Despite a year off, Colts LB Shaquille Leonard still has the respect of the NFL

Shaquille Leonard didn’t play much during the 2022 season, but people throughout the NFL still consider him a top linebacker.
Washington Commanders v Indianapolis Colts
Washington Commanders v Indianapolis Colts / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

Oftentimes, in today’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, people quickly move on or forget about things that aren’t producing in the present. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard was at risk of having that happen to him. After a 2021 season where Leonard was the best off-ball linebacker in football, he barely played in 2022.

Multiple back surgeries to address a nerve issue limited Leonard to just 74 snaps in three games last season. Even in the limited snaps when he was on the field, Leonard wasn’t really himself. This tumultuous year could’ve led to people forgetting about how good of a football player Leonard is. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, at least not I’m NFL circles.

NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler recently started releasing his annual position rankings that are compiled by polling NFL players, coaches, and execs. Despite Leonard essentially missing last season, he was still ranked on the off-ball linebacker list, coming in at No. 7. That’s six spots lower than his No. 1 ranking from last offseason.

Shaquille Leonard ranked as seventh-best off-ball linebacker

Speaking about Leonard, an AFC scout told Fowler, “He still scares [offenses] in the ways he can take away the ball,” but admitted, “you wonder about the long-term health at this point.” That’s pretty much been the conversation surrounding Leonard for the last year. When he’s on the field, he’s one of the most impactful players in the league. Everyone just wants to know when he’ll return to the field and if he’ll be the same player.

Although Leonard didn’t participate in the offseason program for the Colts, he is improving, as he admitted to feeling better than he did at any point last season, and he also shared footage of him training. Now, all eyes will be on him once training camp starts, to see whether he’s a full participant from day one, and if we should expect to see him on the field for the Colts in Week 1.

Hopefully, the answer will be yes, because Shaquille Leonard is not only one of the best linebackers in football, but he’s one of the NFL’s best players, so it would be great to have him back.