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Titans Week 17 Enemy Profile: Darius Leonard

This is it...

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Few rookies in 2018 have played as well as Colts second-round linebacker Darius Leonard, part of an impressive turnaround in Indianapolis. Titans fans might be familiar with him, as he collected the easiest interception of the season off of Blaine Gabbert.

Yeah, this was brutal.

Through 16 games in his rookie season, Leonard has led the NFL in tackles (106), seven sacks, eight QB hits, 12 tackles for loss, an interception, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and six passes defensed. It’s safe to say he’s done everything and anything for this Colts defense, and with a playoff birth on the line the Titans are going to have to get a second taste of this rookie.

The last time Leonard faced Tennessee, he collected five tackles, a sack on Marcus Mariota, an interception on Gabbert, a pass defensed, a QB hit and a forced fumble. So Titans fans should be familiar with how good this rookie has been.

For more, here’s this week’s Titans Enemy Profile ahead of tonight’s Sunday Night Football showdown.

In his breakout game against the Eagles in Week 3, Leonard put up nine tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and a pass defensed. His defensed pass came against Zach Ertz, one of the best tight ends in the league.

At the top of Ertz’s shallow outbreak on his route, Leonard recognizes the route break and his burst off his left foot and quick hip movement allow him to get an edge on the receiver without breaking down his quickness. He breaks up the pass and puts up one of many highlight plays on the day.

Inside linebackers typically don’t post too many sacks, yet Leonard his seven in his first season in the league. Combined with 12 tackles for loss and eight hits on quarterbacks, and Leonard is making his presence felt in coverage and on the rush.

What really impresses me about Leonard though is his tackling technique. If you’re leading the league in tackles in your rookie season, it’s either a fluke (Remember, you can have lots of tackles on big gains) or you’re doing something right. There will always be tackles that pad the stats, but Leonard’s tackling technique and approach to the ball have been as near flawless as you’d expect from a rookie.

Leonard karate chops this ball out of the hands of Doug Martin. I’d like to repeat that: He karate chopped the ball out of the hands of Martin. He forces the fumble here and the Colts end up recovering, eventually helping them seal the win.

Darius Leonard is up for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he clearly has a case to win it. His ability to lock down backs and tight ends, his hip quickness and tackling ability are all spectacular, rookie or not. Leonard’s one of a few Colts players Tennessee will need to overcome if they want to return to the playoffs.