In a recent ranking of best draft steals of the last decade, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard was one of the top names.
When the Indianapolis Colts selected linebacker Shaquille Leonard in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the 36th-overall pick, Indy was criticized. Everyone wanted to know why the Colts would use that high of a pick on an undersized FCS linebacker. Bleacher Report even called Leonard one of the worst picks in the draft.
Soon, everyone learned what Indianapolis already knew: Shaquille Leonard is a special player. As a rookie, Leonard led the league in tackles with 163, and was First-Team All-Pro, immediately establishing himself as a top linebacker in the game. He followed that up with three more All-Pro selections and three Pro Bowl selections.
Now, after once being viewed as one of the worst picks in a draft, Leonard is viewed as one of the best draft steals of the last decade. In a recent ESPN piece by draft analysts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid, they ranked the 50 biggest NFL draft steals of the past decade. Leonard, was ranked at No. 22.
Shaquille Leonard ranked as 22nd-best draft steal of the last decade
Reid explained that leading up to the draft, people “wondered about [Leonard’s] level of competition at South Carolina State,” but went on to talk about how Leonard quieted all concerns by becoming “the centerpiece of the franchise's defense.”
Now, everyone is waiting for that centerpiece to get back on the field. After starting his career with four exceptional seasons, Leonard’s career took a detour in 2022 as injuries limited him to just 74 snaps over three games. However, Leonard is now on the path to full health and will hopefully be 100% by the time Week 1 rolls around.
With Shaquille Leonard in the middle of the defense, the Colts have a chance to be one of the top defensive units in all of football. They’ll certainly have one of the best defensive fronts with talents like DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, Zaire Franklin, and Leonard. With Leonard’s play-making ability to cause turnovers, the defense could carry Indy to a more successful season in 2023.