Tackling Efficiency: A Tool for Predictions

Tom Kislingbury

Tackles are the key stat of many IDP leagues. But they can be extremely misleading. Stat crews vary wildly in how they award those tackles, and it’s a misconception that a high number of tackles correlates with better players. Yet still, arguments are made about players being good because they rack high numbers of tackles up.

On top of that, tackles are fundamentally a counting stat. Simply by a player’s team’s defense being on the field, the number of opportunities goes up – and mostly the number of tackles with those opportunities. Counting stats can be misleading because they tell us more about a team than an individual. And therefore, are not good for predictions. Efficiency stats are far more useful. In this situation, that is how often does a player make a tackle compared to how many snaps he plays. The basic calculation for tackle efficiency is simply the total number of solos and assists for a player divided by his defensive snaps. This gives us a percentage which denotes on what % of snaps this player records a tackle.

Unfortunately, tackling efficiency is not predictive. It can vary widely across seasons even for the same player in the same scheme. So why does this article exist? Because of its unpredictability. We can identify outliers (either high or low) and make a pretty good assumption that those players will regress the following season. I.e. their very good or bad tackling efficiency will become average and they will, therefore, produce higher or lower stats. Here are a few players by position that we can expect such movement from in 2019.

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

Defensive tackle

A’Shawn Robinson, DET

Incredibly, Robinson played just 415 defensive snaps this season but still racked up 49 tackles at an efficiency of 11.8%. That’s the third-highest figure for any tackle (with 400+ snaps) since 2007. In his previous two seasons, he’d managed 8.5%. Robinson is a good player but this is a misleading stat.

Javon Hargrave, PIT

Hargrave had a career % of 5.8% going into 2018, then hit 8.8% last season while recording 12 more total tackles (40%) than he’d ever managed before. He won’t do that again.

Dontari Poe, CAR

Poe was injury-hit in 2018 and played just 515 snaps. He’d averaged over 840 for the previous six years of his career. On that short volume, he reached just 2.5% efficiency whereas he’d hovered around 4.8% previously. A bounce-back in 2019 would be very unsurprising.

Defensive end

Amazingly, there weren’t real outliers at the end position in 2008. The highest (amongst players with significant volume) was Dalvin Tomlinson – but he posted only a slightly higher % than he did as a rookie tackle in 2017.

At the other end of the scale, Yannick Ngakoue, Takkarist McKinley, Myles Garrett, Chris Long, Frank Clark and Chris Jones all posted low figures but that’s not surprising. They’ve all had very poor numbers for almost their whole careers. That’s also not necessarily a weakness. It’s a result of their position. Note that McKinley, Clark and Ngakoue have all played the same role under Dan Quinn, Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll. Their job is simply not to set the edge as much and their tackles suffer as a result – while their pass rush stats benefit.


Leighton Vander Esch, DAL

Vander Esch recorded a tackle on 17.1% of his defensive snaps. That’s the eighth-highest figure for any player with 500+ snaps in the last 12 seasons. His fans (and owners in IDP leagues) claim it’s because he’s such a brilliant player and he will keep doing it but that simply hasn’t been the case for anyone else to post a very high efficiency rate.

Bobby Wagner, Alec Ogletree, C.J. Mosley and Bernardrick McKinney all posted spectacular efficiency stats in one season before heavily regressing. It’s just not feasible to believe that Vander Esch is any different.

Darius Leonard, IND

Not far behind Vander Esch was Darius Leonard with a monstrous 16% efficiency – the 15th-highest mark of the past 12 years. For reference, this was higher than Paul Posluszny managed when he hit 167 total tackles (145 solos!) back in 2013. Needless to say, Posluszny never got close to the 15.97% from that year again.

Leonard had an amazing rookie season but don’t for a second think he can do that every year.

Devon Kennard, DET

Kennard was brought in specifically to play on the strong side and surprisingly performed terribly in terms of tackles. He reached just 4.5% whilst the average for a Sam is just above 8%. Kennard had a weird season. He managed seven sacks but five of them were in the first five weeks and he only reached 28 solo tackles. He doesn’t really have a good IDP role but expecting more tackles and fewer sacks is sensible.

Anthony Barr, MIN

Barr plays on the strong side quite a bit too but his 2018 was oddly down. His 45 solos, seven assists, 52 total tackles and 6.4% tackle efficiency were all the lowest of his career. Hopefully, he stays in Minnesota and if so he can expect a bounce-back season in 2019.

Haason Reddick, ARI

Reddick is such a strange player. He’s only two seasons removed from being a college edge rusher and his rookie season was mostly spent playing on the edge. We can hardly fault him for a low tackle efficiency and his 8.98% was an upgrade on his 6.8% as a rookie. If he manages to win a starting job in 2019 further progress should be expected.


Donte Jackson, CAR

Jackson was productive as a rookie with 69 solos (only three other corners had more) and his 8.6% was only bettered by Quandre Diggs. And it’s arguable whether he was a corner or a safety. He played plenty of both. Either way, Jackson’s strong rookie season was based on volume and being highly targeted when on the field. He improved through the season and should see less focus in 2019.

Rasul Douglas, PHI

Douglas played for most of the second half of the season in Philadelphia and in that time racked up an extremely high 10.5% tackle efficiency, managing 57 tackles from just 543 snaps.

Dre Kirkpatrick, CIN

Kirkpatrick has held down a starting job for quite a while despite not being very good. He averaged 51 solos between 2015 and 2017 at about 5.7%. In 2018 that all changed, and he hit just 34 solos at 4.9%. He was certainly targeted less than he has been in the past (just 28 in 2018 compared to an average of 53 before) but it was just a fairly odd season. If he’s a starter again in 2019, expect this to change.


Landon Collins, NYG

Collins is a favorite of many IDP owners and rightly so. In 2018, he had another very good season with 79 solos. He also led the league (among safeties with 500+ snaps) with a tackle efficiency of 12.2%. His supporters will claim “of course he did. He’s really good” but as stated earlier, tackle efficiency is not a predictive stat. In Collins’ previous three seasons, he’s averaged 9.9% and is likely to regress in 2019. That doesn’t mean he’ll be a bad player all of a sudden, but he’ll need to play more than 804 snaps to remain an elite IDP.

Shawn Williams, CIN

Williams managed an excellent 10.95% efficiency in 2018 when the change in defensive scheme brought him great results. He’d been restricted to just 8.8% over the previous two seasons. With the change in coaching scheme in Cincy and the law of averages applying, it’ll be a stretch for him to repeat his “breakout” season.

Terrell Edmunds, PIT

Edmunds had a weird rookie season. He played 967 snaps (third most among rookies) but racked up just 67 total tackles (58 solos and nine assists) which were sixth among rookie safeties. His 6.9% efficiency was just dreadful – it was behind Minkah Fitzpatrick who spent a chunk of his season playing outside corner. We’ve seen eight different safeties play 500 or more snaps under Keith Butler and Edmunds had the sixth lowest efficiency. He’s a talented player, but it was a big change from the hybrid role he played in college. It would be a surprise if he did not manage to increase his production in 2019.

There you go. 14 different players who look like they should have a significant change in tackle production just based on how odd their 2018 season was. Lots will change with free agency and the draft, but early indicators are always useful in IDP.

Thanks for reading.


tom kislingbury