INDIANAPOLIS — Last year, Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson became the first pair of rookie teammates to be named First-Team All-Pro since Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers accomplished that feat with the Chicago Bears more than five decades prior.
This year, those same two young Colts stars have been selected for another prestigious honor together.
The National Football League announced tonight that Leonard and Nelson have been selected to the 2020 Pro Bowl, which will be held Saturday, Jan. 26, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., and be televised on ESPN.
Both Leonard, at inside linebacker, and Nelson, at guard, were voted as starters for the AFC team.
"It's a huge honor, because obviously a big part of it is (being) selected by your peers and the fans and the coaches. I mean, that's really what it's all about, so very well-deserved by both of those players," Colts head coach told Colts.com's Larra Overton today. "But what we love about these guys is they're Colts first; they're more interested in championships than they are Pro Bowls, but at the same time, it's nice to see them get recognized for the individual, great years that they've had."
The Colts also announced tonight that seven players have been named 2020 Pro Bowl alternates: quarterback Jacoby Brissett, tackle Anthony Castonzo, tight end Jack Doyle, defensive end Justin Houston, center Ryan Kelly, running back Marlon Mack and long snapper Luke Rhodes.
» Leonard earns his first-career Pro Bowl selection as a bit of redemption after his historic rookie season in 2018, when he led the league in tackles and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but became the just the 13th player since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to be voted First-Team All-Pro but not make the Pro Bowl, according to Pro Football Reference.
Leonard has continued his stat-sheet-stuffing ways in his second season; in 11 games played so far, he has 104 total tackles (six for a loss) with 5.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and four interceptions, one of which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown.
Leonard is the only player in the NFL with at least 100 tackles and 5.0 sacks; he's one of just three players — alongside Logan Ryan and Joe Schobert — with at least 100 tackles and four interceptions.
Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said there's been clear growth in Leonard's game, even after he set the bar so high as a rookie.
"I think he's seeing more. I think he's understanding the game more," Eberflus said. "That's what we're talking about with the growth mindset. Like everybody else, he has games that are really special and dominating games, and he has other games where he learns a lot. The most important thing is that you take that performance and you keep learning as a young player and you keep developing. Even as a guy who has experience, you have to keep getting better in this league and he's done that. It's really a tribute to him."
Leonard becomes the first Colts defensive player to earn Pro Bowl honors since safety Mike Adams and cornerback Vontae Davis in 2015, and the first Indy Pro Bowl linebacker since D'Qwell Jackson in 2014.
» Nelson earns his second-career Pro Bowl selection after being voted to the AFC team as a rookie last year, when he also earned First-Team All-Pro honors.
The 23-year-old Notre Dame product has continued his dominating ways this season as one of the best left guards in the game; he's played and started in all 14 of the Colts' game so far, and has Pro Football Focus' second-best offensive grade of all linemen (92.7); his run blocking grade of 90.9 ranks third among all offensive linemen, while his pass blocking grade of 81.0 ranks 10th among all guards, as he has allowed zero sacks all season, according to PFF.
Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said Nelson's style of play and overall approach to the game has been "very contagious."
"Anytime you get a guy who just loves football that much – and it doesn't just take loving football, but it also takes the skill that he has," Sirianni said. "He is producing on the field. He is doing his job on the field. He loves ball. His toughness is contagious.
"I just think you see his toughness spread to everybody," Sirianni continued. "He is always the first guy down to celebrate with his teammates. So that is just something that guys are attracted to and everybody wants to be in on that. So Q brings a ton to the table not only in his style of play but also his leadership abilities in getting everybody going."
Nelson joins Jeff Saturday, Tarik Glenn, Chris Hinton and Ray Donaldson as the only Colts offensive linemen to earn multiple Pro Bowl selections since the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
Nelson is also one of five Colts players in franchise history to earn Pro Bowl honors in each of their first two NFL seasons, joining Alan Ameche, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James and Andrew Luck.