Tackle stats show Bell was ultimate safety

Yeremiah Bell was a symbol of the Pro Bowl sham.

The all-star exhibition, held a week before the Super Bowl, couldn't include anybody playing in the championship game. As a result, a bunch of players who normally wouldn't get invited got in.

Bell was one of those add-ons. The Miami Dolphins safety was a third alternate, replacing Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea, who was an injury replacement himself.

So the unheralded Bell became a "Pro Bowler," a designation that required finger quotes.

Research done by ProFootballFocus.com analyst Sam Monson shows we can drop the sarcasm.

For a series of stories Monson is producing about the best and worst tacklers, Bell graded out as the NFL's top tackling safety and near the top among all defenders.

ProFootballFocus.com broke down every play on film and counted the missed tackles and solo tackles. He used those figures to determine a "tackle inefficiency rating." The formula divides missed tackles by attempted solo tackles to come up with an evaluation.

Bell was the NFL's most effective safety tackler. He was blamed for one missed tackle and made 90 solos, giving him a miniscule 1.10 TIR. No defensive player, regardless of position, had more than 60 tackles with one or no misses.

Imagine if the Dolphins didn't have that presence. As I posted Tuesday, Miami rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith ranked 54th and 82nd, respectively, in TIR among 88 graded cornerbacks.

Miami's inside linebackers last year, Channing Crowder and the recently released Akin Ayodele, ranked fourth from the bottom and 12th from the bottom in TIR among all linebackers.

Then there was free safety Gibril Wilson, who was vilified by Dolfans for his missed tackles. Wilson had a surprisingly average 11.39 TIR (70 solos, nine missed tackles). But Monson points out Wilson missed seven tackles through the first six games. His miscues played a significant role in Miami's 2-4 start.

Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner ranked 10th with a 6.38 TIR (44 solos, three misses), but pleasant surprise George Wilson was 14th with a 7.46 TIR (62 solos, five misses). Monson notes George Wilson finished second among safeties in a stat ProFootballFocus.com calls "stops," tackles that result in an offensive failure such as denying a third-down conversion.

Bills rookie Jairus Byrd, who tied for the league lead with nine interceptions, had 31 solos and four misses for a below-average 11.43 TIR.

Recently traded New York Jets safety Kerry Rhodes ranked 11th with a 7.25 TIR (64 solos, five misses), but the grading of his former teammate caught me off guard.

Jim Leonhard, known as an overachieving bulldog, ranked 11th from the bottom with a 17.57 TIR. He recorded 61 solo tackles, but was docked for 13 misses. Some ProFootballFocus.com readers have postulated that's because he played with a cast on a broken thumb. But Monson reports more than half of his misses occurred when healthy.

Rhodes' potential Jets replacement, Eric Smith, was near the middle of the pack with a 9.68 TIR (28 solos, three misses).

As stunning as Leonhard's numbers was ProFootballFocus.com's data on New England Patriots strong safety Brandon Meriweather. The Pro Bowler finished barely ahead of Leonhard with a 17.46 TIR (52 solos, 11 misses).

Patriots free safety Brandon McGowan was in Smith's neighborhood with a 9.84 TIR (55 solos, six misses).

On Thursday, we'll take a look at how the front seven defenders graded out as tacklers.