When the Chicago Bears traded up two spots in last year's draft, from 11th overall to 9th overall, many believed Mississippi OT Laremy Tunsil was GM Ryan Pace's target.
Instead, Pace shocked Bears nation by selecting Georgia OLB Leonard Floyd.
"We said all along we wanted to improve the athleticism and speed on our defense and we’ve definitely done that with Leonard Floyd," Pace said on draft night. "This guy lines up all over the field for Georgia. We see him as an outside linebacker on our defense. He brings great athleticism for a guy that tall with that kind of length. He brings some juice to our defense that we need and will definitely help our pass-rush.”
At 6-6, Floyd has ideal height and length but at just 235 pounds, if that, many questioned the validity of trading up to use a Top-10 pick on an edge player so thin. The rest of Chicago's OLBs are between 250-280 pounds, so how would Floyd be able to set the edge against the run facing 300-pound NFL offensive linemen?
Yet Bears brass didn't share those same concerns, as Floyd's quickness and speed trumped his supposed lack of ideal weight.
"The weight thing is not a big thing with me," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said during minicamp. "He’s going to weigh somewhere between 230 and 235. That’s just what he’s going to weigh. We knew that before we drafted him. So it’s not an issue. We knew that and that’s a fact and that’s what he is.”
Turns out, Fangio was right.
When on the field, Floyd's weight did not hinder him. His quickness and burst allowed him to shed blocks against the run, while his speed helped him chases down plays from the backside. Setting the edge was no problem for Floyd, who consistently demonstrated NFL-level strength and power.
"I think the sky is the limit for Leonard Floyd," Ryan Pace said last week. "I think you guys saw that. His athleticism, his quickness, he’s 100 miles per hour to the ball every play."
As a pass rusher, Floyd showed a lot of potential. He had 7.0 sacks in 12 games, the third most sacks of any rookie this year.
"He’s just refining his technique as a pass rusher, so his hand use, and that’s going to continue to get better," said Pace. "But he has some special things that we saw in the draft that you can’t coach."
Floyd did demonstrate a "special" factor on a number of occasions. His best game came in Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers, when he finished with 3 tackles, 2.0 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a TD.
Both of his sacks were of the "special" variety. His first sack of Aaron Rodgers came after splitting a double team down the middle, then falling to the turf before jumping to his feet and making the tackle.
His second sack came on a speed rush around the corner, where he stripped Rodgers from behind, picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone.
"On [the first sack] we had a stunt going on that him and Willie [Young] executed very well and Leonard was the beneficiary of it," Fangio said following the Packers contest. "Then he got close he did a great job of finishing it. So, it was a two-man operation there that they both executed well and Leonard had the wherewithal and the talent to finish. It's one thing to get close but you have to be able to finish."
Floyd definitely has the ability to finish, as well as the versatility to line up all over the field. Fangio used Floyd off the edge, at inside linebacker, as a rover blitzer and often dropped him into coverage.
Against the Cowboys in Week 4, Fangio was so comfortable with Floyd in coverage, he manned him up against future Hall of Fame TE Jason Witten, although the results were spotty.
It's that type of athleticism and positional flexibility that first drew the Bears to Floyd, and Fangio did his best to make the most of his new toy.
If there is one complaint, it's that Fangio used him too much in coverage, particularly in third-down situations.
Floyd did fade a bit down the stretch, failing to record a sack in four of his final five games. Yet that probably had a lot do with the injuries.
Floyd missed the first week of training camp due to illness. He then dealt with a calf injury for most of camp, suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to sit out the second preseason contest and was concussed twice during the regular season.
He played just 12 games as a rookie and ended the year on Injured Reserve.
"So far he hasn’t even touched the surface yet of what we might be able to do with him overall and it’s because of the lack of inconsistency due to the injuries," Fangio said mid-season.
The concussions are the biggest concern, as those have a tendency to linger and multiply. His second concussion came after he carelessly dove into a pile of players and collided into teammate Akiem Hicks with the crown of his head.
"The injuries, really the concussions, he has no history of concussions prior to this, no history of concussion at Georgia. So having two concussions late in the year, we’re going to be smart about that," said Pace. "He really needs to learn to play with better technique and keeping his head up, especially when you’re running into Akiem Hicks. That’s not a good thing. So if he can take care of that, he’ll be a good player for us going forward."
Floyd brought a much-needed element of speed to Chicago's defense. His closing burst helped him finish plays against both quarterbacks and running backs.
Against the run, he can stack and shed, using his long arms to create needed separation, then his lateral quickness to disengage. If an opposing linemen gets into his body, Floyd is done, so maintaining separation will be key to his success going forward.
Against the pass, Floyd proved he can collapse the pocket off the edge. His speed and flexibility allow him to turn the corner, yet it's his crossover move that truly stands out. When crossing the face of opposing offensive linemen, Floyd demonstrates an elite level of balance, athleticism, burst and speed. And like Fangio stated during the season, Floyd knows how to finish.
In 12 games as a rookie, he finished with 33 combined tackles, 7.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD, 1 safety and 2 PBUs. That's not a bad stat line from a player who hasn't even begun to scratch his potential.
The only thing that will stop Floyd from becoming a Pro Bowl player is injury. He suffered injuries to his lower body, upper body, immune system and head in 2016. That stunted his development and never allowed him to develop any consistency.
This will be an important off-season for Floyd, who must strengthen his body from head to toe.
"I’m planning on going back to Georgia so I can use the facilities. I like the trainers they got there and I’m going to go back to train with them," Floyd said.
If he can bulk up a bit to help avoid future injuries, without compromising his speed, Pace is right, the sky is the limit for Floyd.null