But, according to Pro Football Focus’ John Owning and DallasCowboys.com’s Nick Harris and Kyle Youmans, there are warning signs with Leonard, 28, including his not being an efficient every-down player anymore because he’s not as spry as he once was. They said he can be taken advantage of in the passing game.
“If the #Cowboys sign Shaquille Leonard, one thing they CANNOT do is take Markquese Bell off the field in passing situations,” Owning wrote on X on November 28. “He’s been so impressive and such a boon to DAL’s overall pass defense. The ability to close down short-to-intermediate zones & reliably limit YAC on check-downs are so valuable.”
While Owning focused on Bell’s attributes, Harris made a point about Leonard’s performance.
“@Kyle_Youmans spoke about Leonard’s liabilities in pass coverage this morning on @TalkinCowboys, and it directly coincides with this,” Harris wrote in response. “Have Leonard on the field to fill running lanes, bring Bell out for the late down situations to cover the middle of the field.”
Shaq Leonard’s Pass Coverage Stats in 2023
Considering that Leonard has had two back surgeries in the past two years, it’s hard to be too critical. Him playing at all after that was not guaranteed, and it’s clear that he still has something to offer. But pass coverage has been the weak point of his game — even during his three first-team All-Pro seasons, in 2018, 2020 and 2021.
Leonard lit up box scores from 2018 to 2021 with 11 interceptions. He had years with 5 and 4 interceptions, and, on the surface, he looks like a tight defender.
But the underlying stats show that it was feast or famine. The lowest completion percentage during that four-year stretch was 70.5%. He also allowed 9 touchdowns over that span, and opposing receivers averaged 7 yards per target. That’s not abysmal by linebacker standards, but it shows that he wasn’t a lockdown defender against the pass.
His stats in nine games the Colts in 2023 show what happens when he stops pulling down interception. Over his limited time in 2022 and 2023, he allowed 22 catches, four touchdowns and 160 yards after the catch. The opposing QB rating skyrocketed into the high 90s, and his five missed tackles in 2023 weren’t helping, either.
Micah Parsons Helping Cowboys ‘Recruit’
While Leonard shouldn’t be regarded as an all-around player these days, he’s still wanted. Just ask Cowboys defensive end Micah Parsons. On the November 27 episode of his show, “The Edge,” Parsons flaunted a Leonard jersey behind him onscreen.
He was then asked about Dallas signing the three-time All-Pro. Parsons kept it coy but did provide his thoughts.
“I’m not telling you nothing yet,” Parsons said on November 27. “We’ll see next week what happens when he comes to visit [Dallas] on ‘The Edge.’ Tune in to that and check this see if Shaq is going to be a Dallas Cowboy or not.”