The Chicago Bears have a slow defense. It's been that way for years.
It's a serious issue, one the team has made a concerted effort to address this off-season.
Watching the playoff run of the Denver Broncos this past year was eye-opening. Denver had one of the fastest defenses in the NFL, with players flying to the ball on every snap. They were so fast they carried one of the worst quarterbacks in the league - a noodle-armed, cement-footed Peyton Manning - to a Super Bowl title.
If the Bears want a defense on par with the Broncos, they need to add speed.
Enter Leonard Floyd, whom the team selected yesterday with the 9th overall pick in the draft.
No doubt, Floyd has holes in his game. He lacks upper-body strength and is not a physical defender against the run. Most likely, he'll only by a situational player for the Bears his rookie season.
Yet Floyd has speed and explosiveness for days.
"[Head Coach] John [Fox] always says this ‘we can always get them stronger and bigger, but we can’t get them faster and more athletic,’" GM Ryan Pace said. "He’s definitely fast and athletic, which he will add [to the defense].”
Floyd was one of the top performers at his position during this year's scouting combine in the 40-yard dash (4.60), vertical jump (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10-7). Those are the tests that indicate a player's top-end speed and burst. Taking a big-picture, long-term view, his elite status in those two areas will pay big dividends for the Bears, particularly on passing downs.
“We’ve said all along that we wanted to improve the athleticism and speed on our defense and we’ve definitely done that with Leonard Floyd," said Pace. "I don’t think you can have enough pass rushers in today’s game and I think if you look at the playoffs this past year it showed that. You need to load up on pass rushers and that is what we are doing.”
Bears opponents converted 44.28 percent on 3rd down last season, which was fifth worst in the NFL.
"[Coach Fox] has been pounding the table to add these types of guys for a while now. So we would talk a lot during the season saying that ‘hey we need to get off the field on third down and we need guys to help us in that area’. This is the type of player that can help that, so again add a major pass rush threat to our defense.”
No player in this draft is faster off the ball than Floyd. In obvious passing situations, he fires off the snap as if shot out of a cannon. He also has ideal bend and flexibility, which allows him to easily turn the corner. He also utilizes a quality inside counter and a solid spin move. He's one of the most complete edge rushers in this class.
Floyd also has ideal length. He's 6-6 with 33 1/8-inch arms and his long strides allow him to eat up ground in a hurry. His closing burst is one of the best in this class.
“[Length] is important for every single position," Pace said. "We used to talk about arm length just for offensive linemen or defensive linemen. I think arm length is important for all positions. We were talking about it the other day with tight ends and we try to track these traits to successful players in the NFL and try to narrow it down. We collect so much data, so guys, lets simplify this down to what are the most important traits and arm length, we find, is important for almost every position.”
Some question Floyd's production last season, in which he tallied just 4.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. By comparison, Clemon's Shaq Lawson had 12.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, and he was selected 11 picks after Floyd.
But remember, Floyd wasn't just an outside linebacker at Georgia. He also played a lot of inside linebacker and was often asked to drop into coverage from his edge position. For the Bulldogs, he wasn't a one-dimensional player.
That's a good thing for the Bears. Floyd's versatility will be a boost for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who will be able to line him up at multiple positions.
“It’s hard to find outside linebackers that can rush the passer but also have the versatility to drop into coverage and he can do that," said Pace. "What’s rare is when a guy is that tall and long and he’s running down the field changing direction like that, you don’t see that very often, so that’s very attractive.”
Despite his flaws, at the end of the day, Chicago's defense will be much faster with Floyd on the field. That cannot be overstated. In the NFL, if your defense is slow, then your defense is bad. Plain and simple.
In addition, if your defense can't get to the quarterback, then your defense is bad.
For two years, the Bears have invested heavily in run stoppers. Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman are outstanding against the run. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are massive run-stopping defensive linemen. Pernell McPhee is one of the best outside linebackers in the league against the run, as is Lamarr Houston. Even Willie Young is strong on first and second down.
The Bears have built a front seven that should have much more success stopping the run this year, yet they didn't have a player with 15-sack potential. With Floyd, now they do.
If you can get to the quarterback on 3rd down, that mitigates a lot of other defensive deficiencies, particularly in the secondary. Based on his measurables, motor, size, athleticism, length and film, Floyd will be the speed edge rusher this club has lacked for decades.
And here's the final reason to like the Floyd pick: Fangio is on board. Remember, he's one of the best coordinators in the league at getting the most out of his players. If he thinks Floyd was worth the hefty investment, so should you.
"Vic likes this guy a lot, as does [outside linebackers coach] Clint Hurtt. Both those guys are excellent coaches," Pace said. "It just gives me a lot of confidence when we bring a guy like this into the building for them to further develop the player. In addition, this player has the right kind of attitude and mindset for that. [Floyd] is hungry, high energy and plays with a lot of enthusiasm and passion, so that all comes together for a lot of growth.”