INDIANAPOLIS — What’s not up for debate? The Indianapolis Colts had one of the best, if not the best, rookie classes in the entire National Football League in 2018.
What has been up for debate in recent weeks, however, is whether one of the key picks from that 2018 class should be considered the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year over another impressive pick who roams the secondary for the Los Angeles Chargers.
ESPN.com on Monday settled that debate on its end Monday, when it released both its 2018 All-Rookie Teams, as well as its picks for NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year? Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (and not Chargers safety Derwin James).
Leonard and James will assuredly be the two top candidates for the actual NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award when it is announced next month at the annual NFL Honors program the night before the Super Bowl. But for now, here’s what ESPN Senior Writer Jeff Legwold had to write about Leonard being their pick for the honor:
“Leonard edges a highly productive group of first-year defenders who each have an argument for the title of the league’s best rookie this season, including Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James, Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Leonard did an array of things for a young team that fought back into the playoffs. He was the only player in the league, rookie or otherwise, with at least 100 tackles, seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. That constitutes a guy who made plays behind the line of scrimmage, at the point of attack and in coverage.”
But that wasn’t the only Colts rookie love on ESPN’s website on Monday.
Tackle Braden Smith, guard Quenton Nelson and Leonard were also each named to ESPN.com’s 2018 NFL All-Rookie Team at their respective positions. Defensive tackle/end Tyquan Lewis was also named an Honorable Mention pick at the DE/Edge position.
On Smith, Legwold wrote:
“Smith, primarily a right guard in his career at Auburn, was rock solid at right tackle for the Colts, as he was part of a line that did not surrender a sack in six games in the regular season and had 11 games when Andrew Luck was sacked one or fewer times.”
As for Nelson, Legwold said:
“Nelson, while sometimes showing a rough edge or two in his technique, was every bit the walk-in starter the Colts had hoped for when they selected him No. 6 overall. Nelson simply is a front-line finisher in the run game whose work in pass protection showed plenty of savvy.”
And Legwold had a little more to say about Leonard’s historic rookie season at linebacker:
“He played all 56 of the defensive snaps in the regular season opener and was off and running on what was one of the best first-year efforts in recent memory. Leonard registered a league-leading 163 tackles, including a double take-worthy 111 solo tackles. The Colts asked him to do plenty, and he was repeatedly up to the challenge, as he consistently worked through the rough spots to make plays all over the field.”