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Darius Leonard: Goal To Win Defensive Rookie Of The Year, And More

Make no mistake, Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard has some lofty goals in his NFL life. Just 11 games through his rookie season, Leonard is on his way to achieving one of those.

Michael Hickey | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – It is most certainly a goal.

It was for Darius Leonard ever since the final whistle blew against Savannah State on Nov. 18, 2017, marking the end to The Maniac’s tackle-fest of a college career at South Carolina State.

And the goals don’t stop just at Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“Everything I do I want to be the best,” the rookie linebacker from small town South Carolina says.

“I want to be Defensive Player of the Week every week. I want to be the Player of the Game every game. And, at the end the year, I want to be at the top. I want to be Defensive Player of the Year and I want to be a Super Bowl Champion and the MVP.”

As 1 of 9 kids raised by a single mother, Leonard has seen two of his brothers incarcerated, so he knows what the likely accomplishment coming his way this year, could do for his hometown.

“It would mean a lot,” the favorite for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year says.

“Just coming from where I came from, a very small school, it would mean a lot to my community, not having a lot of guys make it out, letting kids know that there’s another way out besides the streets and jail. It would a great opportunity for me to be on top and go back and show that.”

Honestly, with the type of season Leonard is having, his name should be one of the few on the ballot for Defensive Player of the Year.

Take a look at Leonard’s numbers through 11 weeks (10 games played for Leonard):

114 tackles, 6 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 interception

Since 1996, no player in the NFL has achieved at least those numbers in a season. No one.

Leonard has done that in just 10 games, with an entire month of games remaining.

Ask fellow defenders why Leonard has had so much success, they want to talk more about how Leonard handles himself Monday-Saturday.

“God has obviously blessed him with some athletic ability and he does his best to maximize that blessing every day,” veteran safety Mike Mitchell says of Leonard.

“He’s a hard-working guy. He’s right-minded. He comes in here with the right attitude, right spirt and does things right and you see the fruits of his labor every day.”

Mitchell, who has been in the NFL for 10 seasons, compares Leonard’s preparation and anticipation to that of Luke Kuechly.

“I’ve only seen two at his position behaved that way and it’s him and Luke Kuechly,” Mitchell, who played with Kuechly in Carolina, says.

“It’s their preparation. They are calling out runs before the ball gets snapped.”

Combining extremely rare athletic ability with elite recognition pre-snap has Leonard putting up numbers this league hasn’t seen in years.

Unless Denver’s Bradley Chubb (9 sacks this season) rattles off a half dozen sacks in December, the Defensive Rookie of the Year honor has to go to Leonard.

At the age of 13, Leonard had his first job washing dishes at a restaurant.

A decade later, he deserves to be in the conversation as one of the NFL’s most outstanding defensive players.

Outside of incredible athletic ability, humbleness was an early trait the Colts saw in Leonard.

The Colts were hoping Leonard would achieve those lofty goals at some point in his career, but to already be on his way to doing that in 2018?

That was not the expectation.

“Well we certainly thought he had the attributes to do that (and) the physical traits to take that step and that leap,” defensive coordinator Eberflus says of Leonard already in the end-of-the-year award chatter. “We have felt that all along. We just didn’t know how fast the development would be there.

“That’s really attributed to him. He has accelerated his learning and (has) done a good job of picking up the package. That all started back when he was injured in the first part when he got here. When he first got here, we had him early in the morning, before everybody got here, doing cone drills, alignment and assignment key technique stuff. Me and (linebackers coach) Dave Borgonzi were doing that with him, then he would go to his treatment and all of those things and then he finally got in there during training camp.”

After intercepting Andrew Luck in his first professional practice, Leonard has now been busy tormenting other opposing quarterbacks on his way to a historic NFL season.

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