INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been a season unlike any other for Darius Leonard.
Just 6 games into signing a new $100 million contract (which kicks in next year), Leonard is clearly not his complete self.
If you look at the numbers that were the main reason why the Colts are paying Leonard more than any other off-ball linebacker in the NFL, the season looks very Maniac-like.
But if you look at the snap in, snap out numbers of Leonard, he’s not playing at his normal level.
Through 6 games, Leonard is up to his old tricks in the playmaking department—with 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries. He’s the only player in the NFL with 2 picks and 2 forced fumbles this season.
That’s the elite-level ball production that the Colts are used to with Leonard.
Where the Colts haven’t received the normal Leonard is when he’s not making those splash plays
Leonard has yet to record a sack, has just 1 quarterback hit and only 2 tackles for loss in his 373 defensive snaps. He’s averaging 7.5 tackles per game, compared to his career average of 9.5.
Properly evaluating Leonard through 6 weeks isn’t as obvious as one would think.
From a ‘gutting it out’ standpoint, Leonard is more than doing that. The June ankle surgery Leonard had is definitely still impacting his lateral movement.
Yet, Leonard’s knack for creating game-changing turnovers is still alive and well.
“He’s a fierce competitor and you guys know that,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus says of Leonard. “You guys see him on the practice field and I think that’s how he compensates for it. He’s a fierce competitor, he has accelerated vision to be able to see and he studies and learns during the week of where he’s going to make his plays in the game and he seizes those opportunities. He’s a guy that’s a very positive thinker, he visualizes positive things throughout the week in his mental approach to the game and then he does it on the practice field. I think, just a mentally strong individual that’s very talented physically as well and he just seizes his opportunities when he makes those plays during the course of the game. He’s continuing to do that and I think he has the ability to block a lot of that stuff out – just how mentally strong he is. He’s a fierce competitor and a strong man.”
In Leonard’s four NFL seasons we’ve lauded the athleticism and length he brings to the linebacker position.
What isn’t acknowledged enough is Leonard’s instincts.
“Yeah, I would agree with that,” Eberflus says. “He is very instinctual. We look for that in the players as we draft and acquire players. He prepares like nobody’s business in terms of being able to constantly work during individual, during the walk-thru, all the walk-thru reps, his footwork is always clean and he does a great job of putting himself in that picture to make sure he has that vision before the snap and also during the snap to make those plays.”
Watching Leonard move each week, it’s darn impressive the only snaps he’s missed were the final 8 plays of Sunday’s runaway win over the Texans.
As long as Leonard keeps up his historic playmaking, the Colts will have the rare play they’ve coveted, even if the other ‘stuff’ has taken a dip.
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