INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL’s tackle king is being recognized one more time before he leads his team into postseason play.
The National Football League today announced that Indianapolis Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard has been named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for his standout performance Week 17 in the Colts’ playoff-clinching road victory over the Tennessee Titans.
This is the second AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for Leonard this season, as he also earned the honor back in Week 2 after Indy’s road victory over the Washington Redskins. Leonard was also named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Month back in September.
Last Sunday night against the Titans, with either team needing a win to advance to the postseason or see their seasons come to an end, Leonard was, as usual, all over the field for the Colts’ defense. He led the team in tackles (eight) and added two passes defensed, while his interception of Titans quarterback Blaine Gabbert late in the fourth quarter sealed Indy’s 33-17 victory and clinched a Colts postseason berth for the first time since the 2014 season.
Leonard wrapped up a couple huge accomplishments with his performance against the Titans: despite missing a game, he became the first rookie to lead the league in tackles since the Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly in 2012, and he passed Jeff Herrod (160) for the most tackles in a single season in Colts franchise history.
But as was evident against the Titans, Leonard’s value to the Indy defense stretches far past just making tackles. He was a stat-stuffing specialist in his rookie season with the Colts, finishing with 163 total tackles (111 solo), 12 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, eight quarterback hits, two interceptions, eight passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Leonard is the only player in the NFL since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic, to finish a season with at least 160 tackles, 7.0 sacks and two interceptions.
Leonard not only led the league in total tackles and solo stops, but he finished tied for sixth in the league in forced fumbles, tied for seventh in fumble recoveries and tied for 26th overall in tackles for loss.
Leonard, a 2019 NFL Pro Bowl alternate, is also a prime candidate for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award. His league-leading tackle numbers aside, Leonard finished first among all rookies in forced fumbles and tied for first in fumble recoveries and was second in sacks, second in tackles for loss and tied for seventh in interceptions.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Leonard’s defensive coordinator, Matt Eberflus, has gushed about his rookie playmaker.
“He is like a sponge in terms of taking everything in, of what to do, how to do it and then improving that, because once you do something for the first time you are going to be OK at it,” Eberflus said. “Obviously with his gifts, he is pretty good at doing a lot of things naturally but then he wants to get better at it. ‘How can I improve?’ And he really listens. You can tell when a player really listens to you in terms of your coaching and him wanting to get better and he does that. He does that every single day.”
Leonard becomes the first Colts rookie to earn Defensive Player of the Week honors multiple times. He joins Marvin Harrison (AFC Special Teams Player of the Week and AFC Offensive Player of the Week in 1996) and Edgerrin James (AFC Offensive Player of the Week two times in 1999) as the only Indianapolis rookies to earn Player of the Week honors multiple times. The Colts have now had 10 rookies earn NFL Player of the Week recognition on 13 occasions.
Colts players have now taken home AFC Player of the Week honors six times this season, tied for the most for the team since 2012.
Leonard is the first repeat recipient for the Colts this season, and is joined by safety Mike Mitchell (Week 7) and defensive tackle/end Denico Autry (Week 14) as Indy’s AFC Defensive Player of the Week recipients.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri (AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, Week 8) and quarterback Andrew Luck (AFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 11) also earned AFC Player of the Week honors this season.
Guard Quenton Nelson was also named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for October.