You don’t get a nickname like “Maniac” for taking things lightly, and Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard has used his unyielding motor to rise from a somewhat surprising second-round pick into one of the best linebackers in football, if not the outright best.
Leonard is the only player in the history of the league to record 400 tackles, 15 sacks, seven interceptions, and nine forced fumbles in his first three seasons in the league. In a Matt Eberflus defense that asks a lot of its linebackers, Leonard has proven that he can fill any role he is asked to.
You’d think that type of production on a Colts team that has made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons would warrant inclusion at the top of any hypothetical linebacker list. Unfortunately, ESPN’s rankings beg to differ.
Leonard came in fourth place on this recent list, with Buccaneers speedster Devin White, versatile 49ers defender Fred Warner, and future Seahawks Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner ranking ahead of him. While at least one voter ranked Leonard at No. 1, someone thought he was only the ninth-best linebacker in football. What?
Colts: Darius Leonard should be ranked much higher
Leonard came into the league in the same draft class as Warner, and while Warner obliterated people in Robert Saleh’s defense, Leonard’s production is right there with him. As good as White is, the presence of Lavonte David on the roster means that he might not even be the best linebacker on his own team.
Wagner’s pedigree has him ranked at No. 3, but Leonard has a case with regard to potentially overtaking him.
An AFC coach said that the main reason Leonard, a two-time All-Pro, ranks this low is the fact that he is a “loose” playmaker, meaning that he is more successful at plays that aren’t run at him where he can chase his opponent down. Even if that is true, Leonard has shown enough muscle in between the tackles and gap penetration ability to render that claim moot.
If we know anything about Leonard, we know that he is not someone who is going to sit on the sideline and take things in stride. He’s going to be out for blood this season, eyeing those three ranked ahead of him as he looks to prove himself to a media that somehow remains unconvinced.
Despite some moving parts and fresh faces on defense, if Indianapolis is able to get an even more pumped-up version of Leonard, that could be trouble for the rest of the AFC South.