How is it possible for a two-time all-star defensive back to fly under the radar?
Richard Leonard has been one of the CFL’s most consistent defensive backs over the past three years. Maybe it’s because he played alongside a superstar like Delvin Breaux, but he remains an underappreciated player league-wide.
Leonard enjoyed a fantastic career at Florida International University (FIU) as a cornerback and kick returner.
Through his first two seasons with the team (2011-12) he recorded 103 total tackles, three tackles for loss, 16 knockdowns, three interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He also scored two touchdowns on special teams, one of which came on a 100-yard kickoff return.
That was when adversity struck. Leonard had fallen behind in the classroom and was ruled academically ineligible for the 2013 season, forcing him to take a redshirt.
“I felt like I let my team down,” Leonard told the Miami Herald in 2016. “I also let my family and myself down. I just needed to work on getting in my schoolwork and staying in shape for the 2014 year.”
That’s exactly what Leonard did, returning for the 2014 season ready to play. He made another 102 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, 21 knockdowns, four fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles over his final two seasons with the Golden Panthers. He also continued to excel on special teams, averaging 23.5 yards on kickoff returns and bringing a punt back for a 74-yard touchdown.
Leonard finished his college career third all-time in FIU history with nine interceptions. He sits one spot behind former CFL defensive back Anthony Gaitor (eleven) and two spots ahead of former NFL second-round draft pick Johnathan Cyprien (seven).
The NFL showed interest in the Miami native, though his lack of size — five-foot-nine and 189 pounds — was an area of concern. He ran a stellar 4.39 forty-yard dash at his pro day, but that wasn’t enough for Leonard to be selected in the 2016 NFL draft.
He signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent, but a hamstring injury kept him from fully participating in training camp. He was waived in July and then released with an injury settlement in August.
Leonard signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the following year and made the team outright, starting all 18 regular season games. He recorded 73 total tackles, seven interceptions, and one forced fumble en route to being named the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie and an East Division all-star.
The 29-year-old missed five games in 2018 due to injury but still made 51 tackles and one interception. He improved on those numbers this past season when he posted 55 tackles, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles in 18 starts. He was named a CFL all-star for the first time in his career and added nine tackles and one interception in two postseason games.
Leonard commanded more money on the open market than Hamilton could afford to pay him, which is why he signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Stampeders worth $115,000. The team lost halfbacks Brandon Smith and DaShaun Amos to retirement and the NFL, respectively, so the signing was a perfect fit.
It’s impossible to know what Leonard would have achieved with the Stampeders in 2020, but I believe he would have continued to establish himself as one of the league’s best defensive backs. He is currently set to become a free agent in February 2020.
3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DL John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions