National Football League
How Leonard Floyd can help fix a 49ers weakness as they chase another Super Bowl
National Football League

How Leonard Floyd can help fix a 49ers weakness as they chase another Super Bowl

Published Jun. 18, 2024 1:24 p.m. ET

The choice in signing with the San Francisco 49ers was a simple one for veteran pass-rusher Leonard Floyd.

"I'm just happy to be on their side, going against anybody else now," Floyd told reporters.

The 31-year-old Floyd is familiar with the NFC West from his three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, which includes winning a Super Bowl ring during the team's 2021 season. His 39.5 sacks over the past four seasons places him at No. 10 in the NFL during that span. He hasn't missed a game in six seasons. 

But most importantly, Floyd's ability to play the run should help fix a team weakness as the 49ers chase their sixth Super Bowl title, which has proved elusive. The team had trouble against outside runs throughout the 2023 season, and even more so in the postseason. San Francisco allowed 7.8 yards per carry on outside runs during the playoffs, according to Next Gen Stats. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed more (9.4 yards per carry). 

"That's something I want to do," Floyd said. "I want to affect the game, and the run game. Just affect winning. Anything to help us win, that's what I'm buying into."

Floyd has been a great wing man during his eight-year NFL career. In L.A from 2020-22, he played well with one of the league's best interior pass-rushers in Aaron Donald. And now, after a season in Buffalo, he gets a chance to play with one of the top defensive ends in the league in Nick Bosa.

"I think he's a super-skilled rusher," Bosa said about Floyd. "He's got good length. He's more athletic than I even realized. And I think guys like him when they come to our scheme, the best is brought out of them. So I'm excited to see what potential he has."


Floyd, selected No. 9 overall by the Chicago Bears in the 2016 draft, was in the same class as Bosa's older brother, Joey Bosa. During his time in Chicago, along with a season with the Rams, Floyd was coached by NFL defensive guru Brandon Staley.

He'll be coached again by Staley, who joins the 49ers as the assistant head coach and defensive assistant after he was fired as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers last year. Staley served as outside linebackers coach for the Bears when Floyd was in Chicago and was the defensive coordinator for the Rams in 2020, when the Georgia product had 10.5 sacks.

"Leonard is one of the top players I've ever coached," Staley said. "I coached him in two spots. I've been able to see his growth and improvement as a player. And I felt like last year he played as well as he's ever played, and that's saying a lot because he's played at a high level. He's been a part of No. 1 defenses wherever he's been — with Chicago, the Rams and part of a really good group last year in Buffalo. … Leonard's résumé speaks for itself, and I think he's going to be a great fit for this team and our style of play." 

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The 49ers have struggled to find a player with consistent production opposite Bosa since selecting the Ohio State product No. 2 overall in the 2019 draft. Last season, the 49ers used Drake Jackson and Clelin Ferrell on the outside, along with making trades for Randy Gregory and Chase Young. Those four players combined for 11.5 sacks, while Bosa led the team with 10.5 sacks.

San Francisco defensive line coach Kris Kocurek said he met with Floyd in Georgia the night before his 2016 pro day and thought he was the most explosive pass-rusher in the draft that year. Kocurek said he has kept up with Floyd throughout his NFL career, and now he gets a chance to coach him.

"He's just a guy who's played a lot of football and is still a sponge," Kocurek said. "He's learning new techniques here and doing different things. He's been very, very detailed in what we're trying to teach here, because it's a little bit different. He's done a lot of different things in his career, from standing up in a two-point [stance] to getting down in a three-point stance.

"He's done a lot over his career. And then anytime you plug in the tape on him, he's always been a productive player, whether it's been rushing the passer or in the run game, the relentlessness he plays the game with, he's always pursuing the ball." 

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The 49ers will play some quarterbacks who can move this season, including Kyler Murray twice, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Jordan Love, Dak Prescott, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield

Floyd has sacked the elusive Russell Wilson a career-high 11 times, and Aaron Rodgers eight times. He once explained the strategy he developed in collaboration with Rams defensive coordinator Chris Shula to contain mobile quarterbacks like Wilson and Murray.

"You know how the fox hunts the rabbit, and he waits on the rabbit? That's basically how you got to rush those guys," Floyd said. "You've got to be the fox. You've got to wait for them, and they'll come to you. Running guys, they'll run straight to you."

The 49ers expect to see Floyd on the prowl regularly this season. 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

Main photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers.


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