The rookie linebacker is putting together a season that certainly qualifies as historic for a player with his experience. It’s a big reason why his team is well and truly in the hunt for a playoff spot in Frank Reich‘s first year as head coach.
But his accomplishments aren’t getting the respect they deserve. That much is apparent considering he didn’t garner a Pro Bowl nod despite his hugely impressive numbers. One can make a fairly convincing case that he’s the biggest snub of 2018.
The numbers paint an ostensibly revelatory picture in that regard.
To say that Leonard is wrapping up opposing players with regularity comes as a vast understatement. Through 14 games, the South Carolina State product has tallied a whopping 146 tackles which leads the league. In fact, he’s 21 tackles ahead of second-placed Blake Martinez of the Green Bay Packers.
His 10.43 tackle per game clip means he’s on pace potentially for another 21 over the final two games. That would give him 167 for the entire regular season. The only other rookie in NFL history to finish with more was Patrick Willis who tallied 174 during the 2007 season.
The following visual from Pro Football Reference showcases the only players in the history of the league to eclipse 150 tackles during their rookie season. When your anticipated production matches and downright exceeds that of players like Chris Spielman and Luke Kuechly, you’re doing something right.
These numbers serve to highlight his ability as a sideline to sideline workhorse. That industriousness is something the greats at the position possess. When you watch players such as Kuechly or Bobby Wagner, you can’t help but notice how effective they are at tracking the entirety of the field and using solid fundamentals to bring players down. Leonard exudes those same characteristics.
But the tackle stats don’t tell the whole story about Leonard’s rookie campaign. He’s been a consistent nuisance in the backfield of the opposition from the standpoint of forcing negative plays. That becomes apparent considering that his seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss are both second on the team.
That element of his skill set should come in handy during the Colts’ final two games. Their opponent this coming Sunday, the New York Giants, is averaging 3.3 sacks allowed per game which is fourth-worst in the NFL. And next week, they face the Tennessee Titans in a game which could determine their postseason fate. They rank 26th in the league, giving up 3.1 sacks per game.
Though the NFL snubbed him with respect to the Pro Bowl, he is getting some love from certain experts. He owns the fifth-best overall grade among linebackers with at least 600 snaps from advanced stats site Pro Football Focus. Once again, his play is putting him in the same company as Kuechly and Wagner who also comprise the top five of PFF’s linebacker rankings.
The icing on the cake in describing Leonard’s comprehensive skill set is the fact that he also boasts playmaking ability when it comes to forcing turnovers. He intercepted a pass in the third quarter of the Colts’ 38-10 win over the Titans in Week 11. It set up Indy close to the red zone and resulted in a T.Y. Hilton touchdown catch which confirmed the rout was on. Leonard also has two fumble recoveries this season, a mark currently bested by just three NFL players: Allen Bailey, Matt Milano, and Marshon Lattimore.
Extra Motivation Down the Stretch
Leonard’s accomplishments aren’t getting their just due. The Pro Bowl snub is a glaring example. It seems to be par for the course given the Colts as a whole are still flying a bit under the radar. But they’re playing some of the best football in the league.
After starting the season 1-5, they’ve won seven of their last eight and stand just one spot out of the playoffs. Andrew Luck finally has a competent offensive line and, as a result, he’s back to playing like an MVP candidate. Combined with a formidable defense which boasts an immensely underrated and now potentially extra motivated rookie, Indy shapes to be a tough out in the postseason should they make it.
View the original article on Last Word On Pro Football: Darius Leonard the Defensive Centerpiece of an Under-Appreciated Indianapolis Colts Team