The Indianapolis Colts were known around the league as an offensively-driven team given the fact that Philip Rivers was their quarterback, rookie sensation Jonathan Taylor was bowling grown men over during the last few weeks of the season, and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was so highly regarded that the Philadelphia Eagles made him a head coach.
Despite that, Matt Eberflus has turned the Colts into one of the most suffocating defenses in the league, and the catalyst for that transformation has been middle linebacker Darius Leonard.
While players like Luke Kuechly, Lavonte David, and Patrick Willis have all been Pro Bowlers right out of the gate, only Leonard has 400 tackles, 15 sacks, seven interceptions, and nine forced fumbles in his career. Those numbers also don’t tell the whole story, as Leonard missed six games over the last three years.
Darius Leonard can make the Colts defense dominant at times, which could be an enticing pitch for free agents
Leonard was a somewhat surprising second-round pick out of South Carolina State, as some teams were scared off by the combination of his slight frame and lack of long speed. However, the fiery linebacker has proven those scouts emphatically wrong, becoming one of the best linebackers in the game as soon as he stepped on the field.
General manager Chris Ballard will have plenty of ammunition to beef up this team. The Colts are a rare contender that has an incredibly high amount of cap space ($64 million, second-highest in the NFL, to be exact).
Even though Indianapolis might not have the draw that some coastal cities have, playing on a team that can win a championship is always going to be a plus. With Leonard proving to be equally effective hanging back in a deep zone and sticking his nose right into a pile-up at the line of scrimmage, Eberflus’ defense is always going to be among the league’s best.
The combination of getting full market value, playing alongside other great defenders like Leonard — who is the vocal leader of this team — and DeForest Bucker, and competing for a division title in a very winnable AFC South could be a very seductive pitch for any stud free agents in the coming months.
No matter who is under center at the start of next season, Eberflus should be in charge of a violent, efficient defense with Leonard at the center of it all.