Note: in the final installment of the Buffalo Rumblings "Unsung Heroes" series, we take a look at the value of S Jim Leonhard. Previous Heroes: LB Keith Ellison, RB Anthony Thomas, P Brian Moorman, DE Anthony Hargrove.
MVP of Street Free Agents
It's not often that an undrafted free agent makes an NFL roster. It's even rarer that the next year he's released from the team, then signed back two weeks later and goes on to play an important role for an improving young football team. Yet that's exactly how Jim Leonhard's journey has transpired through his first two years. Leonhard was re-signed last season after an injury to former safety Troy Vincent ended his career in Buffalo. Since that point, Leonhard has quickly established himself as a fast learner, a solid special teamer and an important reserve on an inexperienced defense. His role should only increase in importance in 2007.
Intelligence, Moxie and Instincts
At a fast glance, nothing about Leonhard is overly impressive. He had seven tackles last season (five in his lone start on the road at the Jets). He stands just 5'8", 185 and doesn't have the straight-line speed to fully make up for his lack of size. How, then, has Leonhard stuck with the Bills for two full seasons? Simple: he's just a football player. He's smart, instinctual and knows how not to get beat. He's also willing to do a multitude of things, including a variety of special teams work and even returning the occasional punt. Leonhard is just a player that when he's on the field he's not going to let his teammates down - and that's a rare commodity, especially for players with his background.
As scary as it may be to some Bills fans, Leonhard could see a far more prominent role in the defense this season. He will likely serve in a "mini-Donte Whitner" capacity, filling in as Whitner's backup while getting some time in the slot on the dime defense and seeing much more special teams work. With rookie John Wendling and converted receiver George Wilson as his only competition for top reserve safety, Leonhard has seen his value with the team rise dramatically. Now he has to elevate his play to prove he's worth keeping.
Leonhard has a good chance at succeeding. He's a favorite of the coaching staff (especially Dick Jauron, who likely sees a bit of himself in Leonhard), is very helpful with teammates (as evidenced by his helping Wilson make a position change) and he's just a straight up football player. I look for him to become a leader on special teams and one of the more important depth defenders on this team during the 2007 season.