The recent tweet by Indianapolis Colts star linebacker, Darius Leonard, got me thinking: “Is he really underrated, and if he is, what does ‘underrated’ infer?”
It’s no secret the Colts linebacker has been a great addition to a historically struggling defense, but he has played as one of the best in the NFL over the last two seasons. He earned Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 as he led the NFL in tackles.
He recently tweeted about his feelings of being snubbed for Defensive Player of the Year (DPOTY) stating: “The DPOY had 6 int as a DB, I had 5 at LB plus 5 sacks and 120 tlks and my name wasn’t even mentioned! Cmon man! I’m very humbled but when I’m getting disrespected I will address it! Keep giving me that motivation to prove y’all wrong! Thanks”
Leonard is right. He’s been a pretty humble player. In fact, humbleness first drew me to the Colts in the first place. My mom instilled in me that a player isn’t great because of on the field plays, but rather their ability to give respect to their opponents whether they win or lose by being humble.
Naturally, I became a Colts fan as I watched Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning shred offenses then walk off the field to Tony Dungy while at the same time making sure their opponent was given respect no matter what.
Leonard is part of that breed of players: acting like they’ve done “this” before. He’s not one to brag about his accomplishments. In fact, his Instagram account is full of moments with his daughter, wife and full of memories other than football. The “Maniac,” as his nickname says, makes sure he presents himself in a respectful manner while also being proud to be a Colts player. He’s also setting an example for young boys on how to act on and off the field.
Not just his personal life, but his player life. All of the Colts players rave about his leadership skills and his ability to make plays while seeing things happen before they actually do – a skill not very many defenders have. I’m not one who believes it’s only stats that make a player great. There are plays where he will clog up and defender and allow another player to make a tackle; those types of plays won’t make the stat sheet.
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Even as much as I love Leonard, Stephon Gillmore had a fantastic season while Leonard had a string of games where he was out due to the concussion protocol. Even so, his complaint isn’t that he wasn’t in it, per se, it’s that he wasn’t even in the conversation about it.
Even better was his being snubbed from last year’s Pro Bowl despite making the All-Pro team in his rookie season. He also makes it clear on his social media accounts that he feeds off of the disrespect, as he calls it, and that motivates him to be a better player.
Leonard is an invaluable player for this team. Most off-ball linebackers get 7 sacks in their whole career while Leonard has 13 in his first two years. Not to mention interceptions at 7 with two of them taken back to the house – both last season alone.
A mike linebacker has a hard time winning the award since most of it based on stats and LB’s don’t get many stats other than tackles. Luke Kuechly was the last linebacker to win the DPOTY award back in 2013, much deserved to be fair.
One bright spot was he made PFF’s top 101 players of the year at 100 right ahead of Justin Houston, the offseason acquisition to the defense. Over the season quarterbacks had a 79.0 passer rating against him, by the way, which was the best in the league. He also had the most interceptions at 5, while also being #6 in tackling efficiency at 31 (defined as 31 made tackles for every missed 1).
So is he justified in saying he feels overlooked? 100% he is.