With the signing of 49ers linebacker Fred Warner it is expected in the coming days for Colts linebacker Darius Leonard to reset the market with a massive contract extension. The real question Colts fans are asking themselves happens to be is the money worth it for a linebacker?
Flashback to the second night of the draft in 2018. The Colts had amassed 4 second round picks and General Manager Chris Ballard took a linebacker from South Carolina State with the 36th overall pick. Immediate reaction was mixed as some popular news outlets even went so far as to tab Leonard the worst pick in the entire draft. He quelled those takes very quickly when he exploded in week 2 vs the Football Team with 19 tackles and a sack. From then on out the man they call Maniac tackled and sacked his was to NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year honors along with 1st team All-Pro honors. Solid 1st season but was he one hit wonder?
Move on to 2019 the 1st team All-Pro looked to continue his rapid rise and hoped earn his 1st Pro Bowl appearance. Leonard faced the 1st big test of his NFL career as he had gotten a concussion and 3 weeks later was still dealing with severe symptoms. Leonard talked about that time and how trying it was as he wondered if he’d ever lace up his cleats again and if he did would he be the same player. He cleared concussion protocol and went on to set career highs in Interceptions and defensive touchdowns. After the year 1 snub Leonard finally cracked the Pro Bowl roster while also getting 2nd team All-Pro.
Last season came with challenges for everyone and Darius Leonard was no exception. In all the Covid-19 roadblocks and hurdles Leonard still had 130 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. While 2020 did become the 1st season Leonard did not notch an interception he still had 7 pass defensed in 14 games played. He made his 2nd consecutive Pro Bowl and was named 1st Team All-Pro. So where does Leonard rank with top linebackers who’ve played at least 3 seasons?
PLAYER A: 48 games 253 solo tackles with 114 assisted 14 QB hits 4 Sacks 5 Forced Fumbles 3 Fumble Recoveries 3 Interceptions 1 Defensive Score
PLAYER B: 40 Games 202 solo tackles with 123 assisted 4 QB hits 1.5 Sacks 3 Forced Fumbles 3 Fumble Recoveries 5 Interceptions 0 Defensive Scores
PLAYER C: 47 Games 251 solo tackles with 184 assisted 23 QB hits 7 Sacks 3 Forced Fumbles 3 Fumble Recoveries 2 Interceptions 1 Defensive Score
PLAYER D: 46 Games 258 solo tackles with 102 assisted 17 QB hits 6 Sacks 7 Forced Fumbles 5 Fumble Recoveries 2 Interceptions 0 Defensive Scores
PLAYER E: 42 Games 268 solo tackles with 148 assisted 17 QB hits 15 sacks 9 Forced Fumbles 4 Fumble Recoveries 7 Interceptions 1 Defensive Score
Which player deserves to be the NFL’s highest paid LB? The players listed are commonly referred to as the top 5 linebackers in the NFL and in order are Fred Warner, Eric Kendricks, Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David, and then Darius Leonard. Playing in less games than all qualifying linebackers except Kendricks, Leonard was 1st in solo tackles, 1st in sacks, 1st in forced fumbles, and 1st in interceptions. He took home 2nd in total tackles behind Bobby Wagner, tied for 2nd in QB hits with Lavonte David behind Bobby Wagner, and he is 2nd in fumble recoveries behind David as well. In every major linebacker category Leonard is consistently one of top the linebackers if not the top. So what do you think? Is Darius Leonard worth the money?