INDIANAPOLIS — His inclusion on the various league All-Rookie Teams could've been written in ink weeks ago.
But with so many solid candidates for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, can Darius Leonard prevail and claim that special honor by season's end?
Chris Wesseling believes so.
The Around the NFL writer for NFL.com on Thursday released his 2018 NFL All-Defensive Rookie Team, which, of course, included Leonard — the Colts' second-round (36th-overall) pick in this year's NFL Draft — at linebacker.
So that's totally not surprising. But what's promising for Leonard is Wesseling's assessment of his performance this season:
"Indianapolis' overhauled defense was in tatters this past offseason, drawing scorn and derision as perhaps the league's least-talented unit. With Leonard as the omnipresent centerpiece, Matt Eberflus' collection of misfits, castoffs and rookies has exceeded expectations throughout the season. A second-round gem out of tiny South Carolina State, Leonard is averaging more tackles per game (11.3) than any rookie this century, pushing past former Defensive Rookies of the Year and perennial All-Pros Patrick Willis (10.9, 2007) and Luke Kuechly (10.3, 2012). Not impressed with Leonard's league-leading 135 tackles? He has also recorded four forced fumbles and seven sacks -- numbers that no off-the-ball linebacker can match. If the season ended now, he would edge out James as my personal DROY choice."
As we reported earlier this week, Leonard needs to average about 13 tackles over his final three games to break Willis' rookie record for total tackles (174).
To add to his Defensive Rookie of the Year résumé, Leonard is first in the NFL in total tackles (135) and solo tackles (90), is tied for first in the NFL in 10-plus tackle games (6), is also first among rookies in forced fumbles (4) and fumble recoveries (2); he's second among NFL rookies and tied for 10th in the AFC in sacks (7.0).
He also has an interception and four passes defensed.
Leonard is the only member of the Colts — or any other AFC South Division squad — to be on Wesseling's 2018 All-Defensive Rookie Team.
A few days back, Wesseling selected Colts left guard Quenton Nelson and right tackle Braden Smith for his 2018 All-Offensive Rookie Team.