Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson named to Pro Bowl

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 10: Darius Leonard #53 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts after a play against the Miami Dolphins in the third quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Quenton Nelson is 2-for-2 while Darius Leonard can mark off one of the few disappointments from an otherwise stellar rookie season.

Those are the storylines for the Indianapolis Colts and the Pro Bowl, which was announced Tuesday night.

Nelson, who already has established himself as one of the NFL’s premier guards, was named to his second straight Pro Bowl. Leonard earned his first all-star nod after being snubbed in 2018 despite being named Defensive Rookie of the Year and joining Nelson as first-team All-Pro selections.

Nelson joins Chris Hinton as the only Colts offensive linemen since 1983 to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.

Leonard is the first linebacker named since D’Qwell Jackson in 2014.

Nelson’s inclusion was expected. Leonard anticipated another snub.

“It’s out of my hands,’’ he said last week. “It’s a popularity contest. It’s about publicity and who people love now.

“My numbers speak for themselves. If you want to put the best players in there, just go by the numbers.’’

That apparently was the case.

Leonard, the 36th overall pick in the 2018 draft, once again has generated a fat stat line despite missing three games with a concussion: 104 tackles, including six for a loss; 5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 6 passes defenses and 2 forced fumbles. He’s the first player since 1982 to post at least 10 sacks and five interceptions in his first 25 games.

Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said last week he has noticed continuous growth in Leonard’s game.

“I think he’s understanding the game more,’’ he said. “I think he is growing. Like everybody else, he has games that are really special and dominating games, and he has other games where he learns a lot.

“The most important thing is that you take that performance and you keep learning as a young player and you keep developing.’’

Leonard’s signature game this season undoubtedly was two weeks ago at Tampa. In the 38-35 loss, he had 9 tackles and a pair of interceptions, one of which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown. He’s had at least 10 tackles in six games.

Nelson was the 6th overall pick in 2018 and has lived up to the hype. He’s been a relentless, physical force on the offensive line. He’s also been durable. Nelson has been on the field for 2,221 of 2,222 offensive snaps, including the playoffs. The only snap he missed was against Jacksonville when he was required to miss a play after lining up at fullback.

Reich has been impressed with Nelson’s encore season.

“Phenomenal. I mean, phenomenal,’’ he said. “We all know what kind of year he had last year and he really did have a better year this year.

“He’s really gotten better. He’s a better pass protector and he’s better in his technique in the run game. He has definitely gotten better in every area of his game. He’s had a monster year.’’

The Pro Bowl is Jan. 26 in Orlando.

Colts’ alternates

Seven players were named Pro Bowl alternates: quarterback Jacoby Brissett, center Ryan Kelly, offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, running back Marlon Mack, defensive end Justin Houston, tight end Jack Doyle and long snapper Luke Rhodes.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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