There's a lot to like about Jim Leonhard. How can you not root for an undersized undrafted free agent who turned himself into a player? Losing him will hurt. He was solid against the run and a decent blitzer. He had sure hands on punt returns.
What I cannot agree with is the notion that losing him is devastating. Was this as big as losing Kris Jenkins? Would it be as big as losing Darrelle Revis? How about David Harris? Is it even in the same ballpark? I say no.
Without Kerry Rhodes next to him, Leonhard's warts were exposed more this year than last, particularly against the pass. Rhodes' cover skills covered Jim's deficiencies last year. He's not very good in man to man coverage. His lack of size is an impediment. He's also not very fast. In fact, I was going to write a post regarding my concern over how he would match up with athletic tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski this week. It seems to me like he would have been a target of New England's gameplan. A writer in the mainstream media I'm friendly with wrote me an e-mail saying the exact same thing out of the blue before I mentioned it.
On punt returns? The 11.3 average is good, but he's also had a lot of open space to run. I can only remember two of his returns where he really beat somebody. A lot of guys would post numbers like that with the opportunities he has been given.
He makes the defensive calls, yes, but I think losing him would have been a lot more devastating a year ago when the scheme was new. I think the effect is minimized with greater familiarity.
I hate to be that guy who sees an injury and just reacts, "No great loss." Let's think about it, though. If you were telling me I had to choose to take one player off the starting defensive unit, it would either be Leonhard, Brodney Pool, or Bryan Thomas. Jim's a nice player. When he's your tenth best defender, you're in great shape. He's just not really an impact player.
Before the season, I said safety was a position where I felt the Jets could not afford an injury. Given the way Leonhard has played this year, I'm less convinced of it. I'd rather have him playing zone than Eric Smith. I think he has more range than Smith. I think coverage is still something of a liability with either. Smith might even be an upgrade against the run. Yes, losing Leonhard hurts. I don't think it is crushing, however.
I do feel really badly for Jim, though. He seems like a great guy, and I'm sure watching these huge games will be devastating.