According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (subscription), the Indianapolis Colts’ Darius Leonard was ranked as the NFL’s 4th best linebacker overall per a survey of fifty league executives, coaches, scouts, and players alike:
4. Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 9
Age: 25 | Last year’s ranking: 4
No linebacker does the splash play quite like Leonard, whose knack for getting the ball is elite. Through three seasons, Leonard has seven interceptions and nine forced fumbles to go with 15 sacks.
“He doesn’t have the ideal size [6-foot-2, 230 pounds], and you can argue at certain points he’s hybrid, but he plays bigger and is so productive,” an NFC coach said. “Are you getting to the ball and making plays? That’s such a big part of the game and this guy does that.”
Leonard has made two All-Pro teams in three years, putting him on a potential Hall of Fame track. The only thing that might be keeping Leonard out of the top-three is “loose” playmaking, an AFC coach said — meaning he’s best on plays going away from him, ones in which he can chase down.
“Box plays that go at him where you have to play true linebacker, he’s still good but not as explosive a hitter or playmaker as those guys ahead of him,” the coach said.
Ranked just ahead of Leonard at linebacker were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Devin White, San Francisco 49ers Fred Warner, and Seattle Seahawks Bobby Wagner respectively—as Leonard remained steady at the 4th overall spot from last offseason.
Since being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, ‘The Maniac’ has quickly ascended into one of the top linebackers (and defensive playmakers) in all of football.
He’s been a 3x NFL All-Pro in each of his first three seasons in the league, with two of those (2018, 2020) having been named onto the NFL’s First-Team squad.
Leonard is coming off another stat-stuffing season for the Colts in which he recorded 132 tackles (86 solo), 7 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 7 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries during 14 starts.
Per PFF (subscription), he was their 10th best graded linebacker this season with a +70.4 overall grade this past season.
Known to always ‘bring the juice’, Leonard is a dynamic linebacker, who can run, hit, blitz, and cover—and has been a tackling machine in the Colts’ ‘Cover 2/Cover 3’ defensive derivative. He has a knack for making clutch plays in critical in-game situations too.
Honestly, he may be the closest thing to Bucs’ Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks we’ve seen since, and Leonard, himself, is on the fast-track to Canton, Ohio with the Colts—playing a similar zone heavy defensive scheme.
While Leonard is the AFC’s best linebacker overall, and this is clearly knit-picking, the challenge for him going forward is fine-tuning his consistency—and not as it relates to his always non-stop motor or work ethic.
Rather, as the coach above said, Leonard is good but not always great at the point of attack (given his smaller size) when taken head on and can have the occasional lapse in coverage or undertaken inopportune angle to the football.
That being said, he’s clearly an elite player featuring sideline-to-sideline ability.
Leonard will likely take this latest ranking as a slight and to use as extra motivation, but there are a few fine details that he can continue to grow and improve upon to become the league’s undisputed top player at his position. He’s clearly on the cusp for the Colts.