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Should Colts' Darius Leonard Be Part of Defensive Player Of The Year Discussion? 'The Stats Speak For Themselves'

Darius Leonard's nine takeaways are more than 14 teams have this season. 

Darius Leonard did it again in the Colts' 45-30 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night football, with the "it" being balling his hand into a fist and executing a perfectly-timed punch to force a fumble. 

Leonard now has forced 13 fumbles in the first 51 games of his career. His punch-out Thursday was his fourth of the 2021 season. There is, quite simply, no active player in the NFL who's able to do what Leonard can do to unsuspecting — or, by now, perhaps suspecting — ball-carriers in the open field. 

And it's all a work of art. 

But when will we start talking about Leonard as a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year — as if he shouldn't have been in the discussion already?

"I think the stats speak for themselves," Leonard said. 

Along with those four forced fumbles, Leonard has two interceptions and three fumble recoveries through nine games in 2021. That gives the fourth-year linebacker nine takeaways, already setting a career high two and a half months after he signed a contract extension. He's averaging one takeaway per game.

"That's tough to beat right there," Leonard added. 

Leonard, on his own, has more takeaways than 14 teams. He's had a hand in nearly half of the Colts' league-leading 20 takeaways. The Colts have turned a Leonard punch, recovery or pick into points five times this season. 

"Make sure that the other team at least takes some of the beating after they turn the ball over," Leonard said. 

And Leonard's done all this while playing a good chunk of the season on a less-than-full-strength ankle. He recently estimated his ankle was feeling about 80 percent better between Weeks 3 and 8; by looking at his statistical output, you wouldn't know it was ever less than 100 percent.

Around the halfway point of this 17-game season, the front-runners for DPOY are some of the usual suspects — Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt and Jalen Ramsey — along with Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, who leads the NFL with seven interceptions (two of which were pick-sixes). 

But being a part of the conversation can sometimes be a narrative-driven thing — and Leonard, recently, noticed he wasn't even part of the Colts' defensive narrative, at least on one program he took in. 

Leonard said he recently heard an interview about the Colts' defense in which his name wasn't even mentioned. And he didn't just brush it off. 

"My name's disrespected in the league," Leonard said. "… That's a slap in my face. I just come out and try to prove each and every week that I belong in this league and I'm continually trying to take the ball away and hopefully get in that conversation one of these days." 

Leonard still draws motivation from analysts who pegged him as the worst pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, by the way. 

And Leonard, of course, has proven he more than belongs in the NFL. Maybe this year he'll again prove he should be part of the discussion to be regarded as the best defensive player in the league. 

Because, as he said, the stats speak for themselves.

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