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.