Bears

Analyzing the Bears’ thought process on selecting Leonard Floyd

Analyzing the Bears’ thought process on selecting Leonard Floyd

When coach John Fox refashioned the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos on a foundation of defense, he did it with high draft picks on edge rushers Julius Peppers and Von Miller.

When defensive coordinator Vic Fangio turned the San Francisco 49ers into an elite 3-4, he started with edge rusher Aldon Smith in 2011.

All three became sack terrors on defenses that went to Super Bowls. That is the general plan for Leonard Floyd and the Bears, who didn’t give Fox a pass rusher last year at No. 7 but traded up from No. 11 to No. 9 to get what they clearly see as the linchpin of a defense in true need of impact at tipping points of games.

“[Fox] has been pounding the table to add these kind of guys for awhile,” said GM Ryan Pace, smiling, “and we talk during the season: ‘Hey, Ryan, we gotta get off the field on third down, we gotta get off the field on third down.’

“We needed guys to help us in that area and this is the type of player that can help that, add a major pass rush threat to our defense.”

If there is a twist in the Floyd selection, it is that his sack production at Georgia suffered because he was so versatile that coaches used him in so many different positions that he was only a part-time true pass rusher.

The Bears, however, looked at that and saw options, all based on what they saw on tape as an impact player regardless of where he played, and one possessed of elite speed.

Floyd said during this year’s Combine that Georgia was a base 3-4 defense that was forced into nickel more often than not – exactly what the Bears experienced in 2015.

“It’s hard to find outside linebackers that can rush the passer but also have the versatility to drop into coverage,” Pace said. “And he can do that. What’s rare is when a guy is that tall and long and running down the field and he’s changing direction like that – you don’t see that very often so it’s very attractive.”

Pace cautioned against comparing Floyd to Smith, who developed into one of the NFL’s most feared pass rusher before mishandling off-field situations.

But Smith, unlike Willie Young for the Bears last season, was an every down player, albeit at 260+ pounds. Floyd is listed in the 240s and the Bears are wary of adding bulk on an assumption that he needs to be bigger to hold the point against the run. They envision him as an every down player as-is.

“You have to watch a lot of tape but you see him come off the edge,” Pace said. “You see him beat people with outside speed and bend the corner. He’s got a great inside spin move that’s really difficult to defend. Then you see him play the run.

“You see all those things. The guy rarely comes off the field. A lot of these college guys, they’re getting subbed in and out in critical moments of the game. That’s kind of a concern right? This guy never comes off the field. You see him play a lot of different positions. He has great stamina.”

Questions hung over Floyd’s production as a pass rusher but Floyd saw himself as part of a bigger picture. “I’ll say on some of the plays, some plays I could have made,” Floyd said at the Combine, “and some plays I set it up for my teammates to make.”

That would be pretty much the idea the Bears have for him.

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For all the attention heaped on Roquan Smith in the last 48 hours, he’s not the most important player to determining the success of the Bears’ defense in 2018. 

Rightly, the Bears feel good about their depth at inside linebacker, especially now that the No. 8 overall pick is in the mix. Smith, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski being at the top of the depth chart is solid at worst; John Timu is entering fourth year in Vic Fangio’s defense, and rookie Joel Iyiegbuniwe has some promise. 

This isn’t to diminish the importance of Smith, who represents the biggest (and, arguably, only major) addition to the Bears’ defense made in the 2018 offseason. But if you’re looking for the guy whose performance will be the most critical to the success of this defense, look toward the last Georgia product the Bears took with a top-10 pick. 

Given the upside of Leonard Floyd and where the Bears stand at outside linebacker three and a half weeks before the start of the regular season, that’s your guy. And over the last few weeks, Floyd has practiced and played better and better, providing an encouraging sign for a guy the Bears are betting big on this year. 

“He’s feeling more comfortable,” Trevathan said. “So I’m just happy with the direction he’s heading. It’s just going to make our defense better with Flo flying around.”

The Bears have seen flashes from Floyd in the past, but he’s yet to put together much in the way of consistency when it comes to affecting the quarterback. His 11 1/2 sacks in 1,118 career snaps come out to an average of one sack every, roughly, 102 snaps in 22 career games. For a guy that’s averaged 51 snaps per game his first two years in the league, that averages out to about one sack every two games. 

If you factor in quarterback hurries, of which he has 21 in two years, Floyd is affecting the quarterback once every 34 snaps. Pernell McPhee, who the Bears released earlier this year, averaged a sack or a hurry once every 24 snaps, abeit in a small sample size. Von Miller, who Floyd is sharing practice fields with this week, averaged a hurry or sack once every 26 snaps in the last two years over 1,828 snaps. 

These numbers don’t factor in a lot of things, like coverage assignments or flat-out statistical misses of hurries (for instance, Floyd wasn’t credited with a hurry in last week’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite his pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton forcing a throw Kyle Fuller picked off and ran back for a touchdown). But the overall point is this: The Bears need Floyd to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and be that double-digit-sack guy they envisioned when drafting him two years ago. 

Floyd isn’t putting that pressure on himself, though, and stuck to the usual one-day-at-a-time answer when asked how he achieves better consistency and what his goals are for the season. 

“Going out and practicing and just going as hard as you can, fixing your corrections and just continuing to be better every day,” Floyd said. 

If Floyd was a little reserved about his own expectations for the season, his teammates are more than willing to do the talking for him. 

“Even if he’s not flashy in the way you would want to see your outside linebacker flashing, he’s scaring offenses, you know what I’m saying?” defensive end Akiem Hicks, who tabbed Floyd as a Pro Bowl favorite as early as April, said. “So he already put that intimidation factor in there, and then to come up with the plays on top of that, the sky’s the limit for that guy. You just look at the body of work that he’s had as far as putting it in the past couple years, you’re waiting for that moment where he just takes over the league, and I think it’s this year.”

“He’s more disruptive,” Trevathan said. “I see a sense of him trying to create more big plays. Instead of just a sack, more to it. Sack/caused fumble. Getting the quarterback’s (vision). He’s guarding, dropping back. He’s doing everything that Flo is supposed to do even better now.”

Another positive point in Floyd’s favor is outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley seeing him talking more in meetings and growing more comfortable with his role and position on this defense. While Floyd isn’t going to be a vocal leader in that room — that role is ably filled by Sam Acho — his teammates are starting to notice his performances in practice. 

“I think our guys know that Leonard can do so many things for us,” Staley said. “They lean on him by his example — how he is in the practice field, how he is in the meetings. He's been doing a good job.”

But the most important point on Floyd may be this: The Bears bet big on him, and are betting big on him, based on how they addressed outside linebacker in the offseason. Aaron Lynch was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal, but the injury issues that dogged him in San Francisco have returned during training camp (he’s only participated in one practice due to a hamstring injury). Acho was re-signed to a two-year deal, rewarding him for the stable play he’s provided over the last few years, but he’s only recorded four sacks in 47 games with the Bears. Ryan Pace waited until the sixth round before drafting an edge rusher, giving a flier to Kylie Fitts. Isaiah Irving, an undrafted rookie from a year ago, has flashed in a few preseason games dating back to last year but didn't record a sack in his 41 snaps on defense in 2017. 

Those moves screamed one thing: The Bears believe in Floyd, and believe if he has the kind of season they think he can have, they didn’t need a massive addition to their group of edge rushers. That doesn’t mean Pace won’t make a move for an edge rusher before or after cut-down day in September, but unless he were to pay an exorbitant price to trade for Khalil Mack, whoever is brought it won’t be viewed as the team’s No. 1 edge rushing option. 

That would be Floyd, who’s shown in the last few weeks that he’s past his season-ending knee injury from 2017. It’s now on the third-year player to make that leap in production and play a major role in the success of a Bears’ defense that, other than Smith, largely stood pat this spring. 

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

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AP

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

JJ Stankevitz and The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain break down the Bears’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, including how Roquan Smith looked, some encouraging signs for the offense and an enjoyable sequence of pass-rushing drills involving Von Miller.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here: