Round 5: South Carolina State LB Darius Leonard – 6-2, 229 – 4.65– Senior
Previous pick: South Florida DT Deadrin Senat
What, another linebacker in Tampa Bay? Where would Leonard play on a team that already has Pro Bowl-caliber players like Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, and Kendell Beckwith, who is coming off a promising rookie season?
If the Buccaneers switch to a 3-4 defense in 2018, as they are considering due to the strength of the team’s linebacker corps, Leonard would be a valuable chess piece due to his athleticism and speed. He mostly played middle linebacker for the Bulldogs, but has the range to drop into coverage and the blitzing ability to come off the edge as an outside linebacker.
“Darius is an ideal modern-day linebacker because of his speed and athletic ability,” Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage said. “He is versatile enough to play in the box or expand outside and defend in the open field. He should be able to help right away as a rookie on special teams and in sub situations.”
Leonard’s South Carolina State Career Defensive Stats
2017: 114 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 FF
2016: 124 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4 FF, 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 blocks, 1 TD
2015: 70 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR
2014: 86 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR
Leonard, who was a four-year starter 394 tackles, 54 tackles for loss, 22 sacks, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, two blocked kicks and a defensive touchdown. Leonard desperately wanted to go to Clemson as his half-brother, linebacker Anthony Waters, did before becoming a third-round draft pick in San Diego in 2007, but he never got an offer. Leonard eventually played Clemson, who crushed South Carolina State 59-0 in 2016, but Leonard made his presence felt with 19 tackles and a blocked field goal.
At the very least Leonard, who has freakish 34 1/8-inch arms and an 82-inch wingspan, could star on special teams and be used in pass-rushing sub packages during his rookie season to take advantage of his ability to get to the quarterback, evidenced by 22 sacks. With Alexander and David missing a combined seven games last year, Leonard offers the Bucs a hard-hitting, heat-seeking missile capable of playing a full-time role on defense as a rookie, if necessary.