Weight: 235 lbs.
Darius Leonard plays LB for South Carolina State, and FCS school, but probably should’ve been playing at an FBS school. Leonard grew up always assuming that he would suit up and play his college ball at Clemson University because that was where his half-brother Anthony Waters played. Clemson only offered him a preferred-walk on spot, so he instead decided to take a full ride at SCSU. Leonard made the most of his opportunity by making a name for himself as one of the best, if not the best, linebacker at the FCS level. After his junior season in 2016 Leonard was awarded the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year and was also named a AFCA National FCS First Team All-American. Both of these awards came off a strong junior year in which he recorded 124 total tackles, 78 solo tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 5 PBs, 4 FFs, and 2 blocked kicks. He followed up his strong 2016 season with a senior season in 2017 that consisted of 114 total tackles, 73 solo tackles, 12 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 PB, and 1 FF. This outstanding season once again won him the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year (2017).
There wasn’t a lot of film on Leonard out there, but from what I saw Leonard is a team player who is willing to do whatever assignment he is given. He is able to fill gaps and stop the RB from bouncing the ball outside or cutting the ball back in resulting in the RB being forced into another teammate. But Leonard does much more than just follow his assignments. Leonard has great speed and can get from one spot on the field to another in pursuit quickly, showing off his sideline-to-sideline speed. Leonard diagnoses his opponents plays and reacts quickly, often disrupting the play at or behind the line of scrimmage and racks up tackles in the process. He is often able to avoid the blocker at the 2nd level while coming downhill or in pursuit of the runner. He is efficient in his play and is good in coverage, having a fair amount of career interceptions given his position. When he is dropping in coverage and then has to change direction quickly because the QB has scrambled, he is able to recover quickly and wastes no time getting to the football.
One thing that stood out while watching film is that when he is squared up and bodied by a stronger and more physical lineman at the 2nd level he can get stuck on that block, struggling to disengage. He sometimes lacks the strength to fight through some blocks and that could pose a problem at the next level. Matt Miller recently posted on Twitter “Darius Leonard was 190 coming out of HS and is up to 230-235 now. Can’t imagine his frame taking any more bulk and play strength is already a weakness”. From the film I saw he is mostly ineffective at blitzing when coming up the middle but can be used effectively when blitzing from the edge. He does well in coverage but could still use more work when reading the QB when he is in the pocket. His pursuit angles are generally good, but sometimes can take bad angles and get mixed up in traffic, stopping him from making the tackle. Overall, his game needs improvement in a few areas, but most of that can be further developed at the next level. However, his play strength is probably his biggest concern and as Matt Miller pointed out earlier, I’m not sure how much more weight he can put on without it negatively impacting his game.
Overall, Leonard offers a good linebacker prospect who just needs to work on playing with more aggression and better reading the QB in coverage. He is an athletic player and has the ability to read plays making him a playmaker and offering a good upside for a team looking for a linebacker in the middle rounds. I think he will go somewhere in the 3rd-4th rounds.
Fantasy Relevant Information/Outlook:
Leonard will probably not be the starter on whatever team he is drafted to but should be given plenty of opportunities to see regular playing time. When he does see the field expect him to rack up tackles as he has a nose for the ball and is able to recognize and close in on the ball carrier quickly. He also had his fair share of interceptions in college, so don’t be surprised if he gets an interception or two as well, although I expect him to be on the field mostly for running downs. If you draft or add Leonard to your team you are counting on him to see the field often and when on the field you are expecting him to make tackles on a lot of his plays as well. Depending on what situation he is drafted into, he could be worth playing. If he goes somewhere like the Colts or Raiders he could see a lot of playing time as they don’t have a ton of talent there, and therefor would be worth checking out. However, if he is drafted by a team like the Vikings or Browns, who have a lot of talent at the position then he probably would not be worth playing on your team.
Brenden Armour - @b_armour70