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Who Led the Chargers in Quality Tackles in 2016?

Has the team returned the defenders who made the most impact last season?

NFL: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Recently I was reading an article exploring a new metric – or rather, filtering existing data to produce more meaningful results, and thought it would be interesting to apply this to Charger players. This method was intended to make tackles a stat more reflective of defensive impact (dubbed, “Tackle+”) by only counting those made within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage. Now, at first, I thought, “Why not just use success-rate (% of yards-to-go gained based on down) for tackles? It’ll usually only count short-gains, and will adapt easily to 3rd-&-1 type situations”; but the author made the convincing argument that it’s not uncommon for long runs to come when a defense has stacked the box in such situations – with the runner being able to break off a big gain once they pass the initial line of defense. Limiting a run to 3 yards is valuable no matter the down & distance. (It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a lot easier to filter out the tackles when that is your only criteria).

Now that we’ve got the introduction out of the way, let’s dive into the table. The data is sorted by the final column, % of snaps with the player making a valuable tackle. There are columns separating Tackle+ gained on run & pass plays, and it should be noted the Total column also includes sacks. I also included INT & FF listings, just as another measure of impactful play. Players’ positions are highlighted, as you will find certain positions by nature rank better by this measure than others.

Tackle+ for 2016 Chargers defenders, min 150 snaps

You can see that atop the table, the answer to title-question is Korey Toomer. Being a part-time player (playing just under 2/3 of defensive snaps on a per-game basis) you would expect him to show well in a per-snap measure (especially since run-tackles within 3 yards are much more common than pass-tackles, and this hurts players who play “full time”, where passes make up the majority of snaps), but he also leads the team in total Tackle+ and is 2nd only to Joey Bosa in Tackle+ per game. Toomer also had 3 forced fumbles, 2nd only to Melvin Ingram’s 5.

As you can note in the position column, off-ball linebackers excel in this metric. Next is generally a mix of edge rushers & interior linemen, followed (as one would expect) by defensive backs. Luckily, the players who are not returning (noted with red text) are all defensive backs. Brandon Flowers ranks high among his position, but part of that may be his playing almost exclusively in the slot (where runs are more likely to reach, relative to the corner). What is concerning, is that Chargers will start the season without the player who finished 2nd in Tackle+ on a per-snap basis, and 3rd on a per-game basis, Denzel Perryman. The rest of the front-7 will have to be on the top of their game to make up for the lack of his production.

Lastly, I’d like to give a little league-wide context to these Tackle+ rates. Of the 342 defenders who played a minimum of 400 snaps, Korey Toomer’s Tackle+ % ranked 7th! Perryman came in at 20th, Bosa 24th, and Kyle Emanuel 40th. If you limit the cutoff further to 41.7 snaps per game (roughly 2/3 of 1000 snaps in a season, 226 total players), Toomer ranks 4th and Bosa 14th. As I said earlier, off-ball linebackers generally rank the highest in this measure, so I would like to highlight that Bosa ranks 4th among edge defenders. Only GB’s Nick Perry, the Ram’s (now Dolphin’s) William Hayes, and PHI’s Brandon Graham rank higher. Bosa is one spot above noted all-around edge defender Khalil Mack - but, let’s pump the brakes on taking the comparison any further right now.

I honestly did not expect this many Charger players to rank so highly by this measure, but I was pleasantly surprised. This season the goal will be (aside from getting Perryman healthy) maintaining this level of play – hopefully with more snaps per game coming from some of these top players. Come January we’ll want to see a lot more 16’s in that games column. Jahleel Addae missing 8 games alone left 14 Tackle+ on the field that no other S came close to picking up.

If you have any questions or want to know the numbers for any other the 342 NFL players, feel free to ask below.