INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are trying to build something special.
Over the course of the last three-plus years, general manager Chris Ballard has compiled young, talented players that reflect what the organization wants on the field and in their locker room.
That sort of team building allowed them to go out this offseason and grab some instant-impact, established veterans to add into the mix to help them take the next step as a franchise.
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has taken notice of the Colts, and three of those players that Ballard has acquired rank among Prisco's 100 best players in the NFL list: guard Quenton Nelson (15), defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (56) and linebacker Darius Leonard (99). Here's what he had to say about each Colts player:
No. 15 Quenton Nelson
He is now clearly the league's best guard. He is a mauler in the run game and has improved in pass protection. Philip Rivers will love him.
After validating his play and following up his outstanding rookie season with a second consecutive First-Team All-Pro selection in 2019, Prisco's right: Nelson has taken the crown as the league's top guard.
When it comes to run blocking, you could make the argument that no one does it better. In 2019, Nelson earned a grade of 90.1 in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus, which was third among all NFL offensive linemen after posting a 74.1 as a rookie. The Colts have ascended to a at-times-dominant rushing attack since Nelson arrived in Indianapolis, finishing seventh overall last year.
Nelson is also a high-end pass protector, as his grade of 82.8 ranked 14th overall in the NFL in 2019, and was sixth among guards. He was one of just 25 NFL linemen to allow 20 or fewer total pressures on the quarterback, and one of nine to allow zero sacks.
No. 56 DeForest Buckner
He is a power player, which is why the Colts traded the 13th overall pick to land him. He will give them a player who can anchor in for the run, but can still push the pocket.
Buckner is one of the most well-respected defensive tackles in the NFL, and the Colts reflected that after trading for him this offseason and then immediately signing him to a huge contract extension in order to make sure they have him for the long term.
Buckner has been excellent since he was a rookie, but has gotten better with time. He transitioned nicely from an interior defender in a 3-4 defensive front into a dominant three-technique in a 4-3 defense during his time in San Francisco, a critical position Buckner expects to fill for the Colts' defense.
Since his second year in the NFL in 2017, Buckner has compiled a pass-rush grade of at least 73.0 and he's had at least 50 quarterback pressures in each of those seasons.
The ability to play both the run and rush the passer from the interior should have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Colts defense, as the defensive backs won't have to cover as long, and the linebackers will have more space to roam and make plays.
No. 99 Darius Leonard
He is one of those prototypical inside linebackers in today's game. He can cover and he can play the run, but he's also a capable blitzer as his 12 sacks in two seasons show.
No. 99 seems a bit low for a guy who's put up nearly unrivaled numbers over his first two seasons in the league.
Through two All-Pro seasons to begin his career (he was selected First-Team as a rookie and Second-Team in 2019), Leonard has 284 tackles (19 for loss), 12.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered, seven interceptions, 15 pass breakups and one defensive touchdown.
Leonard clearly makes an impact on his defense in a multitude of ways, and any team would be ecstatic for the return on investment that the Colts have gotten out of this 2018 second-round pick.
His speed, length, instincts and natural playmaking ability makes him a nightmare for offenses to try and deal with, especially since he can find the most uncanny of ways to make a play on the ball.
Always a self starter/motivator, perhaps this No. 99 ranking will help boost Leonard even further in Year 3.