It’s no longer a secret that the Indianapolis Colts feel that they’ve hit the lottery with a couple of their recent draft picks. Rookies Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson have been major contributors for the team in a season that was seen as just another step in the rebuild of the roster.
To some extent that’s still true. However, neither Leonard or Nelson have played like rookies. Not even good rookies. They’ve been putting together some seriously impressive performances worthy of being very good NFL pros regardless of tenure.
It’s not an ‘award’ but Jeff Legwold — senior writer for ESPN — has recognized the duo as being two of the top 10 rookies in the league to this point in the season.
Leonard has missed a game this season, but still leads the league in total tackles with 122, and has a nice little cushion over the next highest total of 106 tackles which is shared by, both, Miami’s Kiko Alonso and Green Bay’s Blake Martinez.
Leonard is also tied for the team lead in sacks (6), has forced 4 fumbles (team high), and is third on the team in tackles for loss as well.
Nelson has also taken the league by storm. As an interior lineman, Nelson has been a key cog in the Colts’ offensive line seeing a much improved season, and has undoubtedly assisted in Andrew Luck’s impressive season.
Nelson was seen as a ‘can’t miss’ lineman in the 2018 NFL draft, but many struggled to give him the credit for being the right pick for Chris Ballard simply due to his positional value. Within Ballard’s vision of constructing this roster, though, it appears to have been a no-brainer on his part.
Nelson has been very good in protection, and is often the first player down the field on running plays. His draw comes from his nature of being a bully in the trenches as well as his athletic ability to pull and open up running lanes on the perimeter. So far, Nelson has proved to be a fantastic pick for the second-year Colts’ GM.
Leonard was seen in another light, though, after he was selected by the Colts. He wasn’t seen as a good pick — at all. He was often reviewed as one of the worst picks, not just by the Colts, but by any team in the entire draft. His being selected in the second round was the main reason for this blowback, but Leonard has more than quieted the critics with his all-around play in his rookie campaign.
As Leonard sits at second on Legwold’s list, this is pretty par for the course among NFL analysts right now and he has a very legitimate possibility for taking home defensive rookie of the year honors. For Nelson, only Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley and Phillip Lindsay sit above him on this rookie list on the offensive side of the ball, thus, it appears equally possible for him to be heavily in the mix for the offensive rookie of the year award as well.
Any way you choose to look at it, the Colts have a very productive rookie class this year, and Leonard and Nelson are the clear front-runners at positions in which the Colts desperately needed difference making players on their respective sides of the ball.
It looks like Ballard may know what he’s doing.