INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts selected South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard and then chose Auburn guard Braden Smith with the very next pick in the NFL draft Friday night, eager to add more protection for quarterback Andrew Luck.
Leonard, taken with the 36th overall pick, is projected to be a weak-side linebacker who can play all three downs in the Colts’ new 4-3 scheme. He has the skills to not just make tackles but rush the passer and cover tight ends.
One day after second-year general manager Chris Ballard chose Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson at No. 6 overall, he used the 37th pick on Smith, a 6-6 and 315-pound lineman named to All-SEC teams in his last three years of college.
The Colts have struggled for years to protect Luck, who missed all of 2017 due to shoulder surgery. Jacoby Brissett took most of the pounding in his absence as the 31st-ranked Colts offense allowed a league-high 56 sacks.
Smith allowed just 11 hurries in 1,103 pass-blocking snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Just 4-12 last season and missing from the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the Colts have numerous holes to address.
Leonard will be counted upon to strengthen a 29th-ranked defense lacking an identity, especially after leading tackler Jon Bostic departed in free agency. The 6-2, 234-pound linebacker was the MEAC defensive player of the year with 124 total tackles, including 14.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. He had a season-high 19 tackles against Clemson and 14 tackles in the Senior Bowl.
An offseason overhaul of the coaching staff, including the hiring of coach Frank Reich, led to a switch from a 3-4 scheme and the subsequent release of nose tackle Johnathan Hankins.
Leonard is known as a self-motivated prospect. After high school, he turned down a Clemson preferred walk-on invitation to sign with South Carolina State.
The Colts moved down three spots with their third second-round selection by trading the 49th overall choice to Philadelphia in exchange for the Eagles’ 52nd overall pick and a fifth-round selection, 169th overall.