NFL players are expected to gush about their teammates, but Indianapolis Colts All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner probably raised a few eyebrows in his recent appearance on “The Jim Rome Show.”
Buckner, who was acquired by the Colts last March and enjoyed an All-Pro season in 2020, said he regards teammate Darius Leonard as the NFL’s No. 1 linebacker. On the surface, that might not seem like much of a compliment, considering “The Maniac” has been an All-Pro in each of his three seasons.
But Buckner played the previous two seasons with San Francisco’s Fred Warner, who like Leonard was a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2020. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers got Leonard's attention when the passer told Warner that the 49ers defender was the NFL's best linebacker. Rodgers later told Leonard that he meant no offense.
“What I like most about Darius’ game is, one, the energy that he brings,” Buckner said. “And two, the guy is always flying sideline to sideline. I mean, you turn the tape on and you see ‘The Maniac’ going at it. There’s a reason everyone calls him ‘The Maniac.’”
Leonard, 25, has amassed 416 total tackles, 15 sacks, seven interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown), 22 pass deflections, eight forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries.
Presuming Leonard continues to live up to Buckner’s praise, that will get him paid well. The linebacker is entering a contract year in 2021 and is expected to receive an extension at some point in the next year. As one of the Colts’ young cornerstone players, Leonard isn’t expected to be allowed to test the free-agent market after next season.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard reiterated in his season-ending video call when asked about giving extensions to core players like Leonard: "We take care of our own."