The Indianapolis Colts have had to deal with a multitude of injuries this season. One of the toughest to overcome has been to All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard. Leonard has made an All-Pro team in all four of his seasons in the NFL but has struggled to get on the field this season, appearing in only two games. Now, it appears they could be sellers at the NFL trade deadline and Bobby Okereke is a name to watch with the New England Patriots interested.
With him sidelined, that has opened up the door for other people to get opportunities on the field and they have taken full advantage. One of the players that have emerged is linebacker Zaire Franklin, a seventh-round in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Syracuse.
In his first four seasons in the NFL, Franklin had 94 combined tackles in 65 games. Through eight games thus far this season, he has a team-high 81 to go with three passes defended, five tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.
His emergence has also had an impact on fellow linebacker Bobby Okereke. A third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Stanford, Okereke has had a very solid season in his own right. In eight games, with seven starts, he has racked up 73 total tackles to go along with three passes defended, one fumble recovery and three tackles for loss.
However, his playing time seems to be directly tied to that of Leonard. The two games that Leonard has appeared in thus far this season are the two games in that Okereke has played the fewest snaps. In Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans, Okereke played only 70 percent of the snaps. This past weekend against the Washington Commanders, he played only 61.
In the six games with the Colts without Leonard, Okereke has never played below 89 percent of the snaps and had three games of playing 100 percent of them. Sensing there could be an opportunity to buy here, the New England Patriots reportedly have some interest in acquiring Okereke.
New England has been linked to other linebackers this offseason. Before he was traded to the Baltimore Ravens, there was speculation that the Patriots could look to acquire linebacker Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears as the Patriots’ defense is in need of a tackling machine for the middle of their defense.
While Okereke may not be on Smith’s level, he would be considerably cheaper to acquire. On a team-friendly deal, he isn’t set to cash in until 2023, when New England will have more cap flexibility to sign him to a more lucrative deal.
There is certainly an opportunity for New England to take advantage of here as Okereke could be the odd man out of the linebacker depth chart for the Colts.