Today, we are beginning a series called Scouting the Rookies. Please note that I use the term “scouting” loosely. The professionals have put hours upon hours, interviews, red eye flights, and late nights into their scouting reports before the draft. Now, we get to sit back, do some YouTube searches, and try to acquaint ourselves with some of the newest Colts on a more technical level.
Today, we’re looking at second round pick Darius Leonard, a linebacker out of South Carolina State. Leonard had 40-yard dash times of 4.62, 4.70, and 4.78 seconds (injured a quad during the drill), with the middle being his official 40 time, but after watching some video, he looks much faster on the field. It could be due to inferior competition, but to me, it looks as though his speed is more impressive when put into practice than it is in the vacuum of combine drills.
Leonard, playing as a 3-4 ILB, looks less aggressive at times than some of the mad-man 4-3 linebackers we see around the league (The Colts are going 4-3), but some of that may be his patience to avoid being fooled by screens and draws, and the fact that he was playing against a mobile quarterback in the video on which I spent the most time. Against many college teams, everything the defense does has to predicated on the fact that the QB could take off at any moment, and Leonard handled that very well overall (see notes below). Sometimes, aggression equals over-pursuit and biting on play fakes, whereas Darius Leonard plays intelligently and stays a step ahead.
Leonard was effective on blitzes and against the run. In coverage, he has a way of making the quarterback want to avoid throwing his way. He did struggle sometimes when the QB looked off and threw to the other side of the field, but I feel like he has the speed to recover and apply whatever he learns in the NFL. His size makes it tough for him to shed blocks at times, but he often still finds a way to throw a wrench in what the offense is trying to do. I like that about him.
Presumably he’ll be competing against Anthony Walker at Weak Side Linebacker (WILL), unless the coaches want him to take on Antonio Morrison at the middle (MIKE) position. Walker had 22 tackles as a backup and was rated “below average” by Pro Football Focus. Morrison had 108 tackles, but was rated “poor” by PFF and struggled in coverage. If Darius Leonard truly has the recovery speed you’re about to see on “the tape” (I love how the phrase “watching tape” has carried over despite everything being digital now), he’ll be able to afford to learn on the fly and will make the rotation, or possibly even start. He’s quick, he’s smart, and he gets after the ball, as they say, like nobody’s business. Wherever he ends up, the Colts linebacking corps is about to be upgraded.
Here is the first scouting video, with my observations below. I’ll have a couple more after that. PLEASE REMEMBER these are not highlight videos. These are designed to show the good and the bad, so it’s important to go in thinking objectively – and remember that there will be plays in which the player in question isn’t involved directly. This won’t be some mind-blowing highlight reel set to terrible music; just a scouting video. Don’t forget to scroll on down. I have more here for you.
1:10 – From near the middle of the field, reacts to QB rolling to the right and joins a teammate in chasing him toward the sideline, causing him to retreat and throw the ball away
1:20 – Tripped up by a diving block, recovers, and then falls reacting to the running back’s cut to the right.
1:30 – Somehow avoids being tied up by two lead blockers to bring down the ball carrier for a short gain.
1:43 – Run blitz, knocks the left guard backward, forcing the running back further to the right for a loss or very short gain, and jumps in on the tackle.
1:49 – Playing the weak side (left), decent hole for the back, Leonard stays home, handles some contact, and brings the runner down after just two yards.
2:15 – Backs up in coverage, sees QB in trouble and scrambling to the right of the defense, pursues and shoves the QB out behind the LOS for a sack.
2:30 – Zone pass coverage, fooled by a good look off to the right and pass to the left by the QB (For those thinking offense, the QB looked to his left and threw a slant to his right).
2:52 – Offense fakes a run up the middle and runs a QB keeper to the defense’s right. Leonard is not fooled and pursues the QB to the sideline.
3:38 – Eaten up by a block, ball carrier spins away.
3:50 – Seals off the outside, forcing the ball carrier to cut upfield sooner for a very short gain.
4:02 – Lined up on the slot receiver for the second straight play, sniffs out a WR screen and helps break up the play.
4:19 – Comes in unblocked on the weak side (left) and blows up the running play for a loss. Great speed, straight to the ball.
4:30 – Helps double team a running back over the middle, taking away the quarterback’s safety net and forcing him to scramble and be sacked or tackled for no gain.
4:38 – Driven backward and taken out of the play by a blocker.
5:02 – Blitz against the shotgun, chipped by a running back but still gets his hands on the quarterback for an incompletion.
5:10 – Follows the QB’s eyes, backs downfield, QB runs for a first down to the defense’s left and is eventually wrapped up by the speedy Leonard.
5:27 – Engages the lead blocker and still manages to get in the way of the running back as he tries to shoot through the opening in the line and is tackled by another defender.
5:34 – Plugs up the hole on a QB draw and helps bring him down for a loss. Leonard saw exactly what was happening and knew exactly where to be.
5:52 – Blitz, great pressure, jumps over a chop block of sorts and into the quarterback’s face as he throws deep, incomplete.
5:59 – Blitzes again, appears to have his pursuit accidentally cut off by a slower teammate, QB runs for a first down.
6:25 – Zone coverage, cuts off throwing lane to the running back, but has to pursue the QB who runs for 8 yards. Against a more typical NFL offense, I think his zone coverage would’ve been enough to get the job done as long as the QB didn’t roll to the defense’s left. But I’m just a guy watching a YouTube video.
6:34 – Pursues the QB on another keeper for a short gain… I wish we were watching a more NFL type opponent here.
6:54 – Red zone, inside the 5, Great coverage by Leonard. QB scrambles, Leonard pursues, QB is blasted by another defender.
7:13 – Another tackle for a loss. Leonard makes lateral movement amongst all the chaos on the field look so very easy.
7:22 – Strong side blitz. This time the QB sends a receiver in motion to occupy the safety, leaving the tight end Leonard would’ve been covering free for a seam or a quick slant route. The defense does not adjust, possibly betting on their blitz to land? This time the running back is joined by a guard who turns around to help block Leonard, who still jumps and has a shot at batting down the pass. Touchdown to tight end on a seam route.
Still reading this? I appreciate that. Roll the tape: