Devin White, Roquan Smith, and 2020 Defeats

Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Devin White
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Devin White
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Our look back at 2020 data continues today with a look at defeats, one of our favorite stats for defensive players. Many of the NFL's leaders in this statistic last season have been the best at their positions for many years. Once again, Aaron Donald was first among interior linemen, T.J. Watt was tops among edge rushers, and Jamal Adams and Budda Baker led all safeties. Even at cornerback, Pittsburgh's Mike Hilton shined once more despite starting less than half the season. At linebacker, however, a pair of youngsters broke out to tie for the lead at the position—indeed, the lead among all players.

We have lots of statistics to measure quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, even kickers, but our numbers for individual defensive players are a lot more limited. Defeats are one way to account for defenders who make frequent appearances on highlight reels. As a reminder, a defender is credited with a defeat any time he makes one of the following plays:

  • A tackle that results in a loss of yardage, including sacks.
  • Any play that results in a turnover, including tipped passes which are then intercepted.
  • Any tackle or tipped pass that leads to a stop on third or fourth down.

Your top players in defeats in 2020 were linebackers Roquan Smith of Chicago and Devin White of Tampa Bay, who were tied with 33 defeats apiece.

Most Defeats, All Defenders, 2020
Player Team Pos Pass DFT Rush DFT Total DFT
45-D.White TB LB 23 10 33
58-R.Smith CHI LB 19 14 33
90-T.Watt PIT ER 17 14 31
54-L.David TB LB 19 10 29
43-H.Reddick ARI ER 19 9 28
33-J.Adams SEA S 16 11 27
54-B.Martinez NYG LB 13 14 27
44-M.Jack JAX LB 15 12 27
45-D.Jones ATL LB 15 11 26
32-B.Baker ARI S 12 14 26
90-D.Lawrence DAL ER 10 15 25
54-F.Oluokun ATL LB 15 10 25
99-A.Donald LAR DL 17 7 24
99-J.Watt HOU ER 9 14 23
52-K.Mack CHI ER 12 11 23
53-J.Bostic WAS LB 16 7 23
21-J.Peppers NYG S 15 8 23
55-Z.Smith GB ER 14 8 22
90-J.Pierre-Paul TB ER 14 8 22
28-M.Hilton PIT CB 17 5 22

Let's get into what Smith and White did to finish tied for first. Smith's 33 defeats break down like so:

  • 10 stuffs on running plays;
  • six tackles for a loss on completions;
  • four sacks;
  • 11 other tackles or tipped passes that forced stops on third and fourth downs;
  • and two interceptions.

And here's White's path to 33:

  • eight sacks (including one with a forced fumble, though that play counts just once);
  • eight tackles for a loss on running plays;
  • four tackles for a loss on completed passes;
  • 12 other tackles that resulted in third-/fourth-down stops;
  • and one fumble recovery after a completed pass.

It was a breakout performance for both players as they fulfilled their draft potential. Smith was the eighth overall draft pick in 2018, White the fifth overall pick in 2019, but neither had ever produced more than 18 defeats in a season. If you're looking for a tiebreaker between the two, postseason performance gives White the edge—he missed the wild-card win over Washington, but racked up five more defeats in Tampa Bay's three other playoff wins, including interceptions of both Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes. Smith, meanwhile, missed Chicago's only playoff game, the wild-card loss to New Orleans.

While Smith's defeats were somewhat balanced between run and pass, most of White's came on passing plays. He amassed 23 defeats against the pass (including 10 tackles on third-/fourth-down completions that gained yards but came up short of the sticks), four more than any other defender in the league. Smith was one of five defenders with 14 defeats against the run; they all finished in second place behind Dallas edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, who had 15. Lawrence is another player with a history of ranking highly in this category—he had 30 total defeats in 2018, including 16 against the run.

Interior Linemen

Nothing new here—it's Aaron Donald's world and everyone else is playing catch-up. Donald led all interior linemen with 24 defeats, four more than anyone else, but that was actually a down year for him. In seven NFL seasons, he has only failed to hit 24 defeats one time: in 2017, when he missed two games and finished with "only" 19.

Most Defeats, Interior Linemen, 2020
Player Team Pass DFT Rush DFT Total DFT
99-A.Donald LAR 17 7 24
99-L.Williams NYG 12 8 20
97-G.Jarrett ATL 7 13 20
93-D.Onyemata NO 10 9 19
95-Q.Williams NYJ 10 9 19
99-D.Buckner IND 12 6 18
93-N.Suh TB 9 9 18
91-F.Cox PHI 9 8 17
97-C.Heyward PIT 8 8 16
98-S.Richardson CLE 8 8 16
94-D.Payne WAS 5 11 16
91-S.Tuitt PIT 11 4 15
93-C.Campbell BAL 9 6 15
93-J.Hargrave PHI 8 7 15
94-D.Tomlinson NYG 6 9 15
96-S.Harris DEN 9 5 14
92-Z.Sieler MIA 5 9 14
96-A.Hicks CHI 5 8 13
91-E.Oliver BUF 4 9 13
95-D.Wolfe BAL 2 11 13

Donald was especially dominant against the pass, where he had 17 defeats, five more than any other interior lineman. That includes 15 sack plays (counting each half-sack as a full defeat), an interception of Nick Mullens, and a third-down stop on a completed pass against the Jets. Atlanta's Grady Jarrett led all interior linemen with 13 defeats against the run. That includes three in one game against Carolina in Week 8.

Edge Rushers

Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt led all defenders with 36 defeats in 2019. He didn't have quite that many in 2020, but he still finished first among edge rushers with 31.

Most Defeats, Edge Rushers, 2020
Player Team Pass DFT Rush DFT Total DFT
90-T.Watt PIT 17 14 31
43-H.Reddick ARI 19 9 28
90-D.Lawrence DAL 10 15 25
52-K.Mack CHI 12 11 23
99-J.Watt HOU 9 14 23
55-Z.Smith GB 14 8 22
90-J.Pierre-Paul TB 14 8 22
90-M.Sweat WAS 13 8 21
99-C.Young WAS 12 9 21
53-B.Burns CAR 14 6 20
95-M.Garrett CLE 14 5 19
58-S.Barrett TB 13 6 19
99-M.Judon BAL 11 7 18
95-R.Okwara DET 11 7 18
94-C.Jordan NO 10 8 18
97-J.Bosa LAC 8 10 18
98-M.Crosby LV 7 11 18
91-T.Hendrickson NO 14 3 17
48-B.Dupree PIT 13 4 17
53-K.Van Noy MIA 12 5 17
55-B.Graham PHI 7 10 17

Watt led the league with 15.0 sacks, but he was more than just a pass-rusher. He was among the pack of defenders tied for second with 14 defeats against the run, joining Roquan Smith as the only defenders with 14 defeats against both run and pass.

DeMarcus Lawrence, as mentioned, led all players with 15 run defeats. The edge rusher with the most pass defeats was Arizona's Haason Reddick, now a member of the Carolina Panthers. Clearly, Reddick impressed the Panthers when he destroyed the Giants in Week 14, sacking Daniel Jones and Colt McCoy five times and forcing three fumbles. 


Since we already have discussed the leaders here, Devin White and Roquan Smith, let's focus on the third-place linebacker instead. That's right, it's time for our annual glorification of Tampa Bay's Lavonte David.

Most Defeats, Linebackers, 2020
Player Team Pass DFT Rush DFT Total DFT
45-D.White TB 23 10 33
58-R.Smith CHI 19 14 33
54-L.David TB 19 10 29
44-M.Jack JAX 15 12 27
54-B.Martinez NYG 13 14 27
45-D.Jones ATL 15 11 26
54-F.Oluokun ATL 15 10 25
53-J.Bostic WAS 16 7 23
55-J.Baker MIA 18 3 21
50-E.Wilson MIN 16 5 21
47-J.Schobert JAX 12 9 21
54-S.Thompson CAR 10 11 21
54-E.Kendricks MIN 9 12 21
50-K.Wright SEA 14 6 20
47-J.Jewell DEN 12 8 20
48-P.Queen BAL 10 10 20
53-D.Leonard IND 12 7 19
54-J.Smith DAL 10 9 19
58-J.Hicks ARI 8 11 19
50-T.Adams HOU 11 7 18
54-B.Wagner SEA 5 13 18

David has now finished among the top five defenders in total defeats eight times in the past nine years. How rare is that kind of dominance? Consider that David's quarterback, Tom Brady, has finished in the top five in touchdown passes only five times in the same timespan. Still, David had not made the All-Pro team since 2013, and the Pro Bowl since 2015. He finally got a chance to shine in the playoffs last year, adding two more defeats (a sack against Washington, a third-down pass defensed against Kansas City) on his way to a Super Bowl ring.

Smith was one of two linebackers with 14 run defeats; the other was Blake Martinez, who shined in his first year with the Giants. Half of those were the clean-up variety where runners gained positive yardage but failed to pick up a conversion on third or fourth down. That includes four tackles on third-and-14 or longer.


This is the third year in a row that Jamal Adams and Budda Baker have been the top two safeties in this category. Baker was first overall in 2019, while Adams was first in both 2018 and last season.

Most Defeats, Safeties, 2020
Player Team Pass DFT Rush DFT Total DFT
33-J.Adams SEA 16 11 27
32-B.Baker ARI 12 14 26
21-J.Peppers NYG 15 8 23
23-R.Jenkins LAC 11 8 19
21-A.Phillips NE 6 12 18
21-J.Poyer BUF 14 3 17
22-H.Smith MIN 11 5 16
26-D.Savage GB 11 5 16
27-M.Jenkins NO 10 6 16
20-M.Maye NYJ 9 7 16
33-J.Whitehead TB 8 8 16
22-C.Gardner-Johnson NO 12 3 15
30-J.Bates CIN 11 4 15
22-K.Neal ATL 10 5 15
23-L.Ryan NYG 13 1 14
31-J.Simmons DEN 12 2 14
31-K.Curl WAS 11 3 14
34-Te.Edmunds PIT 11 3 14
21-J.Mills PHI 7 7 14

Adams is best known for his 9.5 sacks last year, an all-time record for defensive backs. He had five other defeats on completed passes, and also tipped a pass away on third downs; his 16 pass defeats were also most at the postion. His 11 run defeats included nine stuffs and one fumble recovery. Oh, and he did all that in only 12 games.

Baker, meanwhile, did more of his damage as a run-stuffer, leading all defensive backs with 14 run defeats. He was a tremendous cleanup man, with 10 defeats on runs or completions that gained positive yardage but resulted in third- or fourth-down stops. Only eight other players hit double-digits in that category; Jon Bostic of the Washington Football Team led all players with 14.

Expect to see these two players at the top of this leaderboard for years to come. Adams' 27 defeats tied a career high, but he has had at least 21 in each of his four pro seasons. Baker is also entering his fourth season, and though he "only" had 14 defeats as a rookie, he has had at least 24 in each of the last three seasons.


So … defeats are a weird way to measure cornerbacks. Usually (not always!), your top cover guys—your Jalen Ramseys, Jaire Alexanders, Stephon Gilmores, etc.—rarely have the ball thrown their way, so the opportunities to rack up defeats aren't there. Meanwhile, the worst corners get more opportunities but can't deliver (or they get benched), which is why they are the worst corners. It's often the guys in the middle who make most of the defeats.

Pittsburgh's Mike Hilton is a perfect example. He led all corners with 22 defeats in 2020; he also had 22 in 2017, when he finished second to Ramsey (then with Jacksonville). He has finished among the top 10 corners in defeats in each of the last four years, but he has never made more than eight starts in a season. He has only seen enough targets to qualify for our cornerback coverage tables one time. But somehow he ranks high in this category year-in and year-out.

Most Defeats, Cornerbacks, 2020
Player Team Pass DFT Rush DFT Total DFT
28-M.Hilton PIT 17 5 22
22-T.Hill LAR 16 2 18
44-M.Humphrey BAL 16 1 17
25-X.Howard MIA 16 1 17
23-K.Moore IND 14 3 17
23-J.Alexander GB 14 2 16
24-T.Johnson BUF 10 6 16
24-J.Bradberry NYG 15 0 15
24-C.Davis TB 13 2 15
24-D.Slay PHI 13 2 15
20-C.Sutton PIT 14 0 14
31-J.Jones NE 12 2 14
26-I.Oliver ATL 11 3 14
33-J.Johnson CHI 10 4 14
20-J.Gladney MIN 9 5 14
24-M.Peters BAL 11 2 13
23-J.Haden PIT 11 2 13
22-W.Jackson CIN 11 2 13
23-S.Murphy-Bunting TB 10 3 13
23-M.Lattimore NO 10 3 13

How does a part-time player lead any position in any category? Let's look at Hilton's defeats in 2020:

  • Four tackles for a loss (or no gain) on completions;
  • three sacks;
  • two run stuffs;
  • nine other tackles or tipped passes that forced third-/fourth-down stops;
  • three interceptions;
  • and one forced fumble on a completed pass.

That's a lot of tackles for loss for any player, let alone a defensive back. That's why Hilton has finished second, third, first, and first in stop rate at his position over the last four seasons.

Obviously, a lot of this is scheme-based. Take a look at this highlight reel (and its very NSFW music) on YouTube. In a lot of these plays, Hilton isn't playing outside corner, or even slot corner—he's playing like the world's smallest weakside linebacker, blitzing off the edge as often as he's dropping back in coverage. Hilton left Pittsburgh for Cincinnati in free agency; we'll see if he can be as effective in Lou Anarumo's scheme as he was in Keith Butler's.

Hilton was not, however, the top cornerback in run defeats. That honor goes to Buffalo's Taron Johnson, another nickelback. The average target against Johnson came only 7.8 yards downfield, shortest of any corner with at least 50 targets. Since he was always so close to the line of scrimmage, it's little surprise he managed a half-dozen defeats (five stuffs, one forced fumble) against the run in 2020.


18 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2021, 8:35pm

#1 by BigRichie // Jul 28, 2021 - 12:10pm

Last year was the first Donald ever played a run gap. Which did wonders for the Rams' run defense.

'20 was his best year ever. His previous 6 seasons were Bruce Smith seasons. Last one was his first Reggie White season.

Points: 0

#2 by BigRichie // Jul 28, 2021 - 12:21pm

Being in Washington state, I saw pretty much of Jamal Adams. I was only somewhat impressed.

Jamal didn't look particularly fast for a safety. So in coverage he appeared starter-quality, but nothing more than that.

He basically played right near the line of scrimmage snap after snap after snap. So his 'defeat' numbers should look more linebackerish than safetyish. Yes, that has value that he can do that. But his numbers come in part at the expense of defensive backfield teammates who now have to cover deep because their sorta-safety teammate is again up at the line of scrimmage.

(are their defensive charting numbers that show how often safeties line up where?)

Points: 0

#8 by mehllageman56 // Jul 29, 2021 - 10:32am

His coverage numbers were much better in New York, although he's never been one to get a lot of interceptions.  Not sure what happened; even in his last year in New York, they were playing him close to the line of scrimmage, and blitzing him like crazy.

Points: 0

#3 by andrewmilne // Jul 28, 2021 - 6:58pm

Is not an NYG

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#4 by Vincent Verhei // Jul 28, 2021 - 7:08pm

Well, crap. Don't know how I made that mistake but I'll fix that section.

Points: 0

#5 by andrewmilne // Jul 28, 2021 - 8:29pm

I think many of us thought he would be...

Surprised no one from SF made any lists. Injuries? No one played long enough?

Points: 0

#10 by Vincent Verhei // Jul 29, 2021 - 2:21pm

Kerry Hyder led the 49ers with 16. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw were tied for second with 15 each. Injuries are a big reason why -- Warner and Arik Armstead were the only defenders to start all 16 games.


Points: 0

#6 by andrewmilne // Jul 28, 2021 - 9:13pm

Looking at these lists, I was surprised by a couple of things. First, my Giants were well represented, which is surprising given their suckitude (tho the defense less than the offense). Second, the absence of SF anywhere, given their non-suckitude (technical term).

That got me thinking about the relationship between these tables and team defense, between having people who rack up lots of defeats (and defeats generally, which I don't have access to), and being a good defense. So I spent far too much time putting stuff in a spreadsheet.

SF and NYG are clear outliers (NY is 3rd in total defeats (by those on these tables, not total total) but 19th by DVOA, and has the 3rd (tied with 3 others) most people on these lists. The correlation between rank of defeats (again, not total, just those from your "stars") and rank of defense by DVOA has r = 0.674. 

I have nice graphs but don't see how to add them...

Points: 0

#9 by takeleavebelieve // Jul 29, 2021 - 12:26pm

Based on how FO defines “defeat”, I’d guess that there’s a fairly strong correlation between 3rd Down DVOA and defeats, and 3rd Down DVOA itself is a major component of DVOA. 

Of course, it doesn’t tell the whole story, like for instance a team could give up an inordinate number of conversions on first and second down. That could be what’s happening with SF and NYG - good on third down, but bad enough on first and second down that they rarely make it to third down in the first place. 

Points: 0

#15 by Vincent Verhei // Jul 29, 2021 - 10:06pm

157, 14th. Average team was 153.3, so they were pretty much right in the middle.

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#7 by Pat // Jul 29, 2021 - 10:27am

David has now finished among the top five defenders in total defeats eight times in the past nine years. How rare is that kind of dominance? Consider that David's quarterback, Tom Brady, has finished in the top five in touchdown passes only five times in the same timespan. Still, David had not made the All-Pro team since 2013, and the Pro Bowl since 2015.

Hey look, a non-stat position dominating in a stat and still being underrepresented! I'm just convinced that fans and AP writers hate linebackers and interior offensive linemen for some reason.

I'll take my lumps and admit that I hadn't really paid much attention to David (and White) in the past few years (c'mon, Tampa was awful), but after that Super Bowl performance holy cow will I in the future. I just hope I haven't actually just caught him on the downslope of his career.

And man, guys like that only cost you ~$10M/yr? Linebackers are totally the new safety.

Points: 0

#12 by Pat // Jul 29, 2021 - 3:28pm

Also, I find this comment:

In a lot of these plays, Hilton isn't playing outside corner, or even slot corner—he's playing like the world's smallest weakside linebacker, blitzing off the edge as often as he's dropping back in coverage.

eerily familiar from the previous article on defensive formation usage. If a corner is positioned like a linebacker, blitzes like a linebacker, and is in coverage like a linebacker... is he still a DB? Do we need to dunk him in water to see if he floats?

Points: 0

#13 by lightsout85 // Jul 29, 2021 - 6:10pm

What's crazy about White & Smith, is that they were also in the top 8 in efficiency (DFT/snap) while still playing at least 87% of the max snaps anyone played at their position.   (Granted, I used the FO snap data table where the positions were limited to LB, DL, & DB, but I doubt anyone would have come as close to doing what they did, with more specific snap data).


edit: I realized the easy way to refine the snap-max #s was to just look at individual players by most defensive snaps, and see who was CB vs S, ED vs IDL, and off-ball LB, and 2 edge defenders who are "technically" LBs joined White & Smith, TJ Watt & Reddick. All 85-89% of their position's snaps, and all top 10 in efficiency (6th,8th,4th & 10th, respectively). Not to take away from the other 6 players in the top 10, but it's obviously impressive to remain efficient over a large sample size.

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#16 by KaosTheory // Aug 02, 2021 - 9:02am

If you stop an offense short of the sticks on third down but they go for it, is that still a defeat?

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#17 by Vincent Verhei // Aug 02, 2021 - 2:26pm

Yes. If teams continue to be more aggressive on fourth downs, we may have to change that definition in the future.

Points: 0

#18 by Deontayanderso… // Dec 16, 2021 - 8:35pm

What were the most defeats in a game by a player?

Points: 0

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