Neville Hewitt
(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Ranking 33 impending NFL free agent linebackers from best to worst, based on an accumulation of their 2020 statistics.

Using an agglomeration of six different key statistics, I ranked the 33 impending NFL free agent off-ball linebackers that logged at least 200 snaps in 2020. This is the sixth in a series of articles that will rank all of the qualified free agents at key positions of need for the New York Jets – I have already ranked 47 free agent wide receivers, 47 free agent edge rushers, 53 free agent cornerbacks30 free agent running backs and 28 free agent tight ends.

The players were ranked according to their cumulative performance in coverage, against the run, and as blitzers.

Here are the statistics used:

Pro Football Focus coverage grade: PFF’s all-encompassing evaluation of a player’s performance in coverage based on the grading of every coverage snap. This stat’s best attribute is its ability to account for mishaps by the opponent. If a player is burnt in coverage but gets bailed out by a drop or bad throw, his coverage stats will reflect him positively, but PFF’s grading system will give him the negative credit he deserves.

Yards per cover snap allowed: Formula: yards allowed divided by snaps played in coverage. Yards per cover snap is a solid stat for evaluating coverage impact because it accounts for not only a player’s ability to limit production on targets in his direction but also his ability to limit targets altogether. It’s nice to know what players allow when they are targeted, but it is also important to take into account how good of a job they do at preventing the ball from coming their way in the first place. In a vacuum, players deserve credit for logging a coverage snap without being targeted. Yards per cover snap accomplishes that, while coverage stats that look only at what players allow on a per-target basis do not.

Players who are targeted at a low frequency tend to perform well in this stat.

Pro Football Focus run defense grade: PFF’s all-encompassing evaluation of a player’s performance as a run defender based on the grading of every snap against the run. The run defense grade captures the bulk of a player’s off-the-stat-sheet impact against the run. Regardless of how many tackles they make, players can grade out well by consistently filling their gaps well and creating strong penetration to shut down running lanes and set up opportunities for teammates. Players can grade poorly by failing to create quality penetration, struggling to fill their assigned gaps, and being sealed out of plays to allow big gains.

Run stop percentage: The percentage of a player’s snaps against the run in which they recorded a run stop, which is considered a tackle in the run game that constitutes a less-than-ideal result for the offense.

Pro Football Focus pass rush grade: PFF’s all-encompassing evaluation of a player’s performance as a pass rusher based on the grading of every pass-rush snap. This stat does a nice job of crediting players who record a high number of legitimately impressive one-on-one victories while discrediting players who rack up easy production. For off-ball linebackers to grade well, they need to create their own production by defeating blockers. Players will not get much credit for pressures (sacks, hits, or hurries) that are either unblocked, created by the coverage, or dropped into their lap thanks to the pressure of another teammate. Being able to finish off rushes with sacks and hits while minimizing missed opportunities is another key.

Pressure percentage: The percentage of a player’s pass-rush snaps in which they were credited with a pressure (sack, hit, or hurry).

In each of the three phases, the two stats were averaged together to create an overall score for that phase. The three overall scores were then combined for a final score, weighted according to the player’s snap distribution (how their snaps were dispersed across coverage, run defense, and pass-rushing).

Here it is: 33 free agent linebackers stacked up from best to worst.

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