Most players typically distance themselves from the noise and the media in order to stay focused.
Leonard has been doubted his whole career, using everything he can find as motivation to propel to the next level.
Aaron Rodgers tells Fred Warner that he’s the best LB in the game 👏 #49ers
— TheSFNiners (@TheSFNiners) November 7, 2020
Rodgers likely did not intend to insult the Colts’ linebacker, seeing that he has never played against Leonard.
Leonard did not take these comments lightly, though, and responded to what he felt was a slight to his resume.
Says Darius Leonard, on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers calling San Fran's Fred Warner "the best linebacker in the game" a few weeks ago:
"I've been thinking about that ever since he said that. I hope I can change his mind."
Packers at Colts on Sunday 🍿
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 19, 2020
“I seen it as soon as he said it,” he said. “You hear things like that and it gives you extra motivation going to play. [Rodgers has] been in the league for a long time. For him to say that about Fred Warner, they play sometimes twice a year, so my first time I want to leave a mark. Hopefully change his mind on what he said about that.”
While he praised Rodgers and the Packers, Leonard still looked forward to giving him a first-hand experience of just how good he is.
“Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback,” he said. “That’s a bucket list check. Once you’re in the league, you want to play against the best, and he’s one of the best to do it. I’m pumped for it. It’s definitely challenging. They have some great skill guys.”
When asked if he might reference Rodger’s comment to the QB on gameday, Leonard wasn’t sure what he might say.
“Whatever comes out, comes out. My passion, it shows. Whenever I’m playing, my emotions, it all overflows. I don’t know if I’m going to say something to him or if I’m going to just play. I just know I’m looking forward to the matchup.”
With Packers rolling into Indianapolis this week, Leonard and the Colts have the perfect opportunity to establish themselves as a dominant force in the AFC.
Both drafted in 2018, Leonard and Warner play an integral role in their respective teams.
Based on this year alone, PFF has them atop the leaderboard for the best at their position.
Highest-graded LBs of 2020:
1. Lavonte David – 87.0
2. Bobby Wagner – 86.2
3. Myles Jack – 85.7
4. Fred Warner – 80.3
5. Darius Leonard – 79.5 pic.twitter.com/gn3cDz8pVO
— PFF (@PFF) November 21, 2020
They are leaders on-and-off the field and serve as the quarterback for the defense.
They excel in both the run game and in coverage and have no discernible weaknesses that can be exploited by opposing offenses.
And while they are both exceptional players, Leonard holds many individual statistical advantages over his NFC counterpart.
Warner has accumulated three interceptions, four forced fumbles, three sacks, and 321 total tackles in his two-and-half seasons.
Meanwhile, Leonard has racked up seven interceptions, seven forced fumbles, 13 sacks, and 344 total tackles in the same span.
Leonard also managed to accomplish this in seven fewer games than Warner.
He also has a Pro Bowl appearance and finished as a First Team All-Pro once, neither of which Warner has on his resume.
Perhaps Warner is a little more durable, but when healthy, Leonard is a better overall player on paper.
However, Leonard understands that his value comes from more than just the numbers he puts up on the scoresheet.
“Everybody makes tackles; everybody can do that,” he said. “The motivation of a great ballplayer is how well can you change the game. That’s what I think I have on a lot of linebackers. I’m a game-changer. Somehow I get the ball in my hands or I take the ball out of their hands. That’s what makes you a great linebacker, not just making tackles.”
Regardless, both he and Warner are franchise cornerstones that will anchor their respective defenses for years to come.