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2022 NFL season's top 10 off-ball linebackers: Roquan Smith trade gives Ravens two of the best

Each week of the 2022 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking meant to spotlight the top performances among a specific group of players. This week, we've assembled a list of the top 10 off-ball linebackers heading into Week 9.

Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each individual's percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.

NOTE: The composite score for each player is based on individual scores for tackling, pass coverage and pass rushing. Scores are based on each player's performance in Weeks 1 through 8.

Demario Davis
New Orleans Saints · Year 11
  • Tackling score: 82
  • Coverage score: 89
  • Pass rush score: 94

Davis has been a staple of Dennis Allen’s defense over the last five seasons. Allen has continued to scale back his pressure packages this season -- the Saints are blitzing 17 percent of the time (29th in the league), which is about half as frequently as they did in 2018-20 (32 percent, seventh). As New Orleans' defense has evolved, so has Davis’ role within it. The veteran linebacker has blitzed on just 13 percent of his pass snaps this season, his first campaign at less than 19 percent in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). Nevertheless, Davis has been as efficient as ever when he is sent after the quarterback, generating the highest pressure rate (25.7 percent) and sack rate (14.3 percent) this season (min. 30 pass-rush snaps). Even with the reduced volume of blitzes, Davis ranks in the top five of pressures among off-ball linebackers for the sixth consecutive season. Don’t let his pass-rush production overshadow how complete of a player Davis is, though. He has allowed just 5.4 yards per target in coverage since joining the Saints in 2018, trailing only Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean in that figure (min. 200 targets). And he is tied with Roquan Smith for the second-most hustle stops (70) over that time frame (a hustle stop is a defensive stop where the player covers 20-plus yards of in-play distance from snap to tackle).

Devin White
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 4
  • Tackling score: 86
  • Coverage score: 69
  • Pass rush score: 96

The fifth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft has been defined by his range and pass-rushing abilities in his first three-plus seasons. The supreme athlete has been a key cog in Todd Bowles’ blitz-heavy scheme, using his speed to get after the quarterback. All 12 of White’s pressures this season have come when he was aligned as an inside linebacker, his third consecutive season in which he has lapped the competition in pressures from that alignment. In fact, since entering the league in 2019, White has generated more than twice as many pressures (52) aligned as an inside linebacker than any other player at the position. Beyond his unique pass-rushing role, White has also made an impact in pursuit, making plays all over the field. His 59 hustle stops since entering the NFL in 2019 trail only teammate Lavonte David (66). If he can continue to improve on his coverage abilities, White is primed to break the bank when signing his second contract.

Foye Oluokun
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 5
  • Tackling score: 94
  • Coverage score: 62
  • Pass rush score: 75

The reigning NFL tackles leader was one of several players to cash in with the Jaguars this offseason, signing a three-year, $45 million contract after a breakout year for the Falcons. Oluokun has kept up his production 2022, but his tackles have been even more impactful, with the 27-year-old recording a league-high 45 defensive stops (tackles resulting in a successful play for the defense). The Yale product has shown off improved range this season, generating 10 hustle stops through eight games (tied for third in the NFL), nearly matching last season’s total (11). If the best ability is availability, Oluokun has that in spades. He hasn’t missed a defensive snap since Week 12 of last season, playing 921 consecutive snaps. That active defensive ironman streak trails only Xavier McKinney (1,424) and C.J. Mosley (1,006). While his coverage abilities still have a lot of room for improvement, the fifth-year linebacker has brought some much-needed stability to the second level of Jacksonville's defense.

Fred Warner
San Francisco 49ers · Year 5
  • Tackling score: 92
  • Coverage score: 69
  • Pass rush score: 70

Sometimes it can be hard to quantify the impact an off-ball linebacker has on a defense. There’s no doubt, though, that the second-highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL is the foundation that holds together the 49ers’ dominant defense. When it comes to coverage, the things that don’t show up on the standard stat sheet are arguably more important than the individual production we all see. Warner has created a vacuum over what might be the most valuable area of the field. Since he was drafted in 2018, the 49ers have faced a league-low 134 targets between 10 and 19 air yards over the middle third and have allowed 166 fewer yards in that area than any other defense over that time frame. When opposing quarterbacks have tried to challenge the 49ers in this area, those passes have averaged a league-low 56.6 percent completion probability. Warner’s coverage ability can also be seen in his individual metrics. The fifth-year linebacker has allowed a league-low 24.3 fewer receptions than expected when targeted in his career.

Bobby Okereke
Indianapolis Colts · Year 4
  • Tackling score: 93
  • Coverage score: 84
  • Pass rush score: 51

With three-time All-Pro Shaquille Leonard having been limited to two games this season due to injuries, Okereke has picked up the slack. The 26-year-old has made a tackle on 16.5 percent of his defensive snaps this season, the sixth-highest rate among players with at least 300 snaps. But the Stanford product has made an arguably bigger impact in the pass game, allowing a mere 4.8 yards per target as the nearest defender in coverage (fifth among off-ball linebackers, min. 20 targets). The 3-4-1 Colts are hanging around in the AFC South race, and if they are to contend, Okereke maintaining his form might be just as important as Leonard returning to form.

Roquan Smith
Baltimore Ravens · Year 5
  • Tackling score: 96
  • Coverage score: 61
  • Pass rush score: 62

Smith will be making his first appearance with the Ravens on Monday night against the Saints after being dealt by the Bears prior to the trade deadline. If his tenure in Chicago is any indication, Baltimore has found a keeper. Since being drafted in 2018, Smith has arguably been the league’s best tackler at the position, leading all off-ball ‘backers in defensive stops (330) and run stuffs (64, tied for first with Tremaine Edmunds) over that span. The 2022 season has been no exception, as he leads the NFL with 83 tackles and ranks tied for second among off-ball linebackers with eight run stuffs (trailing Matt Milano’s nine). Now playing in a division with the likes of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Joe Mixon, Smith’s elite tackling skills will be put to the test like never before.

Eric Kendricks
Minnesota Vikings · Year 8
  • Tackling score: 89
  • Coverage score: 73
  • Pass rush score: 63

Many members of the great Vikings defenses of the past are no longer with the team: Anthony Barr, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes and Everson Griffen among them. But Kendricks is one of the last remnants of the old guard, and he’s proving that he’s still got it as a veteran leader on this overhauled defense. In the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016), Kendricks ranks fourth in the NFL with 383 defensive stops. As for this season specifically, he’s made a major difference in the run game, ranking tied for second among off-ball linebackers with eight run stuffs (trailing only Matt Milano’s nine). With the Vikings sitting at 6-1, the play of Kendricks and fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks has been a major asset.

T.J. Edwards
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 4
  • Tackling score: 88
  • Coverage score: 59
  • Pass rush score: 77

Most of the football world thought reigning college national champion Nakobe Dean was a steal when he fell to Philadelphia in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but the play of Edwards and Kyzir White has been so stellar that the Eagles haven't even found room in their rotation to see what the decorated rookie out of Georgia can do. Edwards has excelled as a pass rusher, as he entered Week 9 tied for third among off-ball linebackers with nine QB pressures this season (to go along with two sacks). But Edwards has been a tackling machine no matter what his role on a given play is, making a tackle on 15.8 percent of his defensive snaps (10th among all players through Week 8, min. 300 snaps). While Edwards might not be as much of a household name as star teammates like Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Haason Reddick and so on, he's quietly played a central role in his team's perfect start to the season.

Matt Milano
Buffalo Bills · Year 6
  • Tackling score: 75
  • Coverage score: 89
  • Pass rush score: 75

How do the Bills lead the NFL in scoring defense with the likes of Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde and Ed Oliver missing multiple games so far? The steady play of Milano is definitely a critical factor. The 28-year-old Boston College product simply has no holes in his game, as he joins Demario Davis as the only members of this list to have scores of 75 or better in tackling, pass coverage and pass rushing. Pass coverage is where Milano shines the most, though, as his 54.9 passer rating allowed when targeted as the nearest defender ranks third among off-ball linebackers with at least 20 targets. As an already scary Bills defense continues to claw its way closer to full strength, Milano is a force to be reckoned with.

Patrick Queen
Baltimore Ravens · Year 3
  • Tackling score: 82
  • Coverage score: 55
  • Pass rush score: 92

Since joining Baltimore as a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Queen has led the Ravens in tackles every season. And this year, Queen has made a name for himself as a blitzer: His 11 QB pressures trail only Devin White's 12 among off-ball linebackers. Making hustle plays has also been a large part of Queen's game, as his average distance of 16.9 yards on defensive stops ranks second behind Denver LB Jonas Griffith among all linebackers with at least 20 stops. With new trade acquisition Roquan Smith joining Queen on the second level, the Ravens boast a terrific tandem at linebacker.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kyzir White, Eagles; C.J. Mosley, Jets; Bobby Wagner, Rams; Jordan Hicks, Vikings.

-- Keegan Abdoo, Mike Band and Cole Jacobson contributed to this piece.

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