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Darius Leonard has asserted himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL

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Carolina Panthers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Darius Leonard is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL right now. I know that seems like a lot for a guy that is just entering his third season in the League, but Leonard has transformed the Colts defense. His presence on the field can’t be understated and he will be a top 5 defensive player for the foreseeable future.

It all started when Ballard took Leonard out of South Carolina State with the 36th pick in the historically great 2018 Draft. The pick was considered a reach by the media, as some scouts had Leonard as a 3rd/4th round pick. Leonard silenced doubters by leading the NFL in tackles in his rookie season, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year over Bradley Chubb, and earning First Team All-Pro Honors. He became the leader of a solid Colts defense and was instrumental to a later-season winning streak that ultimately put Indy in the playoffs.

After such an accomplished rookie season, Leonard continued to improve in his sophomore year and posted similar numbers in fewer games. He was named to the Pro Bowl and earned Second Team All-Pro. (He deserved First Team over Eric Kendricks by a mile, but my opinion might be biased as a Colts fan).

In just two seasons, Leonard has asserted himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Looking at his stats per-game compared with the other best players at his position shows just how great Leonard has been.

Top LBs per-game average

///////////////////////// Darius Leonard LVE Tremaine Edmunds Bobby Wagner Luke Kuechly Eric Kendricks Demario Davis
///////////////////////// Darius Leonard LVE Tremaine Edmunds Bobby Wagner Luke Kuechly Eric Kendricks Demario Davis
Tackles 8.32 8.93 6.16 7.53 7.00 6.05 5.97
TFLs 0.68 0.15 0.48 0.42 0.75 0.24 0.69
Sacks 0.43 0.03 0.11 0.13 0.06 0.05 0.28
Interceptions 0.25 0.10 0.10 0.06 0.09 0.07 0.03
FF / FR 0.29 0.05 0.06 0.16 0.09 0.21 0.09
GS 28 20 31 31 32 29 32

Looking at the chart, we can see that The Maniac ranks:

  • 2nd in tackles per game
  • 1st in sacks
  • 2nd in TFLs
  • 1st in interceptions
  • 1st in FF/FR

Not only has Leonard individually performed as one of the best linebackers in the game but his production has helped turn the Colts defense into a solid unit. This is evidenced by the Colts defensive ranks the three seasons before his arrival, and the two seasons since.

Colts Defensive Ranks Before/After Leonard

Year Yards Allowed Opp. PPG T.O %
Year Yards Allowed Opp. PPG T.O %
2015 26th 12th 25th
2016 30th 22nd 22nd
2017 30th 21st 30th
Leonard drafted - - -
2018 11th 8th 10th
2019 16th 10th 18th

Drafting The Maniac was a stroke of genius by Chris Ballard, as he got a blue-chip prospect and a franchise cornerstone for years to come for the Indianapolis Colts.