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Colts DROY candidate Darius Leonard fueled by slights

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  • By Adam Maya NFL.com
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The Indianapolis Colts weren't considered Day 2 winners when they selected linebacker Darius Leonard out of South Carolina State with the 36th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

In fact, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport said he randomly received a flood of messages from team executives questioning why Leonard went so early. Rapoport can't remember there being such a disparity in an evaluation between one team and the rest of the league -- the Colts were thrilled Leonard was even on the board still.

Leonard, who appeared on the latest episode of the RapSheet and Friends podcast, says he didn't think he would be drafted that early either.

"Coming from a small school, I was thinking I would maybe go fourth or fifth round just because of my school name," Leonard said. "And when I go the call in the second round, man, it was just crazy. I was honored and I just felt blessed, and I was ready to go to work from there."

That would be an understatement. Leonard's a strong midseason candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, as he leads the entire league with 79 tackles despite playing in just six games. The award would fall right in line with his improbable path to the league. He ended up at South Carolina State after being ignored by South Carolina and not prioritized by Clemson.

Leonard said his qualifying test scores arrived two weeks after signing day, at which point Clemson told him there was no room for him.

"So I went to South Carolina State and made the best of it," he said. "Clemson was my dream school. My brother played there. I grew up in Death Valley. So it was something that I wanted. When they kind of pushed me out to the wayside it kind of put a little burning in my heart."

Perhaps the Colts should thank Clemson for Leonard setting the league on fire in Year 1.

"If did win that award, it would mean a lot just not for me but for my family, for my university and for my hometown," Leonard told Rapoport. "Just letting people know that it doesn't matter where you come from and no matter how big or what school you went to, it's still possible for you to be great."

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