From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#10 Darius Leonard/LB/South Carolina State 6’2” 213 Lbs
-Long frame with quick-twitch athleticism
-Good eyes for position, reacts quickly to what’s happening in front of him
-Keeps pads square to the line of scrimmage at all times
-Patient defender with good sideline-to-sideline range
-Comfortable dropping into coverage, and has good ball skills for position
-Lacks NFL play strength, and was manhandled at times by linemen in college
-Lacks aggression as a tackler; seems to prefer arm tackles
-Frame appears maxed out, in terms of bulk
-Plays through heels far too often
-Doesn’t seem to always trust his eyes, allowing linemen to reach him at the second level
-Half-brother of former Clemson linebacker, Anthony Waters, who played in NFL for the Chargers, Bills and Saints
-Won the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016, finishing with 124 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, three pass breakups and four forced fumbles
-Won the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017, finishing with 114 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, three passes defended and two interceptions
-Former no-star recruit coming out of high school
Well, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more productive linebacker in the 2018 NFL Draft class than South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard.
Over the last two seasons at South Carolina State, Leonard racked up 238 tackles in 20 games, good for an average of 11.9 stops per game. That’s absurd, and it makes sense that Leonard won the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year two years in a row.
Possessing a great frame, the ability to read and react quickly, and impressive sideline-to-sideline range, Leonard is a hot name amongst a deep linebackers class leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft later this month.
While he makes a number of plays snap after snap on tape, Leonard needs quit a bit of work in the weight room, and in the film room.
He’s very good at reading and reacting, bouncing all over the field to make tackles, but he’s not very strong or aggressive at the point of contact, which is odd for a linebacker.
Here against Southern during the 2017 season, Leonard trusts his eyes and slips past blockers to make the stop in the hole for a short gain. While it’s a strong play on tape, and one that should become the norm for him as a linebacker, I’m not too thrilled with the way he “catches” the running back in the hole.
He is slightly off balance coming in for the tackle, but this showed up a lot on tape, where he would rather arm tackle the ball carrier, instead of planting his shoulder and driving through for the stop.
That being said, it’s quite clear how fluid of a mover he is for his size.
Against Arkansas Pine-Bluff in 2015, Leonard lined up wide on this play as an edge rusher. While he doesn’t even come close to getting home on this rush, his burst up the field gives the quarterback a chance to get up the field on the scramble.
Leonard, who bounces off of the cut block attempt by the running back, flips his hips and quickly runs down the quarterback for a minimal gain, quickly shutting down a scramble that could have turned into a splash play.
He’s very light on his feet, and has a ton of range. There’s just too many times on tape where he seems to second-guess what he’s seeing.
You can see Leonard bouncing forward on his feet as he reads the read-option against Central Florida here in 2016.
However, he doesn’t trust himself and get to the edge quick enough to shut off the run, allowing linemen to reach him on the second level, quickly taking him out of the play.
Once he gets into an NFL program, he’ll learn to really trust what he sees, allowing that instinct and reactionary skills to flourish.
Coming from a small school with monster numbers is a good thing for Leonard, who had a chance to walk on at Clemson, but instead took the full ride and flourished.
He’s certainly got the physical traits and the production to develop into a solid linebacker in the NFL, but I wouldn’t use a Day 2 pick on him.
He’ll have to sit and develop for a bit before being thrown to the wolves in the NFL, but he could end up being a steal if he reaches his ceiling.
Projection: Early Day 3
Games Watched: vs. Arkansas Pine-Bluff (’15), at UCF (’16), at Southern (’17), at North Carolina Central (’17)