Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Cowboys inside linebacker Bradie James and Bucs inside linebacker Barrett Ruud both had solid seasons in '08, but neither player was invited to the Pro Bowl. I think that might change for both of them following the '09 season. Recently, a frequent contributor to this blog, Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders fame, sat down to discuss Ruud and James with DallasNews.com's Tim MacMahon. Ruud and James will be on the same field Sunday when the Bucs and Cowboys square off in Tampa. Here's a portion of what Barnwell told MacMahon about the two linebackers.
McMahon: There is a faction of Dallas media that believes Bradie James should have been a Pro Bowler last season. Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud also didn't get an invitation to Hawaii. Which inside linebacker had the better year?
Barnwell: You should put that faction of the Dallas media in a room with the clip of Lorenzo Neal laying James out from the Ravens game last year playing over and over again until they change their mind. We can't strictly compare Ruud to James statistically because their roles are different. Ruud is the middle linebacker in a 4-3, so he's going to make more plays than James would as one of the inside linebackers in a 3-4. Even so, it's hard to argue that James was on the same level as Ruud, who made 18.6 percent of his team's plays -- more than any other linebacker in the league. Those plays weren't very close to the line of scrimmage, which is usually thanks to poor performance up front. His charting numbers in pass coverage were also very good.
James ranked 18th in the league in plays, which isn't bad at all, but he also made his plays way off the line of scrimmage (3.9 yards away, tied for 74th in the league, and right around Ruud's level) and had poor numbers in pass coverage. Having an ambulatory linebacker next to him would have helped, but he might have to wait until 2010 for that. So, by our statistics, Ruud was way better in coverage and made more plays. James talks more. Good player, that Bradie James, but just because everyone else on the Cowboys' roster made the Pro Bowl in 2007 doesn't mean James should get to go, too.
Mosley: I watched Ruud a lot in college, but haven't been able to study his game in the pros. I think James has become a much better pass-rusher, which gives Wade Phillips another option. It's difficult to compare them straight up because they play in different schemes, but they're both Pro Bowl-caliber players in my book. And though he's taken a lot of heat, James is a standup guy in the locker room. Something to be said for that.