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The two sides of Broncos’ ILB Alex Singleton

Many Denver Broncos fans miss the point while Alex Singleton misses the tackle.

Denver Broncos v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Many Denver Broncos fans miss the point while Alex Singleton misses the tackle. The conundrum with Singleton is one where stats can be misleading is how he is Top 5 in tackles, but Top 3 in missed/broken tackles.

Would you rather have an ILB that gets to the ball-carrier but misses the tackle or an ILB that never gets there? Alex Singleton has the speed and the instincts to get to the point of tackling the ball-carrier, but far too often he either overruns the play or fails to wrap up and ends up missing the tackle or getting trucked.

He has 122 total tackles on the season but also has 25 missed tackles (or allowed broken tackles). He is currently fifth in the league in total tackles, but, according SISdatahub.com he is third in the league in missed/broken tackles. It is interesting to note that according to pro-football-reference.com, Singleton only has nine missed tackles. PFR tends to be much more forgiving of defenders in terms of missed tackles. For example, SIS shows that Foyesade Oluokun has 28 missed/broken tackles while PFR shows that he only has 12. Similarly PFR shows that Bobby Wagner has three while SIS shows that he has four. Either way it shows you that Wagner is still a good/great ILB even if he has lost a step relative to when he entered the league and was playing at an All-Pro level. Singleton is probably as fast as a young Bobby Wagner, but he will never be better than average until he improves his tackling.

Good/great ILBs also have the ability to quickly diagnose plays and occasionally make plays in the backfield that result in tackles for loss (TFLs). Singleton currently has four (PFR) or seven (SIS) TFL. Lavonte David of the Bucs currently has either 17 (SIS) or 14 (PFR) TFL despite only playing in 10 games so far this season. Getting TFLs is another area where Singleton is average or below average.

Another thing that separates good/great ILBs from average ILBs is the ability to pressure the QB when they are asked to rush the passer. Oluokun, an ILB for the Jaguars, has been asked to rush the passer 69 times this season and has created pressure on 19 of those pass rushes. That’s a 26 percent success rate. Among ILBs Alex Anzalone has the best success rate of 36.4 percent, but he has only been asked to rush the passer 39 times. Singleton has only been asked to rush the passer 33 times (7.7% of his passing snaps) and only four of those (12.5%) have resulted in pressure with 1.0 sack.

A final thing that ILBs need to be able to do well is drop into coverage particularly if they are not good at rushing the passer, which Singleton is not very good at. Singleton has dropped into coverage 393 times this season and has two pass defenses. That is as bad as it sounds, since his man has been targeted 57 times, with 48 completions for 401 yards and two touchdowns. Alex has allowed a passer rating of 107.7 when his man is targeted. For comparison, Josey Jewell’s man has been targeted 29 times for 20 catches, 134 yards and one TD. He is allowing a passer rating of 90.7. Josey has two pass defenses in significantly fewer opportunities than Alex.

In summary, an ILB needs to be able to diagnose running plays and take the appropriate angle to make the tackle. He needs to be able to cover running backs and tight ends in man coverage as well as play effectively in zone. He also needs to be able to rush the passer if/when he is asked to do so. Being below average in any aspect is not necessarily a career-ender, but it does make you a liability to your teammates. If you are below average in coverage you will be picked on by the opposing QB. If you can’t rush the passer effectively, you will not be much of a threat in zone blitz looks. If you can’t tackle in the run game, you will end up allowing way too many long runs and rushing first downs.

Alex Singleton, in my assessment, is below average or average in all three facets of his game. He can be a useful piece in a defense, but to have a truly effective 3-4 defense, you need one of your ILBs to be exceptional. Sadly, right now, neither of the Bronco ILBs are exceptional and it could end up costing the Broncos a chance at the playoffs this season. This is magnified because so many of our down lineman are below average in one or both aspects of their game (stopping the run or rushing the passer). Having two good defensive ends could mitigate having two average or below average ILBs in a 3-4 defense, but right now the Broncos only have Zach Allen as an above average defensive end. The rest of our DEs are replacement-level players and none of our DT/NT guys provide any pass rush.