I met Leonard Floyd in the summer of 2010. He was a long, quiet kid who lived in the middle of nowhere Georgia - Dodge County, which located in-between I-75 and I-16 in middle southeast Georgia. Tiny, Dodge County has a population of only 21,221 people, and while Floyd was in high school the Indians played in AA football, which is the second smallest classification in the state.
I watched him play against Laney in 2010. Floyd was one of the four captains on the team, and he was very noticeable because he was so tall and long. At the time Georgia had just transitioned from Willie Martinez’s 4-3 defense to Todd Grantham’s 3-4, and outside linebackers were at a premium. It seems clear to me that Floyd was a top target of the program as soon as Grantham took over.
Floyd didn’t make a ton of plays that night. He moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker a fair amount. It was clear that Floyd had something other kids on the field didn’t have that night - length. But he was skinny. He needed to work on his body.
In due time Floyd signed with UGA. It looked he was headed to play at UGA in the fall of 2012. I talked with Dodge County Coach Rex Hood, who told me that Floyd was planning on enrolling before July 5th.
“What they told us he needed to do he has done,” Hood said. “You have a set thing you have to do, and he knew what that was - he was able to achieve that."
But there was a kink in the plans - a four-letter word. The Athens Banner-Herald reported on July 11th that the “NCAA Clearinghouse would not permit (Floyd) to play.”
Floyd would have to sit out a year in prep school and then enroll in 2013.
After the first game of the year, a 38-35 loss at No. 8 Clemson, Mike Bobo was talking with reporters after the game in the Tigers’ antiquated post-game interview situation. Bobo stopped at one point seeing that Floyd was leaving after completing his interviews, and he stopped and told the newcomer that the had played a hell of a game. Floyd only had four tackles, but had pressured the quarterback twice and had been all over the field. It was his first college football game, and he played well.
It was three games later when Floyd announced that he was going to be a major player for the Bulldogs. He ended the day with eight tackles, a QB hurry and a sack. His play, along with that of Jordan Jenkins, showed the promise of the 2013 season before it was sidelined with nearly all of the offense being sidelined with catastrophic injuries.
After the win over No. 6 LSU game I wrote:
“LSU center Elliott Porter looked to his left – by the time he looked to the right it was too late.
The blur running past him was Dodge County native Leonard Floyd. The Plastic Man, Floyd can contort his body and dip his shoulders to rush the passer effectively.”
And he can rush the passer, but he’s still dealing with learning how to effectively deal with the run. There were times, particularly against Florida, when Floyd disappointed. Still, he led UGA in sacks all three years he was on campus. He made what appeared to be a game-changing 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Tennessee in 2015.
Floyd can play with a lot of passion at times. He was particularly emotional after the 2015 Georgia Tech game - joining up with Sterling Bailey, Lorenzo Carter and DeAndre Walker to plan the UGA flag in the middle of Grant Field.
“No,” he screamed with the others. “This is our field now.”
It was probably a direct shot back at the Yellow Jackets for their reaction after a rare win in the series in 2014 in Athens.
Floyd’s NFL workout situations have been anywhere from strange to bizarre - missing much of his pro day with some sort of illness. But the tape doesn’t lie. He’s still the Plastic Man, and he can still get around the corner. He going to directly effect NFL signal callers, but he’s going to struggle against the run more than many of his peers. He may well have a very long career in the league if he can stay healthy and stay in a division where rushing the passer is of critical importance.