First and foremost, Curtis Lofton has been a magnificent success since he was drafted by Thomas Dimitroff in the 2008 NFL Draft. He has been a tackling machine and is one of the best young middle linebackers in the NFL, so the topic isn’t questioning whether he is good on the verge of being great, just simply to entertain areas that Lofton can improve to become a ‘play-making’ middle linebacker. Take the title of ‘play-making’ somewhat lightly since being one of the most consistent tacklers in the NFL is making plays. #50 is already the heart and soul of the Atlanta Falcons defense, and is the captain of that side of the ball even if it’s not official yet. The idea has been floated by some in the media and fans alike that Lofton needs to develop his other skills at linebacker (coverage, interceptions, etc) to be mentioned among the elites at the position, players like Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis. Any terms denoted with quotation marks are meant to signal that Lofton is already one of the best, but what areas he can improve to be THE best MLB in the NFL.
The idea for the topic arose when Defensive Coordinator Brian Van Gorder was being interviewed on 680 The Fan this off-season. When the topic of Curtis Lofton came up all fans pretty much expected a gushing and glowing review of the stud MLB, and it was for the most part, but there was a couple of phrases that stuck out when describing #50. Please forgive the paraphrasing, but the quote went something like “Lofton is certainly on the verge of becoming a dominant, play-making linebacker, but he’s got some work to do and the ball’s in his court.” Again, please forgive the slight inaccuracy on the exact words, but the impression was given that Lofton still has some work to do. Lofton is obviously known for being a tackling machine (finishing 6th in the NFL), but he doesn’t produce on the level that other MLB’s do in other areas of the game including sacks, coverage, pass breakups, forced fumbles, and interceptions. Patrick Willis is the best linebacker in football because he dominates all areas of the game, not just tackling. What does Lofton need to do to be on Willis’ or Ray Lewis’ level? Do these ancillary stats even matter? Take a look and decide for yourself……….
Curtis Lofton was one of the biggest steals of the 2008 NFL Draft and one of Dimitroff’s biggest coups. The fact that Falcons fans can look back and see that he was drafted in the second round is hard to believe. The stud middle linebacker from Oklahoma burst on the scene as junior and never looked back. In 2007, Lofton earned first-team All-American honors from The NFL Draft Report, Football Writers Association of America, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News adding second-team accolades from the AP. He totaled 157 tackles , which ranked third in the nation , three interceptions, 10 tackles for loss and one sack. Not sure why other teams passed on Lofton, but the Falcons were the lucky beneficiary on that deal. Lofton quickly became the Falcons starting middle linebacker in 2008 and was largely responsible for the team having such amazing success. He notched 94 total tackles as a rookie and finished 6th overall in the NFL with 133 tackles in his sophomore campaign.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Lofton was one of the best in the NFL in most categories (something Falcons fans know very well).
Total Snaps – 588
Overall Comprehensive Rank – 14th [5th Best 4-3 MLB] (7.8 Rating)
Pass Rushing – 9th (2.1 Rating)
Pass Coverage – 43rd (out of 45 MLBs -6.2 Rating)
Run Stopping – 2nd (12.9 Rating)
Sacks – 1; Passes Defensed – 1; Interceptions – 0
Total Snaps – 1010
Overall Ranking – 17th [7th Best 4-3 MLB]
Pass Rush – 37th (-0.8 Rating)
Pass Coverage – 47th (-3.1 Rating)
Run Stopping – 3rd (15.5 Rating; behind only Willis and Lewis)
Sacks – 0; Passes Defensed – 0; Interceptions – 0; Forced Fumbles – 2
First off, the comparisons to 3-4 linebackers may be unfair since the 4-3 middle linebacker is a more of a pure tackler, whereas the 3-4 inside linebackers are more aggressive and attacking which allows them to pile up more stats such as interceptions, sacks, and passes defensed. That being said, if Lofton wants to be mentioned among the best of the best middle linebackers in the league, he will have to improve his coverage ability and awareness to make plays on the field. Its an obvious given that Lofton is top 3 in the NFL in terms of being a pure tackler, but #50 either isn’t in the right scheme to make plays on the ball or needs to improve his game awareness and ball skills to make plays on the field and take over a game. It is understood and expected that most 4-3 MLB’s will have less glitzy stats than their 3-4 counterparts, but there are several 4-3 linebackers that are able to both be good tacklers and provide the other parts to the game.
Curtis Lofton – 133 Tackles – 0 Sacks – 0 Ints – 0 Pass Def – 2 Forced Fumbles
Paul Posluzny (BUF)– 111 Tackles – 1 Sack – 3 Ints – 7 PDF – 3 FF
Jonthan Vilma (NO)– 110 Tackles – 2 Sacks – 3 Ints – 11 PDF – 0 FF
Jon Beason (CAR)– 111 Tackles – 3 Sacks – 3 Ints – 10 PDF – 1 FF
David Hawthorne (SEA) – 117 Tackles – 4 Sacks – 3 Ints – 8 PDF – 2 FF
Simply put, Lofton is one of the best tackling middle linebackers in the league, but is he one of the best overall and complete MLB’s in the league? Curtis Lofton is very, very, very good, but to be great he will have to become a more complete middle linebacker.
Firmly stated, Lofton has been one of the absolute best (2nd in 2008 and 3rd in 2009) in the NFL in stopping the run. The other parts of the game where Lofton supposedly lags behind can be attributed to the fact that Atlanta runs a 4-3 defense. In a 4-3, the middle linebacker is a tackler first and foremost and is simply not counted on to be a “play-maker.” The comparisons are unfair since many of the linebackers ranked ahead of him run a 3-4 defense, which is a much more attacking style that gives linebacker way more chances to make “plays.” This defense allows much more in terms of breaking up passes, creating turnovers, forcing fumbles, and collaring sacks. Even though Lofton does need to continue his progress in coverage, he no longer requires to be only a 2 down back where he is pulled on obvious passing situations like he was as a rookie. He is only 25 years old and is one of the best middle linebackers in the league. Pro Bowl selections are a complete beauty pageant that have no direct correlation to who’s the actual best, except for the obvious selections. For example, Jonathan Vilma was selected to the Pro Bowl based purely on the fact that he was the MLB on the NFC Championship team. He had less tackles and a much lower overall rating than Lofton. Obviously, all players need to improve in some areas, but Lofton is one of the best middle linebackers in the game and to say he needs to raise his game in “other areas” and be a “play-making” linebacker is absurd. Curtis Lofton is the heart and soul of the Atlanta Falcons defense: enough said.
-Can Curtis Lofton Become a ‘Play-Making’ MLB?
-Does He Even Need to for the Falcons to succeed?
-Should #50 Improve His Other Areas to Be Among the Best?
-Is Lofton on the level of Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis? Why or Why Not?
-Do the Falcons Need Him to Make More Plays Other than Tackles?
-Is this a Ludicrous Argument?