According to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, the Indianapolis Colts have two of the ‘league’s twelve players whose teams should never let them leave’: offensive guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard:
OG Quenton Nelson
Indianapolis Colts · Seasons: 2
Most starting NFL guards aren’t drafted in the first round, let alone sixth overall, where Nelson was chosen by the Colts in 2018 — but then again, few guards are as talented as Nelson. Indianapolis learned the hard way about the importance of fielding a quality offensive line when would-be franchise quarterback Andrew Luck retired suddenly last year in part because of the injuries he’d suffered behind suspect protection. Nelson, who will be eligible for a contract extension after the upcoming season, should be the unit’s cornerstone for most (if not all) of the coming decade.
LB Darius Leonard
Indianapolis Colts · Seasons: 2
Leonard set the bar extremely high as a rookie in 2018, leading the NFL in tackles while earning first-team All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. While his production fell off a bit in 2019, failing to force a single turnover through his first five games, he did finish with five picks, two forced fumbles and 121 tackles. My fellow Hall of Fame evaluator Bill Polian has compared Leonard’s potential in a Tampa-2 defense to that of Derrick Brooks, who is also enshrined in Canton, and letting a player like that get away would make no sense for the Colts.
Now, Nelson and Leonard’s inclusion on such a list is hardly surprising.
Both selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, the two young superstars at their respective positions have each already become 2x NFL All-Pros—still short of their 25th birthdays (in what was a bases loaded walkoff grand slam of a draft class for Chris Ballard and the Colts).
Nelson is already the top offensive guard in all of football, while Leonard is among the league’s best linebackers—and is arguably the best young linebacker in the sport.
Since being selected with the 6th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Nelson has made all 32 starts for the Colts offensive line and been a catalyst for one of the league’s most improved and strongest units—as a dominant interior force.
‘Big Q’ plays with tremendous toughness, physicality, and leadership in the trenches.
In pass protection during 2019, Nelson allowed just 20 total QB pressures and surrendered 0 sacks in 559 pass blocking snaps—while committing a mere 3 penalties overall.
Meanwhile, as a steal with the 36th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Leonard has simply been a playmaker and stat-stuffer at the second level of the Colts defense—flying to the football and making plays all over the field—especially in critical situations.
‘The Maniac’ provides much needed passion and ‘juice’ to the Colts defense as a dynamic linebacker—who can do it all, even lining up one-on-one against top receivers in coverage.
Leonard recorded 121 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 5 interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown), 2 forced fumbles, and 7 passes defensed during 13 starts in 2019.
He’s only one of four NFL defenders since 2000 to record 120+ tackles, 5.0+ sacks, and 5+ interceptions in a single season—joining linebacker Brian Urlacher (2007), safety Rodney Harrison (2000), and linebacker Lavonte David (2013).
Of course, both top young players should be cornerstones for the Colts franchise for plenty of years to come in Horseshoe Blue.
The biggest question might be just how much the still salary cap flexible Colts will have to pay each of its young superstars on their next contract extensions respectively—which team owner Jim Irsay gladly will . . . and quite handsomely at that.
The pair isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon for the Colts.