Bears

Concerns about Leonard Floyd maybe shouldn't be so concerning

Concerns about Leonard Floyd maybe shouldn't be so concerning

Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up and out of the No. 11 pick in last month’s NFL draft and into, in some opinions, a supposed problem in the person of pass rusher Leonard Floyd. Multiple problems, actually, considering all the things “wrong” with Floyd.

Fortunately for the Bears, all of these flaws come with major qualifiers – “yeah, but…” things that render those flaws suspect at least, moot at best. And the yeah-but’s come, not from scouting reports, projections or other suppositions, but from the NFL itself.

Where’s the sack production?

Floyd put up just 4.5 sacks for Georgia last season, hardly the kind of numbers general managers trade up to get. Floyd finished his three Georgia seasons with 17 total sacks – the same total Von Miller posted in his junior season alone at Texas A&M on his way to being John Fox’s first draft choice (2011) in Denver.

“He’s shown that he’s a good pass rusher in college,” insisted defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He just doesn’t have the numbers to support that on a piece of paper. But a lot of that is due to the way [Georgia coaches] used him, too.”

Fangio was asked during this weekend’s rookie minicamp if he had ever coached anyone who hadn’t been an elite college pass rusher but became one in the NFL. Fangio said nobody came to mind, a concerning comment from one of the NFL’s top defensive coaches and one who’d coached rush-linebacker Aldon Smith as a rookie.

Yeah, but…

The fact is that more than a few of the NFL’s elite pass rushers only achieved “elite” status when they reached the NFL level. Surprisingly, Fangio was involved with one prominent example: Smith.

In one of the NFL’s greatest examples of immediate impact, Fangio was San Francisco defensive coordinator when the 49ers drafted Smith No. 7 overall in the 2011 draft. Smith’s career has derailed after an impressive start that saw him compile 42 sacks over his first 43 games – effectively one per game.

This after a final Missouri season that produced six sacks – decent but not spectacular for the player who then became the fastest player in NFL history to register 30 career sacks.

Jason Pierre-Paul totaled 6.5 sacks for the 13 games of his final season at South Florida: .5 sacks per game. When he broke into the New York Giants’ starting lineup his second season (2011), he more than doubled that with 16.5 sacks over 16 starts: 1.03 sacks per game. Injuries have undercut him but when he managed 16 starts in 2014, he totaled 12.5 sacks: .78 per game, still half-again his college rate.

J.J. Watt, taken in the No. 11 slot by Houston in his draft, had 11.5 sacks in the 26 games of his two defensive-end seasons at Wisconsin: a rate of .44 sacks per game, or one every 2.26 games. In the NFL Watt has amassed 74.5 sacks in 80 games: a rate of .93 sacks per game, or one every 1.07 games.

The kid is too skinny

Legendary New York Giants general manager George Young once dubbed the first 15 picks of the draft as "the Dance of the Elephants," because of the conventional wisdom of drafting size for the NFL game. The perceived problem with the Bears' drafting of Floyd is that they traded up within that top 15 and took perhaps the lightest-weight for his NFL position. No. 4 overall pick and running back Ezekiel Elliott, for instance, weighs 225 pounds but has it on a 6-foot frame, while Floyd's 240 stretches over six more inches of altitude.

No surprise then that the topic de jour with Floyd is his weight, which the Bears said would be in the 240’s and Fangio said would be something like 230-235. Clearly not big enough at the NFL level, or at least the NFL of George Young.

Plus, he has so much trouble keeping weight on naturally that the Bears have cooked up a reminder-alarm program that uses his cell phone to prod him to eat.

Yeah, but…

Von Miller was 245 pounds coming out of Texas A&M, generously listed at 250 now. Plus, he’s a smurf at 6-3, nowhere near big enough to heft a Super Bowl MVP trophy… oh, wait, never mind.

Kalil Mack (15 sacks) finished second to Watt last season. At 6-3, 247 pounds.

For historical sake: When Richard Dent came to the Bears in the 1983 draft, he was a puny 228 pounds, principally because of dental problems that made eating a miserable experience. The Bears invested in corrective dental work, Dent at 6-5 went up to 265 pounds and then on to Canton and the Hall of Fame.

What Dent learned was leverage, how to keep his body at arm’s length and odd angles from blockers, and the ability to keep tackles from getting good sets and squaring up with him. The success or failure of Floyd projects to trace to far more than his weight.

“[Floyd] has got length, so that can help him ward off people from getting into his body,” Fangio said. “He’s gonna have to be quick and sudden with his take-on. He’s not going to be able to wrestle people as much.

“But so much of whether you win or lose on a block happens early in the down; it doesn’t happen late in the down. We’re just going to have to make sure he’s technique sound and being quick and explosive and decisive with his take-on.”

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.