Left guard: Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts. Let’s talk more about preventing opponents from limiting rushing yards. When evaluating O-line play, it’s impossible to know which play a coach has called and, thus, who was assigned to do what. But I can use computer vision to measure how many rushing yards were earned in areas along the line (as in, the gaps) and whether O-linemen near that rushing lane kept opposing defenders away. Running backs gained 2.5 yards more per rush in the areas Nelson was closest to in 2018 than average, which means the Colts rookie’s mark is +2.5 yards, the best for any left guard last season. As for passing downs, Nelson was second best among left guards at limiting defenders from coming within five feet of his quarterback (achieved on 22.2% of passing downs). Nelson got better as the season went on and will be a big factor in my Andrew Luck stat projections for next season.
Linebacker: Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts. As the Defensive Rookie of the Year, Leonard logged 163 tackles (most in the NFL), seven sacks (most among linebackers) and the fourth most offensive-success stops (54; see Luke Kuechly’s blurb) among linebackers. His season was especially impactful when you also consider the fact that none of the Colts’ primary pass rushers ranked better than 26th in terms of total disruptions.
Of course, it should hardly come as a surprise that two of the Colts All-Pro’s from last season, also happened to make the NFL’s All-Analytics Team—as their play and production was simply great last season. (Although how Darius Leonard didn’t make the Pro Bowl is another story entirely [i.e. ridiculous], but we’ll save that controversy for another day.)
NFL.com’s All-Analytics Team was compiled as follows:
“Now that the 2018 season is firmly a part of my historical reference model, I went back and took a look at each player’s individual contribution metric,” writes Frelund. “This is a numerical value I have created that adds (or subtracts) each player’s impact on their team’s ability to win games, for every snap. The goal is to better understand player value by capturing production in context, such as down and distance, score and time, type of play that was called and opponent faced.”
The potentially scary part—that is for opposing teams, is that Leonard played the majority of last season on an injured ankle, while Nelson said that his technique “got sloppy” at times last season—which he’s looking to fine tune under a new offensive line coaching staff.
The sky is truly the limit for last year’s All-Pro rookie duo, as they continue to grow and mature and start to learn more of the in’s and out’s of the professional game—and its nuances, as more seasoned pros (and eventually, veterans).
Not to mention (in Leonard’s case), get fully healthy.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see another Colts standout join them either next season such as superstar quarterback Andrew Luck—who could be poised for an MVP caliber year.
Regardless, things are really looking up in Indianapolis—and young ‘analytically savvy’ stars such as Leonard and Nelson are a big reason why.