Darius Leonard is going to benefit from having Deforest Buckner on the Indianapolis Colts defense.
Darius Leonard has been the leader of the Colts defense from day one coming out of South Carolina State. He was drafted by the Colts with the No. 36 pick in the second round. Now they have a player on the defensive line in DeForest Buckner who is an enforcer and disruptor on the football field. Both players made the NFL Top 100 list at No. 50 and No. 56 respectively. Opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines are going to have their hands full trying to stop these two.
The Colts knew they were getting a machine in Leonard seeing as he led the South Carolina State Bulldogs in tackles for three seasons (2014, 2016, 2017), set the all-time record in that category (394 tackles), earned All-MEAC First Team honors three seasons in a row and was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017. In his first two seasons with the Colts, he has 244 tackles (144 solo), 15 passes defended, 12 sacks, and seven interceptions.
According to Michael McCleary of the Indy Star, Colts fans were not happy with Leonard’s spot on this year’s version of the NFL Top 100. They had valid arguments. Other defensive guys ranked ahead of him were Za’Darius Smith (No. 48), Tre’Davious White (No. 47), J.J. Watt (No. 45), and Jadaveon Clowney (No.41). He should have been higher on this list even if his stats dropped off a bit. He was the 26th best player in the Top 100 list for the 2018-19 season.
Those interception and pass defense stats stick out because usually when a linebacker is matched up with a wide receiver or a running back, that’s a mismatch that works for the offense. Leonard does a great job of making plays in pass coverage and knocking the ball out when making the tackle. That kind of attention to detail and focus on the football will serve any defense well. His hand speed and ability to shed blocks is also something to marvel at. The ability to shed blocks effectively is what separates a good defender from a dominant one.
DeForest Bucknor was drafted seventh overall by the 49ers in 2016 out of Oregon and started all 63 games during his tenure. He had one of his best seasons as a San Francisco 49er. He was named Second Team AP All-Pro after starting all 16 games. He recorded 61 tackles (33 solo), nine tackles for loss, seven and a half sacks, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles last season. The 49ers defense gave opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators fits on their way to a Super Bowl LIV appearance. That defense ranked second in the NFL in net yards allowed per game (281.8) and tied for fifth in total sacks (48).
Buckner is a guy who has a quick first step off of the line of scrimmage and gets to the quarterback or ball carrier with relative ease. He has a high motor which serves him well in making plays for his team. He was in the perfect situation where the guys around him were so fast and dominant. That allowed him to make plays of his own and catch the attention of Colts General Manager Chris Ballard who recognizes that he is one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL and knows that his presence on the defense will make the team better.
Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner will make the Colts one of if not the best defense in the AFC South. The two combined for 12.5 sacks last season on separate teams. On the same team, that number could increase given the level of talent each of them possesses.