NFL Defensive Leaders In Total Points Saved Through Week 4

We’re four games through the NFL season, which means we now have just enough sample size to get ourselves into trouble. In the spirit of October, we will look at some of the scariest defenders in the NFL from a Total Points Saved perspective.

The Total Points model, which is explained in greater detail here, factors the myriad of data points that Sports Info Solutions collects in order to evaluate player performance within an Expected Points Added (EPA) framework. Simply put, Total Points is a means by which players are rewarded for positive plays (like breaking up a pass) and dinged for negative plays (like missing a tackle).

Total Points on offense are called Total Points Earned (TPE) and were examined earlier this week. Total Points on defense, which will be today’s focus, are called Total Points Saved (TPS). This metric can be further broken down based on the phases of defense in which they occur. Whereas a player might be particularly adept at rushing the passer, the same player may be less than stout against the run. Total Points can account for a player’s contribution within run defense, pass coverage, and pass rush.

Pass Defense

Surprise! A linebacker ranks atop the pass defense leaderboards. Not so surprising: it’s a Patriot defender. #TeamSashi will delight in the fact that Jamie Collins, who was an offseason casualty in Cleveland, is back in his rightful place in New England and playing very well. Since-benched Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s generous nature has a lot to do with Collins’s place atop the leaderboards, as Ivy League Santa Claus gifted Collins two of his three picks, one of which was returned 69 yards for a touchdown.

The presence of his All-Pro teammate, Devin McCourty, shouldn’t surprise anybody, but the inclusion of Bears safety HaHa Clinton-Dix may raise an eyebrow. The sixth-year safety has been plug-and-play despite having been seen as a bargain bin replacement for Adrian Amos, whom the Bears let walk after he ranked first in pass defense Points Saved in 2018 with 41.

Total Points Saved Leaders – Pass Defense

Jamie CollinsPatriots17
Devin McCourtyPatriots16
Haha Clinton-DixPackers15
Anthony HarrisVikings14
Jason McCourtyPatriots14

Pass Rush

The top quarterback hunters from a Total Points Saved perspective have been those who have had success wresting the ball from opposing passers. Whitney Mercilus has four strip-sacks and Shaq Barrett, Chandler Jones has three and Khalil Mack has two with a third negated by penalty.

Preston Smith, on the other hand, has cracked the top five by virtue of his pressure rate alone, which sits at 21% and ranks third in the NFL. It’s also the best figure among this quintet with Mack (18%, 5th) and Barrett (17%, 10th) not far behind, and Jones (10%, 61st) and Mercilus (9%, 74th) bringing up the rear.

Total Points Saved Leaders – Pass Rush

Shaq BarrettBuccaneers23
Whitney MercilusTexans21
Khalil MackBears15
Chandler JonesCardinals12
Preston SmithPackers13

Run Defense

Most of the names on this list will be familiar to the average football name, but Ravens linebacker Kenny Young probably doesn’t have much of a following outside of the DMV area. The second-year UCLA product is a low-volume, high-efficiency darling; he ranks fourth despite only playing 40 run snaps.

Minnesota’s Eric Kendricks is tied for first among linebackers with 19 solo tackles, 42% of which have stopped ball-carriers for two yards or less.

Total Points Saved Leaders – Run Defense

Zach CunninghamTexans9
Eric KenkdricksVikings9
Landon CollinsRedskins8
Kenny YoungRavens8
Budda BakerCardinals7

Last Word

It should be noted that Total Points is a descriptive measure of performance that is as subject to the low sample size effects of football as any other measure. While dividing credit amongst all eleven players based on the events that occurred on the field is far more robust than simply assigning the results of a play to any single player, the NFL season is a slog and we can’t reasonably expect these figures to develop in a linear manner over the next twelve games. 

Slumping players may experience a resurgence, whereas hot-handed defenders might see a regression in their performance in an increased sample of games. Check back with us in a month to see who sits atop the leaderboards at the halfway point.