INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts’ 2018 rookie class continues to get recognition.
The Draft Network recently released its Midseason All-Rookie Team, and making the First Team are the Colts’ first three selections of the 2018 NFL Draft — Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard and Braden Smith.
Heading into the draft, Nelson was one of the highest-ranked interior offensive linemen in recent memory, and the Colts capitalized by making him the No. 6-overall pick. He has made clear progress each week of the season, even showing some of his trademark nastiness that made him such an eye-catching prospect to begin with.
TDN picked Nelson along with second-round guard Will Hernandez of the New York Giants and first-round guard Frank Ragnow of the Detroit Lions. “Unanimous trio from every single voter,” author Jon Ledyard stated. “It is difficult for rookie interior offensive linemen to enter the league and shine right away, but these three clearly have. On their way to great careers.”
Last week, the NFL announced that Nelson had been named the Offensive Rookie of the Month for his performance in October — the first guard in league history to earn such honors.
Nelson isn’t the only Colts rookie to be named Rookie of the Month, however. Leonard claimed NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September. The linebacker nicknamed “Maniac” has garnered attention all year, actually, as he’s also been nominated for the NFL’s Rookie of the Week award three times and won it twice for his efforts in Weeks 2 and 8.
The No. 36-overall draft pick is a legitimate contender for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year when all is said and done, as he currently leads the entire NFL in tackles (88) to go with seven tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two pass breakups.
Pro Football Focus currently has Leonard graded as the No. 5-overall linebacker in the NFL.
Also making TDN’s All-Rookie First Team is Smith, drafted right after Leonard at No. 37 overall. The rookie offensive lineman out of Auburn was selected to eventually man the right guard spot opposite of Nelson, but plans changed.
A slew of injuries and unfortunate circumstances created an opportunity for Smith to see some action at right tackle, and he has taken full advantage.
Smith got his first full start at right tackle against the New England Patriots in Week 5 on Thursday Night Football. Since then, he has been a standout, even grading as PFF’s No. 2 overall rookie offensive lineman. His solid play, as well as the equally quality contributions of new right guard Mark Glowinski, have the Colts riding what has turned into a very promising development.
The injection of Nelson and Smith to the Colts’ offensive line has turned a unit that used to be a source of constant frustration into arguably the team’s biggest strength. In fact, the line hasn’t allowed quarterback Andrew Luck to be sacked in more than 150 dropbacks, and the team has run for an average of 189.7 yards over the last three games.
Leonard has had just as much of an impact on the Colts’ new-look defense. Two of his three forced fumbles have essentially sealed victories for the Colts, and his ferocious, all-effort play has become infectious to his teammates.
Yet another Colts rookie — No. 52-overall pick, defensive end Kemoko Turay — was also listed by The Draft Network as an honorable mention selection, receiving two Second-Team votes in the edge defender group.