The Colts defensive front isn’t only headlined by DeForest Buckner on the line, but also by Shaquille Leonard in the linebacker corps. Beside him the past few seasons was fellow standout backer Bobby Okereke who signed with the NY Giants this offseason. Ranking second per PFF in linebacker units last season, the Colts will look to continue building upon this reputation into the upcoming season.
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The Starters: Zaire Franklin, Shaquille Leonard, and EJ Speed (WLB, MLB, SLB)
Selected in the 7th round back in 2018, Zaire Franklin has progressed well throughout his career. Not many 7th round picks work their way into the starting lineup, but Franklin has managed to do so thanks to his ability to defend the run and rush the passer. There’s still plenty of work for him to do dropping into coverage, but he’ll be solid defending the weak side. As for Shaquille Leonard, not much negative can be said about him. He did have down year last season but this shouldn’t turn fans away from remembering how good he is. At his peak, he’s a top linebacker in the NFL among the likes of Fred Warner. But in order to maintain this efficiency, he’ll need to stay healthy. Last season, EJ Speed was able to pick up the slack for his teammates posting superb run defense and pass rushing grades. His coverage grade was fine but could still use some work. Nevertheless, if Speed’s play doesn’t fall too much and Leonard gets back to his usual self, this unit will remain one of the best in the NFL.
Image: Sports Illustrated
The Backups: Grant Stuard, JoJo Domann, and Segun Olubi
Drafted by the Buccaneers in the 7th round in 2021, Stuard has 32 games played under his belt. He’ll be somewhat of a project for the Colts, but considering how weak and young their other backups are, his experience won’t be taken lightly. Fast forwarding to the 2022 NFL Draft, Segun Olubi signed as a UDFA with the 49ers before making his way to Indianapolis. Before his college days at SDSU, Olubi played safety where he was able to showcase his elite speed and explosiveness. However for the college game, he was moved to LB where he fit in well thanks to his physical attitude.
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The Rest: Cameron McGrone
Upon initial look, McGrone looks like he should be one of the immediate backups instead of Olubi. However, the 2021 5th rounder has just as much experience as Olubi while not offering the same versatility. He may be bigger than Olubi, but in today’s NFL, bigger isn’t necessarily always better. Ultimately the two are interchangeable, but I give the upper hand to Olubi.
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Dark Horse Candidate: JoJo Domann
Nebraska LB JoJo Domann went undrafted in 2022 although many had an early day three grade for him. A safety converted linebacker, Domann fits the mold many defensive coordinators want for their linebackers. His range is reminiscent of his days as a safety but his demeanor better suits him as a linebacker. There’s still much for him to learn, but if his abilities are harnessed correctly, he could be an unsung hero for Gus Bradley’s defense.
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