Predicting Every NFL Team's Leading Tackler in 2012
Tackling is one of the more contentious statistics in the NFL. It's not difficult to find a linebacker who notches 150 tackles. Yet the important question is always where are these tackles being made and how are they affecting the outcome of the game?
Indianapolis Colts standout Pat Angerer finished fourth on the tackle charts in 2011. However, not many of his team-high 148 stops contributed to victories for the hapless Colts.
Still, a linebacker or strong safety who rarely misses a tackle can be as important to a defense as a premium pass rusher. Chicago Bears star Julius Peppers can play pass on every down, comfortable in the knowledge that Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are waiting to tackle anything that gets through.
Here is a projection of every NFL team's leading tackler for the 2012 season.
Arizona Cardinals: Daryl Washington, ILB
Expect third-year pro Daryl Washington to again top the 100 tackle mark and lead the Arizona Cardinals defense in stops. Washington became a crucial part of defensive coordinator Ray Horton's Pittsburgh Steelers-style 3-4 scheme last season.
The 6'2", 230-pounder plays with a tenacity and lateral quickness that belies his lack of prototype size for the position. In fact Washington became so difficult for opposing players to avoid, that former Cincinnati Bengals wideout Jerome Simpson chose to execute an incredible somersault flip just to escape him.
Atlanta Falcons: Sean Weatherspoon, OLB
With Curtis Lofton defecting to the New Orleans Saints during free-agency, outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has the chance to become the fulcrum of the Atlanta Falcons' run defense.
The 244-pounder is a fierce thumper who recorded 115 total tackles in 2011. He plays with excellent leverage and closing speed and can emerge as a genuine star this season.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis, ILB
Despite being 37, Ray Lewis continues to defy father time and produce at an all-pro level. He may have lost a step, but Lewis is still the featured run defender for the Baltimore Ravens' defense.
With this in mind the Ravens continue to scheme ways of keeping Lewis free of blockers. That means that in his 17th pro season, Lewis should still have no trouble notching a team-leading number of tackles.
Buffalo Bills: Nick Barnett, OLB
With Dave Wannstedt now installed as the defensive coordinator and switching to a 4-3 front, veteran Nick Barnett should enjoy another productive season. He registered 130 tackles in 2011 and will have the chance to post a similar number in Wannstedt's schemes.
Barnett is moving to weakside linebacker in the 4-3 alignment and that position has often been a key one for Wannstedt. Back when he constructed a league-leading defense for the Dallas Cowboys in 1992, Wannstedt had Ken Norton jr. in the role.
He moved Norton around, always keeping him on the openside of the formation, allowing him to be free to make the lion's share of the stops. Barnett still has the speed and toughness to flourish in a similar role and will certainly benefit from the attention paid to huge tackle tandem Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
Carolina Panthers: Jon Beason, MLB
Even with top draft pick Luke Kuechly and the underrated James Anderson in the fold, expect the outstanding Jon Beason to lead the Carolina Panthers in tackles this season. When healthy Beason is one of the most technically proficient and athletically gifted linebackers in the game.
Blessed with natural leverage and exceptional instincts, Beason excels at quickly diagnosing a play and working his way to the ball carrier. He missed 15 games in 2011, due to an ACL injury, but Beason is back and should spearhead a defensive revival in Carolina.
Chicago Bears: Lance Briggs, OLB
Lance Briggs remains the finest 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. The 31-year-old still has enough left to again lead the Chicago Bears' stout defense in tackles.
The Bears still rely heavily on the Tampa-2 scheme and that means dropping middle 'backer Brian Urlacher into the deep zone on numerous occasions. That leaves Briggs the task of cleaning up underneath.
He may be a step slower than in his best years, but Briggs still has enough range of movement and awareness to position himself to post tackle after tackle.
Cincinnati Bengals: Rey Maualuga, MLB
Rey Maualuga should continue to be the chief run forcer for a rugged Cincinnati Bengals defense. The 25-year-old flies to the ball with reckless abandon and delivers a thump when he gets there.
He recorded 88 tackles and forced three fumbles in 2011 and the Bengals commitment to size in the middle of their defensive front, should see Maualuga at least match that number this season. Cincinnati drafted defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson in the draft, adding them to a rotation already featuring mammoth run stuffers Domata Peko and Pat Sims.
With those kind of options covering middle, the 260-pound Maualuga should have no trouble finding his way to the ball carrier on a consistent basis.
Cleveland Browns: D'Qwell Jackson, MLB
D'Qwell Jackson relished the Cleveland Browns' decision to switch back to a 4-3 front. Playing at the heart of the base defense, Jackson amassed an impressive 158 total tackles, with a league best 116 solo stops.
Granted, the Browns poor run defense meant that Jackson was regularly challenged. However, the seven-year-veteran did his best to hold things together and remains a strong and accomplished tackler.
The loss of hulking, young defensive tackle Phil Taylor may hinder Jackson this season. However, Ahtyba Rubin's presence and another year in coordinator Dick Jauron's system, can still help yield big numbers.
Dallas Cowboys: Sean Lee, ILB
Arguably the NFL's most gifted young inside linebacker, Sean Lee has the chance to really announce himself as a star by becoming the cornerstone of the Dallas Cowboys' defense this season.
Lee has exceptional instincts and a knack for finding the ball. With the superb Jay Ratliff plugging the middle up front, Lee is sure to thrive.
Denver Broncos: Joe Mays, MLB
Joe Mays is a natural plugger in a 4-3 front and is ready to emerge as the most active tackler on the Denver Broncos' tough and savvy defense. The diminutive run stuffer is a big hitter, who combines natural force with above average technique.
Now that Brodrick Bunkley has left for pastures new in free-agency, the Broncos will need linebackers like Mays and Wesley Woodyard to lead the run defense. At 5'11" and 250-pounds, Mays has the size and leverage needed to man the middle and act as a downhill force player.
Detroit Lions: Stephen Tulloch, MLB
Stephen Tulloch acts as the brains behind the brawn in the middle of the Detroit Lions' defense. Quick and intelligent, Tulloch is an active run defender and an excellent tackler in the open field.
He understands head coach Jim Schwartz's defensive philosophy and enjoyed a productive first season in the Motor City in 2011. Tulloch led the team with 111 stops and expect him to top the tackle charts for the Lions again this season.
Green Bay Packers: Desmond Bishop, ILB
There were many question marks regarding the Green Bay Packers' porous defense in 2011. However, the play of linebacker Desmond Bishop was never an issue.
Bishop led the Packers in tackles last season and is poised to repeat the feat this campaign. Coordinator Dom Capers will likely have to keep his safeties deeper as a way to try and repair an awful pass defense.
That puts the onus for underneath tackling on Bishop. With rookie Jerel Worthy set to solidify the line, Bishop should enjoy plenty of clear lanes of pursuit to the ball.
Houston Texans: Bradie James, ILB
The 31-year-old's presence should allow Brian Cushing to be utilised as more of a pass rush threat. That means James will be responsible for most of the tackling responsibilities in both run support and underneath coverage.
Indianapolis Colts: Pat Angerer, ILB
Pat Angerer is a willing hitter who will thrive in the 3-4 scheme implemented by new head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Angerer is excellent at fighting his way through a crowd and evading blockers to get to the ball carrier.
He will benefit from a revamped defensive line, featuring Cory Redding and massive nose tackle Brandon McKinney. Pagano and Manusky should scheme plenty of ways to keep Angerer clean and that means another season exceeding the 100 tackle mark.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Paul Posluszny, MLB
Paul Posluszny consistently leads the way in tackles for any team he plays for. In his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Posluszny recorded 119 tackles.
The Jaguars are usually stout against the run and that should continue with Mel Tucker still running the defense. So Posluszny can be counted on to once again be a team leader in tackles.
Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry, S
Eric Berry will mark a spectacular recovery from a torn ACL, by leading the Kansas City Chiefs defense in tackles this season. The Chiefs have been taking a cautious approach with Berry's recovery during offseason workouts, according to NFL.com.
That's good news for the talented, young safety as he attempts to emulate his fantastic form as a rookie. Berry registered 92 tackles in 2010 and is an outstanding run force defensive back.
Miami Dolphins: Karlos Dansby, LB
Karlos Dansby can thrive this season thanks to the Miami Dolphins' decision to feature more 4-3 looks. The 6'4", 250-pounder should man the middle for the Dolphins defense and have plenty of opportunities to make tackles.
With Paul Soliai and Randy Starks occupying the interior, Dansby can use his combination of size, reaction speed and tenacity to make plenty of plays on the ball. Expect the nine-year-veteran to finish as the leading tackler for the AFC East residers.
Minnesota Vikings: Erin Henderson, LB
Erin Henderson is ready to emerge as a key contributor for a Minnesota Vikings' defense in need of new standout performers. At 244 pounds, Henderson has the frame to plug the middle and the speed and athleticism to also act as a sideline to sideline playmaker.
Playing alongside skilled veteran Chad Greenway will help Henderson quickly refine his craft. If he stays healthy, Henderson can put up impressive tackle totals this season.
New England Patriots: Dont'a Hightower, LB
Dont'a Hightower possesses the size, intelligence and versatility to be a major asset in Bill Belichick's array of hybrid defensive fronts. The big-bodied thumper is primed for a highly successful rookie campaign with the defending AFC champions.
Hightower is a vicious hitter with the initial quickness and anticipation skills to be a force around the line of scrimmage. With Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo taking on blockers, Hightower will notch plenty of tackles this season.
New Orleans Saints: Curtis Lofton, MLB
Curtis Lofton is the ideal centre piece for Steve Spagnuolo's defensive schemes with the New Orleans Saints. A cerebral middle linebacker, Lofton can act as the signal caller for Spagnuolo's complex, multiple system.
Although strong safety Roman Harper was previously the main tackler on the Saints' defense, Spagnuolo is likely to include more zone concepts. That means Harper may spend less time close to the line of scrimmage. Lofton will assume the role as the main force against the run and in short coverage areas.
New York Giants: Kenny Phillips, S
Kenny Phillips can assume the chief run support role in the New York Giants' three safety package. Two years removed from a serious injury, Phillips is close to getting back to his best.
He recorded 82 tackles in 2011 and has the size and closing speed to be an effective hitter all over the field. The 6'2", 217-pounder has the skill set to be deployed closer to the line this season and he should see his tackle numbers increase this season.
New York Jets: David Harris, LB
David Harris will be a chief beneficiary of the New York Jets' move to a 4-3 front. Harris is a quick and active plugger, with the size and aggression to wrack up triple digit tackles behind a four-man line.
The 28-year-old should spearhead the Jets new-look scheme and act as the focus of the run defense. With the Jets also set to use more 46 looks, Harris could be primed for his most productive season yet.
Oakland Raiders: Tyvon Branch, S
Having signed his franchise tender, Tyvon Branch has one year to play himself into a lucrative, long-term deal. Leading the Oakland Raiders defense in tackles for the second season in a row is the ideal way to do that.
The 6'0", 205-pound strong safety is an elite box defender. He is the ideal safety to act as the eighth man in a defensive front. New head coach Dennis Allen should find plenty of ways to utilise Branch in a downfield, attacking role.
Philadelphia Eagles: Mychal Kendricks, LB
Philadelphia Eagles second-round draft pick Mychal Kendricks can out perform trade acquisition DeMeco Ryans and lead the team in tackles in his rookie season. The Eagles' wide-9, double 3-technique line schemes put a lot of pressure on the middle of a defense.
That means that Ryans could encounter more attention than Kendricks is likely to face on the outside. The ex-California star has the speed to pursue aggressively downhill and quickly shoot the gaps.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Troy Polamalu, S
Safety Troy Polamalu will assume his role as the leading tackler on the Pittsburgh Steelers' fearsome defense this season. With James Farrior unsigned, Polamalu should see even more action closer to the line of scrimmage.
As arguably the best run-support safety in the NFL, Polamalu should better 2011's 91 tackle tally this season.
San Diego Chargers: Jarret Johnson, LB
Veteran Jarret Johnson is the savvy, dependable presence the San Diego Chargers' defense lacked last season. The 6'3", 260-pounder has the versatility to operate on the outside, or slide into the middle for a unit already loaded with veteran linebacker talent.
Johnson was a consistent performer during nine seasons as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Wherever he lines up is San Diego, count on Johnson forming a formidable combination with Antwan Barnes, Shaun Phillips and Takeo Spikes.
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis, ILB
Although he was usurped from his position as the San Francisco 49ers' leading tackler by NaVorro Bowman in 2011, expect Patrick Willis to reclaim his place this season.
Willis can lead the charge for a 49ers defense that should be just as strong as it was during 2011. The sixth-year-veteran has asserted himself as perhaps the most dominant inside linebacker in the league. So a return to triple-digit tackles is a real possibility.
Seattle Seahawks: Red Bryant, DT
Red Bryant has a good chance to be the lone defensive linemen to lead his team in tackles in 2011. As the five-technique defensive end in Pete Carroll's hybrid scheme, Bryant is a key part of the Seattle Seahawks' defense.
The huge lineman is one of the better run defenders in the league. He is a powerful anchor upfront for an underrated defensive line.
St. Louis Rams: James Laurinaitis, MLB
New St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher will likely install a different defensive system to the one run by predecessor Steve Spagnuolo. However, that won't stop James Laurinaitis again topping the team in tackles.
The powerful and aggressive middle linebacker has exceeded the 100 tackle mark in each of his first three seasons. With top draft pick Michael Brockers and free-agent signing Kendall Langford inserted into the middle of the defensive line, Laurinaitis should have even more room to roam and attack the ball carrier.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mark Barron, S
It might be unusual for a rookie defensive back to lead his team in tackles, but first-year safety Mark Barron has an excellent chance to do just that for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The ex-Alabama prodigy can be the key to a rebuilding Buccaneers defense. The smart ball hawk excels as a box defender. He has the frame and aggressive style to flourish in run support and should get plenty of opportunities for tackles near the line in new head coach Greg Schiano's defense.
Tennessee Titans: Michael Griffin, S
Michael Griffin will continue to be a key member of coordinator Jerry Gray's multiple defensive schemes. The talented defensive back is a smart, durable and athletic safety, capable of making plays all over the field.
He notched 75 tackles in 2011, along with a forced fumble and two interceptions. Griffin has the versatility and savvy to improve those numbers this season.
Washington Redskins: London Fletcher, ILB
It is a testament to London Fletcher's ability that at 37 he still remains the fulcrum of the Washington Redskins' defense. The skilled and resourceful veteran led the NFL in tackles in 2011 and should again wrack up more tackles than his teammates this season.
Fletcher is an intelligent linebacker, who relies on natural instincts and expert read and react skills to put him in position to make tackles. A player who always seems to be around the ball, Fletcher receives ample protection from the Redskins' powerful three-man defensive line.
Whether he is partnered by tenacious youngster Perry Riley, or the more cerebral Jonathan Goff, expect Fletcher to again be near the top of the tackle rankings come the end of the season.