INDIANAPOLIS — Last year, Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard became the first rookie teammates to be named First-Team All-Pro since future Pro Football Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers with the Chicago Bears in 1965.
This year, the beat goes on for the Indianapolis Colts' top two picks from the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Associated Press announced today that Quenton Nelson has been named First-Team All-Pro at left guard; Leonard, meanwhile, was named Second-Team All-Pro at linebacker.
"Those are two really special, special players and young men," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said of Nelson and Leonard on Thursday.
Also earning All-Pro votes for the Colts this year were center Ryan Kelly (2), cornerback Kenny Moore II (1) and punt returner Nyheim Hines (4).
» Nelson becomes just the seventh player since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to be named First-Team All-Pro in their first two seasons, and is the first since the Bears' Devin Hester in 2006-07.
He is also just the fourth NFL offensive lineman to earn First-Team All-Pro honors in his first two seasons, and is the first since Dick Huffman of the Los Angeles Rams in 1947-48.
Also a Pro Bowl selection for a second straight year, the 23-year-old Nelson dominated in 2019. He was Pro Football Focus' second-ranked offensive lineman (91.2 overall grade); his pass-blocking grade of 82.8 ranked 14th among all qualifying offensive linemen and sixth among guards, while his 90.1 run-blocking grade ranked third among all linemen and second among guards.
Nelson went the entire season without allowing a single sack from the left guard position, according to PFF, while he was penalized just three times. He also helped pave the way for a Colts running attack that ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards per game (133.1).
"Q is unique, man – not only as a player but as a teammate," Ballard said of Nelson on Thursday. "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 (we're) fortunate to have him and he'll continue to get better – he hasn't reached his ceiling yet."
Nelson is the seventh Colts player to earn multiple First-Team All-Pro selections since the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984; he joins a list that includes running back Eric Dickerson, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, safety Bob Sanders, quarterback Peyton Manning, center Jeff Saturday and defensive end Dwight Freeney.
» Leonard followed up his sensational rookie season in 2018 with another stat-sheet-stuffing effort in 2019.
Despite missing three games with a concussion from Weeks 3-5, Leonard finished the 2019 season with 121 total tackles (seven for a loss) to go along with 5.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
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, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Since 2018, Leonard, who earned his first Pro Bowl selection this year, is third in the NFL in total tackles (284) and 15th in interceptions (7). He's one of just three players in the NFL since at least 1982 to accumulate at least 200 tackles and 10 sacks in their first two seasons, joining Duane Bickett and Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher.
"Darius — he's a natural playmaker," Ballard said Thursday. "You saw it in college – he took the ball away and made plays in college, and that hasn't changed. … Reminds me of Charles Tillman. Tillman was the same way in college — they found ways to strip (the) ball, take the ball away."