The Indianapolis Colts got a great one in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. With the No. 36 overall pick, they selected linebacker Darius Leonard, who is now known as Shaquille Leonard, out of South Carolina State.
He burst onto the scene as a rookie, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award and making the All-Pro first team. Leonard would go on to make the Pro Bowl the next three seasons, All-Pro first team twice and second team once.
There weren’t many linebackers in the NFL that were better than Leonard for those four seasons, but Year 5 was a tough one for him. Injuries derailed him in 2022 as he appeared in only three games.
A concussion certainly didn’t help matters, but it was a back ailment that caused him the most setbacks. He underwent surgery before the season and again in November, which ended his season.
The positive thing so far is that Leonard said he is feeling better than he did at any point in 2022. He continues to improve, but it isn’t all positive. According to Colts head coach Shane Steichen, Leonard remains without a timetable to get back on the field with his teammates.
“He’s progressing well. Again, I don’t have a timetable right now for you on that, but he’s progressing well. He’s doing a nice job,” Steichen said, via Kevin Hickey of USAToday.com.
As hypothesized by Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk, a return during training camp is likely the best guess when it comes to Leonard. Getting him back on the field is important as the team suffered a major loss this offseason with linebacker Bobby Okereke signing a free agent deal with the New York Giants.
His loss will be offset by Leonard getting healthy and returning to his spot in the middle of the defense. Okereke and Zaire Franklin held their own last season at the second level of the Colts’ defense but replacing the impact of an All-Pro is no easy task.