The 2019 season lives on for four talented Indianapolis Colts players — for one more afternoon, at least.
The Colts have four participants in Sunday's 2020 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. It's their most Pro Bowl selections since the 2014 season.
So as we await kickoff for this annual NFL all-star battle — which kicks off at 3 p.m. ET and is being televised on ESPN — what's the latest on tight end Jack Doyle, center Ryan Kelly, linebacker Darius Leonard and guard Quenton Nelson?
Doyle is making his second-career Pro Bowl appearance. He was a late addition to the AFC's roster; he was selected on Monday as an alternate to replace Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, who are taking on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
The ever-dependable Doyle enjoyed yet another solid all-around year in 2019, starting all 16 games and finishing with 43 receptions for 448 yards and four touchdowns; his four touchdowns tied for the second most in his career, while his receptions and yardage marks were the third most for the Western Kentucky product.
He's one of the top all-around tight ends in the NFL; his 78.1 pass-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus in 2019 ranked second in the league among qualifying players at his position, while his 68.2 run-blocking grade ranked ninth.
Doyle this week joined the "Jeff & Big Joe Show" on 1075 The Fan, where he expressed his appreciation for head coach Frank Reich.
"One thing I've learned about Frank right away that I truly respect is the way he trusts every guy on the roster" Doyle said. "If he brings a guy in, he brings them in for a reason. He instills trust in that guy and believes in that guy, and gives them opportunity to make plays…That's the mark of a great coach in my mind. He's just fun to play for."
Kelly this year is making his first-career Pro Bowl appearance. He was also selected to participate as an alternate; he got the call Jan. 9 to replace Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who is unable to participate due to injury.
Kelly, 26, played in all 16 games in 2019 for the Colts, and anchored one of the league's top all-around offensive lines. Indy ranked seventh overall in rushing at 133.1 yards per game — just 1.5 rushing yards per game fewer than the fifth-place Dallas Cowboys — while the team's sack percentage (5.87) ranked tied for eighth in the league.
Kelly, according to Pro Football Focus, was the sixth-highest graded center in the league (73.0); his 74.6 run-blocking grade was fourth at the position, and he was only one of seven full-time centers to allow one or fewer sacks on the year.
Kelly said this week that his first Pro Bowl experience so far has been "kind of surreal."
"Obviously playing offensive line is not the most glamorous job — it's obviously a necessity to win games — but when you're in the same room as Russell Wilson and Drew Brees and Lamar Jackson, stuff like that, it just makes you think, 'This is such a cool, surreal moment, to have these larger-than-life superstars in the same room with you," Kelly said Friday in an appearance on 1075 The Fan's "The Ride With JMV."
One of the best parts of playing in the Pro Bowl, Kelly said, is the chance to meet some of the top offensive linemen in the game that he has been studying for years.
"A lot of the linemen, at this level, you watch so much game film from other teams that you feel like you know these players just by how they play. And then to be able to be in the same room with them and meet them and meet their families and just talk about stuff outside of football is such a cool thing," Kelly said. "Because at the end of the day we're all pretty similar guys, especially when it comes to offensive line play. For the most part it's just good dudes that love to play offensive line, just everything that comes with it, the brotherhood that comes with it. So getting to know a lot of these guys has been a really cool experience, and then I also think it's something you can take throughout the years (with you)."
The second-year linebacker Leonard is (finally) making his first Pro Bowl appearance this year after being snubbed as a rookie in 2018, when he was named First-Team All-Pro and the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Leonard in 2019 was named Second-Team All-Pro; despite missing three games, he racked up 121 tackles (seven for loss), 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, five interceptions, seven pass breakups and his first-career touchdown.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, it was just the ninth time since at least 1982 that a player has accumulated at least five sacks and five interceptions in a single season.
Leonard told 1075 The Fan's Dan Dakich this week that even after another standout performance, his Pro Bowl nod this year was a pleasant surprise.
"Yeah, I mean I honestly didn't think I was going to make it because the year I had last year, I was All-Pro and I still didn't make it," Leonard said. "My numbers wasn't as good as this year so I definitely didn't think I was going to make it, so when I did make it I was kind of happy and definitely was looking forward to it."
Always the perfectionist, Leonard still has plenty left on his checklist as he works on improving in 2020 and beyond.
"Everything. Honestly everything in my game," Leonard told Dakich when asked on how he can improve on such an impressive first two NFL seasons. "Each year you learn from all the good things you did, all the bad things you did, and try to make everything better. You never want to go into a year the same as the year before so I'd say everything about my game better."
Nelson this year is making his second straight Pro Bowl appearance after being selected as a rookie in 2018.
Nelson in 2019 was also once again named First-Team All-Pro, becoming the first NFL offensive lineman to be named First-Team All-Pro in his first two seasons in more than 70 years.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 2019 season was Nelson's best yet (91.2 overall grade) after he was one of just eight NFL guards to allow a combined 20 or less quarterback pressures, including zero sacks. Earning PFF's third-best run-blocking grade of any offensive lineman, Nelson helped the Colts rack up 2,000 rushing yards for the first time since 1994.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard considers Nelson a "pretty special" player after getting off to such a historic start to his career, but believes he can get even better.
"Q is unique, not only as a player but as a teammate," Ballard said of Nelson in his end-of-season press conference. "You all don't get to see the raw stuff right after a game a win or a loss. I love going in the locker room. You hate it after the losses, but when you see this kid's care factor, it's like somebody shot him when things don't go well for us. It is a deep hurt and it's infectious. So fortunate to have him and he'll continue to get better. He hasn't reached his ceiling yet."