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Who Would You Rather Have: Darius Leonard Edition

Divisional Round - Indianapolis Colts v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Over the next few weeks until the start of training camp, I will be unveiling a small series titled "Who Would You Rather Have", and pit current Colts players against similar NFL counterparts, with a winner chosen for each matchup. While I understand this a Colts website and bias might be involved, I’ll make sure to keep it as objective as possible.

Darius Leonard vs Jamal Adams

Right off the bat, we have a tricky matchup. Firstly, we can throw age out the window since both are 23 years old. When just comparing numbers, oddly enough, Darius Leonard had more sacks and interceptions as a rookie than Adams has had in his first 2 seasons in the NFL. Leonard isn’t too far behind in tackles or pass deflections either and has the same number of forced fumbles in his career. On paper, Leonard definitely wins, but football is a lot more than numbers.

Which player generates the larger impact on their respective team, and whose position is more important to a defense? This is where Leonard starts to separate himself. In the Colts’ defense, Leonard has been asked to play everywhere; he’s had to play at each linebacker spot but has also played out wide at cornerback and drop as the 2nd deep defender in a Cover 2 zone! Adams also plays a versatile role, but considering linebackers are consistently closer to the play and more involved on a play-to-play basis, it shows Leonard plays a more important role with his team. The importance of the linebacker spot, Leonard’s versatility and the fact that his numbers in his rookie season were as good or better than Adams’ career numbers is why he’s the winner of this matchup.

Winner: Darius Leonard

Darius Leonard vs Marshon Lattimore

This, to me, is the easiest matchup to decide of the three. Lattimore is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and is only 23 years old. While his rookie season was amongst the best we’ve seen from a secondary player in many years, last season wasn’t as strong (but still strong). While Lattimore's rookie season was impressive, Darius Leonard’s rookie season was even more so, and (like Lattimore) Leonard took home the hardware for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. When comparing both seasons, Leonard’s probably comes out as slightly more impressive, since he was able to amass so many tackles, 7 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles, including some in the biggest moments of games. While Lattimore was a shutdown corner, his position doesn’t allow him to have a major impact in the running game, which hurts his value a bit when comparing him to other top young defensive players.

Because of the importance of a linebacker (which is probably more important and a tougher position to play than cornerback) and Leonard’s extremely rare rookie season, Leonard comes out on top.

Winner: Darius Leonard

Darius Leonard vs Fletcher Cox

Pass rushers are extremely hard to find and Cox has proven to be one of the best interior pass rushers of the decade. In his 7 seasons in the NFL, Cox has amassed 44.5 sacks and is one of the best run stopping defensive tackles in the league. Cox has been a part of one of the strongest defensive fronts over the past few seasons and is one of the most valuable defensive players in the league. At 28 years old, he’s still in his prime and can still give the Eagles a few more dominant seasons before we see some kind of decline.

While an interior pass rusher is probably more important than a WILL linebacker to a modern day NFL defense, Leonard’s age, potential and all around versatility make him a more valuable candidate than Cox.

If Cox were 25 years old, then this would essentially be a coin flip, and I would lean a bit towards Cox since a strong interior pass rusher is so rare in today’s game, but since he’s 4.5 years older than Leonard, Leonard gets the nod in all three matchups.

Winner: Darius Leonard

I would argue that Darius Leonard is in the second tier of valuable defensive players, with Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner being in the first tier. At 23 (to be 24) years old, he is one of the most valuable defensive players around, and a player that the Colts can build around on defense.