transitioning that content to our NFL Draft site, we put the scouting reports and stats side-by-side with the idea that the reader would bounce back and forth between them and leverage both to come to a conclusion about a prospect.

This week, we decided to do a 2-for-1 special and break down the Top 5 Off-Ball Linebackers and Top 5 Safeties in the NFL. So, without further ado, let’s get into the fun!

Off-Ball Linebackers

Scouts’ Opinion Statistical Analysis
1. Fred Warner 1. Roquan Smith
2. Roquan Smith 2. Fred Warner
3. Matt Milano 3. Shaquille Leonard
4. Dre Greenlaw 4. Bobby Wagner
5. Demario Davis 5. Matt Milano

The Stats List Methodology

The stats-based ranking includes a three-year recency-weighted average of a player’s results across several different metrics, with the following weights applied to each:

  • 20% Run Defense Total Points
  • 15% Pass Rush Total Points
  • 10% Pass Coverage Total Points
  • 10% Broken+Missed Tackle Allowed %
  • 10% Adjusted Tackle Depth
  • 10% Pressure % Plus Minus
  • 5% Hand On-Ball %
  • 5% Deserved Catch %
  • 5% Targets Per Cover Snap
  • 5% Positive % Allowed Zone Scheme
  • 5% Positive % Allowed Man Scheme

From an off-ball linebackers perspective, the stats team felt that weighting run defense and pass rush more than pass coverage was appropriate when considering Total Points. To indirectly increase the weighting, we included five supplemental metrics with 5% weights that analyzed different aspects of a linebacker’s coverage skills. A player like Matt Milano benefits from including these pass coverage metrics, as he ranked in the Top 10 in Hand On-Ball %, Deserved Catch %, and Positive Play % Allowed Zone Scheme while also ranking 3rd in Pass Coverage Total Points.

Rounding out the rest of the metrics, Adjusted Tackle Depth compares actual tackle depth to the expected tackle depth based on personnel, intended run gap, and the defender’s pre-snap alignment. Hand On-Ball % is the percentage of plays where a defender got their “hand on the ball.” This includes breaking up or intercepting a pass as well as forcing or recovering a fumble. Deserved Catch % is the percentage of targets as the primary defender that the receiver either caught or dropped the ball when the pass was catchable.

What the Stats Showed

Roquan Smith, the leader in the clubhouse on the stats side, finished in the Top 3 in all of the Total Points categories. He also accumulated these numbers without getting his hand on the ball much, ranking 97th. 

Fred Warner came in 6th and 7th respectively in Run Defense and Pass Rush Total Points. What propelled him to 2nd was his supplemental metrics. He finished 3rd in Deserved Catch % (1st in Top 5), 7th in Pressure % +/- (2nd in Top 5), and 12th in Targets Per Cover Snap (2nd in Top 5). 

Shaq Leonard finished 1st in both Run Defense and Pass Rush Total Points at this position, even with only playing in 3 games all of last year. Unlike Smith, he had his fingerprints all over the football when he played, ranking 2nd in Hand On-Ball %. His pass coverage metrics aren’t anything to write home about, ranking 17th in Pass Coverage Total Points and not any higher than 73rd in the supplemental pass coverage metrics.

What the Scouts Thought

The scouts had Fred Warner as their number 1 and Roquan Smith as their number 2. This was a clear cut decision for both Bryce and Matt, who said that he tried to make this a conversation with Bryce, but ultimately couldn’t argue for Smith ahead of Warner. 

In regards to Warner’s pass coverage skills, Bryce is still in awe of the play in the NFC Divisional Game where Warner ran stride for stride with CeeDee Lamb,

“He was 40 yards downfield stride-for-stride with one of the best receivers in the NFL. Nobody else can do that,” Bryce said. “There are corners who can’t even do that.” 

On Smith, Matt said

“At the center of your defense, this is someone who will make your entire defense faster.” Bryce added on, “He will hit you and will materialize out of nowhere on a perimeter run and make a tackle. His range is crazy.”

One player that the scouts had on their list that the stats team didn’t was Demario Davis. Matt highlighted his versatility, strength, and tackling ability all as positives. He stated that he isn’t great in pass coverage, but Bryce thought that he has some athletic juice and showed some quality skills. They both credit his pass rushing ability as well as his availability.


Scouts’ Opinion Statistical Analysis
1. Derwin James 1. Grant Delpit
2. Talanoa Hufanga 2. Budda Baker
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick 3. Justin Simmons
4. Budda Baker 4. Minkah Fitzpatrick
5. Antoine Winfield Jr. 5. Talanoa Hufanga

The Stats List Methodology

The stats-based ranking includes a three-year recency-weighted average of a player’s results across several different metrics, with the following weights applied to each:

  • 25% Pass Coverage Total Points
  • 15% Run Defense Total Points
  • 10% Broken+Missed Tackle Allowed %
  • 10% Adjusted Tackle Depth
  • 10% Hand On-Ball %
  • 10% Deserved Catch %
  • 10% Pass Rush Total Points
  • 5% YAC Per Completion
  • 5% Targets Per Cover Snap

The categories here are very similar to off-ball linebackers, with the only differences being the removal of the man Positive %, Zone Positive %, and Pressure % over expectation, while adding in YAC Per Completion. The weights are changed with pass coverage taking over as the most important Total Points category. Run defense is still prominent, and pass rush drops to a 10% weight.

What the Stats Showed

Grant Delpit took the top spot for the stats team. He ranked 2nd in both Run Defense and Pass Rush Total Points as well as 1st in the Top 5 in Adjusted Tackle Depth. He was 17th in Pass Coverage Total Points 

Budda Baker came in 2nd, even though he finished 1st in both Run Defense and Pass Rush Total Points. He finished 31st in Pass Coverage Total Points, but was the best in the Top 5 in Targets Per Cover Snap. He only faced 16 targets in 2022 with 526 cover snaps, meaning his impact is known when you try to throw at him.

Talanoa Hufanga cracked the Top 5 with only having meaningful playing time in one season. He ranked 12th in Pass Coverage Total Points, but was 20th and 23rd in Run Defense and Pass Rush, respectively. He ranked the best in the Top 5 in Deserved Catch % as well as YAC Per Completion.

What the Scouts Thought

Coming in No. 1 on the scouts list was Derwin James.

“This is a player who athletically is 1 of 1,” Matt said. “He’s faster than anyone else on this list, he hits like a linebacker, he can guard any tight end.” Bryce continued the praise, “He’s a problem-solving player. You can put him on Kelce. He’s a matchup eraser. He’s a prototype.”

In 3rd, the scouts had Minkah Fitzpatrick. Bryce discussed how good of an athlete he is and how you can ask him to do whatever you need him to do. Matt added that he is as versatile as they come, and that he can play slot, corner, strong, or free safety. 

Cracking into the 5th spot was Antoine Winfield Jr. Matt said:

“He plays the game with a sixth sense about him. Just like the Honey Badger.” He continued, “You have to be careful throwing the ball when Antoine Winfield is in the vicinity.”

Want to hear more discussion and debate? Check out this episode of the podcast: