During his introductory press conference on Wednesday, Indianapolis Colts new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley divulged a little more detail about his infamous ‘LEO’ position—as his unit will continue to evolve to more of a ‘Cover 3’, hybrid defense:
“Well, the LEO opens up (the board), I’ll look at different personnel,” said Bradley. “I think sometimes in a 4-3 scheme, really those outside linebacker types, back in the day, there was really no place for them. It was the left end and the right end. And they were both 275 pounds, and that’s how you played. Whereas now, the LEO really opens it up where the scouting department can look at outside linebackers. Someone that’s 6’3”, 250 pounds, and has a place in our defense now, where I think 10 years ago, 12 years ago, it may not have.”
“You can never have enough pass rushers, and I think the LEO position opens up the board now, to where the scouting department, they can say, ‘Hey, there is a place for this guy.’ Like a Chris Clemons. Yannick Ngakoue. Those guys are more LEO types that have played, and there’s a place for them in our defensive scheme.”
In Bradley’s defense, the LEO is the Colts’ weak-side speed pass rusher, that as mentioned, is historically around 250 pounds and will line up ‘wide 9’—outside of the opposing offensive tackle, with the primary goal of pressuring the quarterback coming fast off the outside edge.
From a starting caliber defensive linemen standpoint, Colts’ soon-to-be 2nd-year pro, Kwity Paye, probably best prototypically fits the bill—but he’s a little heavier at 260 pounds and also has a power element to his game, which he displayed prominently at Michigan:
On the LEO, Kwity Paye’s speed and change of direction traits would fit that, even though he’s known as more of a heavier player.— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) February 9, 2022
The question for me, there, is if Paye can continue to make a transition to a speed style after playing so much read and react in college.
If re-signed, imminent free agent Kemoko Turay is a natural rotational speed rusher who could make sense in this role coming off the bench.
Perhaps, the so far underwhelming Ben Banogu, as a 2019 second round pick, gets a longer look in training camp and preseason at that spot to stick on the 53-man roster. He was someone who was initially positioned to assume a potential LEO role as a rookie with the Colts before Indianapolis elected to simplify things for him, and he never really evolved into that style when playing their version of the Cover 3 defense.
Via The Herald Bulletin’s George Bremer back in 2019, when discussing the Colts potentially incorporating the LEO into their defense with Banogu as a possible fit:
“Look, Ben is an intriguing athlete,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said after selecting Ben Banogu in the second round of 2019. “We will probably start him out at SAM (linebacker), but saying that, we also think he has got a lot of rush to him. I hate comparing names, but when Jamie Collins came out of Southern Miss, I saw the same type of athletic talent, and I think when you watch the Senior Bowl — I mean, (Banogu) did some impressive things now.”
It’s also possible that Bradley’s ideal LEO isn’t even on the roster yet. Armed with $37.4M of projected available cap space, the Colts could look to acquire more of a starting pure speed pass rusher entirely, although I would expect to see Paye deployed in that spot at times regardless as Indianapolis may mix their defensive linemen around entirely.
What is clear though is that the LEO will have a prominent role in the Colts’ new Cover 3 style under Bradley, and it’s a staple of the scheme, where pass rushing and getting after the quarterback will be held at a premium from the unique position.