According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (subscription), and an annual league survey that records the vote of more than 80 league executives, coaches, scouts, and players alike, the Indianapolis Colts’ Shaquille Leonard still remains the 7th best off-ball linebacker in football:
7. Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
Highest ranking: 6 | Lowest ranking: Unranked
Age: 27 | Last year’s ranking: 1
Leonard’s penchant for causing turnovers earned him last year’s No. 1 spot. Through his first four seasons, he produced 11 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and 15 sacks. But he played just three games last season before undergoing back surgery to repair two discs.
Before his season came to an end, he had 11 tackles and one interception for 15 yards.
“He still scares [offenses] in the ways he can take away the ball, but I’m not sure he has that one dominant trait, and you wonder about the long-term health at this point,” an AFC scout said. “I hope I’m wrong in that. He’s a fantastic player.”
Despite a down season that was significantly limited by Leonard’s back/lower leg nerve issues and injuries, it speaks to how great he’s recently been for the Colts—that he still made the Top 10 at his position of this year’s ranking.
Having been shut down for his second back surgery, Leonard recorded just 11 tackles (8 solo), an interception, and a pass defensed during 3 games (1 start) in limited action during the 2023 campaign.
The last we heard about Leonard was from new Indy head coach Shane Steichen, and that the former 4x NFL All-Pro has been ‘progressing well’ in his rehabilitation and recovery. However, given that Leonard believes he rushed his return last offseason, it’s likely that the Colts (and him) will be overly cautious with their star linebacker’s recovery this time around—meaning he could miss substantial chunks of training camp and/or preseason.
Right now, while I certainly wouldn’t bet against him, it’s not a guarantee that ‘The Maniac’ ever regains his prior superstar form, where he was one of the best linebackers in the game, featuring sideline-to-sideline range, a knack for finding the football, adept coverage skills, and playmaking—featuring the uncanny ability to force fumbles and create turnovers (especially in critical in-game moments).
If fully healthy and recovered though, Leonard instantly should catapult at or near the top of any ranking going forward into 2024—for a promising and highly productive early Colts career that was otherwise and already fast-tracked to Canton, Ohio.