Leonard Floyd: Trying to Quiet the Critics

Oct 20, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) recovers a fumble by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (not pictured) in the end zone for a touchdown during the third quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports

 Many fans and media members were concerned when the Bears took Leonard Floyd in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft.  Would the price they paid to get him be worth it?  Could he be the star that they hoped he would be (and for the price they paid) or would he be a washout?

For the Bear’s defense, the 2015 campaign was a bit of a disaster.  They didn’t have the talent to compete with a lot of the teams they faced in 2015.  Chicago often found themselves in situations that called for a big play, pressure on the quarterback or a critical sack that could have helped them win.  These plays didn’t happen due to lack of talent or execution so the Bears lost a lot of games.

It was head coach John Fox’s first season and he brought the Bears a “gift”.  For the first time in their long and storied history, Chicago would use the 3-4 as their base defense.  Fans only knew the 4-3 as the Bears base defense and would now look forward to something new.  Would it work?  Would it help them win more games?

In order to operate the 3-4, you need personnel that can play in it.  This really means you need good outside linebackers.  Chicago went after one of the best at the time in 2015.  That player was Pernell McPhee.  They landed him and were seemingly set at one of the outside linebacker spots.

McPhee spent a great deal of time on injury driven snap counts last season (coupled with missing some games).  The coaching staff realized they needed someone to compliment him when he was on the field and pick up when he was off of it.  Chicago needed to bring in someone else to help rush the passer and get results.

Media experts predicted that the Bears would draft a pass rushing linebacker or 3-4 defensive end with their first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.  A lot of names were thrown around.  The Bears really didn’t tip their hat too much as to what they were going to do but it was obvious defense was the target.

Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears fans cheer after Kevin White (West Virginia) is selected as the number seven overall pick to the Chicago Beras in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NFL Draft

The Bears owned the number 11 pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft this past May.   They were ready to draft a player that could fill their immediate needs.  There were several players available that were ideal candidates for the Bears but they appeared to have their hearts set on one player in particular.

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Chicago traded up two spots to number nine and drafted Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd.  Almost immediately, the media criticized the pick.  There were some that felt that Floyd wasn’t a high to mid first round pick.  Critics even said he may have been a second round talent.  Quite a few people scoffed at the pick.

Not only were there questions about his talent but there were questions about his size.  Floyd stood 6’6” and weight 244 pounds.  He looked very thin and it was thought that he needed to add some weight.  Could he handle taking on the bigger NFL blockers while rushing the passer?  That was a big question about him.

The Bears had made their pick and there was no turning back on that selection.  Would Floyd work out or would he be a bust?  Many thought the latter would hold true.

Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Story of Floyd

As mentioned, Floyd came to the Bears out of the University of Georgia.  While in school, he was a consistent pass rusher but not very productive statistically.  He appeared to have all the tools of a natural pass rusher including being fast, athletic and possessing a great first step.  He put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the Bears had to love that.

The downside to Floyd centered mostly on his size.  Several experts stated that he was too thin to hold up in run defense and taking on bigger blockers.  It was also thought that he couldn’t be an every down player and would only be utilized in passing situations.  Taking a situational pass rusher with a first round pick was a little “odd”.

The Bears had a plan for Floyd and had to have done their homework on him.  They knew what they wanted to do with him and figured that he could be an important part of their defense.  And Floyd was poised to prove his doubters wrong.

But he had an uphill battle.  He had a lot to live up to; big shoes to fill if you will.  Could he prove the doubters wrong and become what many thought he couldn’t be, a star?

May 25, 2016; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) during the OTA practice at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Training Camp and Preseason

Training camp was rough for Floyd.  He left the very first practice of training camp on the back of a cart after suffering from an illness.  Of course, fans and the media called him out saying that he couldn’t handle being in the NFL that he was out of shape and that he was a disappointment.  It looked like he couldn’t even make it through a tough first practice.

Floyd’s struggles in camp didn’t end at the start of camp.  The first five practices of the camp saw Floyd get through only one session.  He went down with a shoulder injury during the early part of camp following his recovering from the illness that took him down at the beginning of camp.  His start was truly rough.

The struggle to stay healthy continued as Floyd suffered a hamstring injury on top of the other two issues he had early in training camp.  The word “bust” was being whispered in the media and with fans.  Could the Bears have made a mistake taking him or was this he just suffering from a case of bad luck?

The preseason games started and he participated in three out of the four games.  His only start came in the last game of the preseason against the Browns.  Floyd had less than ten tackles and managed to get half a sack in the preseason action.  It wasn’t a shining start but it was a beginning for Floyd and got him somewhat prepared for what he could face in the regular season.

There were some comments made by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio about Floyd just prior to the start of the season.  Fangio said something to the effect of “Overall his camp was kind of choppy”.  In all honesty, Fangio was right.  Floyd had an inconsistent camp that left a lot of people scratching their heads as to why the Bears chose him in the first round.

We should look further into what Fangio had to say.  He also added that Floyd had been “choppy and inconsistent more from an availability standpoint…”.  Fangio continued by saying “he could have had a large chunk of good, learning practices in a week playing in a preseason game”.

So perhaps you could say that Floyd wasn’t always available in practice but when he was, he was practicing pretty well.

Would he live up to his first-round billing or be a failure?  The answer could be coming soon.

Sep 11, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) runs with the ball during the first quarter as Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) defends at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Season Starts

The Bears went into the 2016 season with Floyd as a backup at one of the outside linebacker positions.  But they couldn’t keep their first round investment on the bench for long.  They had to work him into games and they would do that almost right away.

In his first game of the season against the Houston Texans, Floyd not only played in that game but started.  He had a pretty active game getting six total tackles and a half a sack. Not a bad a debut for the rookie.  He did prove himself somewhat well adept in run defense which he had previously been criticized for.  Were the pundits wrong about him?

Floyd started the next two games against Philadelphia and Dallas.  He didn’t have a great game against the Eagles but did a little better against the Cowboys.  In Week four, against the Lions, Floyd started again but left the game with a leg injury.  He was out of the Bear’s next two games (versus the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars).

His absence in those two games rose questions yet again about his durability.  His worthiness as a first-round pick was questioned again and the doubters rose up.  What could Floyd do to get the critics off his back? More importantly, what could he do to win over the coaching staff to show that he was worthy of his lofty status as a first round pick?

Sometimes, players have games where they “arrive” or “breakout”.  It’s still way too early to tell and I am by no means saying that Floyd proved everyone wrong on the back of this one game, but he did show he had some value in the game we are about to discuss.

Oct 20, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Chicago Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) reaches for a fumble during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

And Then There Was Floyd

In the Bears game against the Packers, Floyd had his “breakout” game.  Back from his leg injury, he started that game and recorded three total tackles with two solo and one assisted.  The most important stat that he garnered in the game was his two sacks of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  One of those sacks saw him force Rodgers to fumble in the end zone.  Floyd fell on the ball for a touchdown.

The score was huge for the Bears at that time in the game.  It helped them take the lead even if it was only temporary.  It should have also been a shot in the arm for them.  Sometimes plays like that can swing the momentum in the team’s favor and help them win.  Big-time playmakers make big time plays like that.

Floyd’s sack-fumble was a big moment in that game and in his young career.  While it may not be the “turning point” that everyone hopes it could be for him it was a step in the right direction.  He followed up his breakout game with another solid outing in the Bears’ 20-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings with two tackles, another sack and numerous pressures of Sam Bradford:

Floyd’s stats weren’t as impressive, but he was a factor against the Vikings, who were double-teaming him by the fourth quarter. His speed is a problem for opposing linemen, and his development is evident.

What’s in the Future?

Floyd still has a lot to prove.  He hasn’t played that many games yet and between training camp and the regular season has spent a lot of time in the training room.  There is a lot he needs to do to prove his worthiness as a first-round pick and not appear to be a bust.

First and foremost, he needs to stay healthy.  That has been a challenge.  Whatever he needs to do to stay upright and on the field, he needs to do.  Some injuries are hard to prevent but a good training staff can help, at least a little.

He will learn and grow as he gets more experience in the defense and it appears the coaching staff is willing to let him play quite a bit.  He has started when he’s been healthy but why has he been a consistent starter? Is it because he is actually that much better than the other guys at his position or is it because of his lofty draft status?  Remember that in most cases, first round picks should be immediate starters.

His draft status could be what is keeping him in the lineup but he did live up to his billing against the Packers.  Can he do it again and do it consistently?

The jury is still out Floyd as it’s too early to tell just how well he is going to do this season and beyond.  Hopefully, for the Bears sake, he continues to contribute and play well as a starter at the outside linebacker position.  If he can continue to produce he can help the defense out and help them win games for the team.

If he fails, Bear’s management will not look good and their ability to find good talent will be questioned.  Here’s hoping Floyd becomes a star.

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