The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
First Round – Leonard Floyd, OLB (Georgia, No. 9 overall)
The Bears came into the draft looking to improve the talent on both of their lines. But, they instead traded up from No. 11 to No. 9 to land Georgia ‘backer Leonard Floyd. Hopefully, he survives the rigors of training camp, as his professional debut saw him carted off the practice field after he was overcome by the heat and scrimmage action.
When the NFL teams arrived in Athens for the Georgia March 17th Pro Day, they not only wanted to see how Floyd performed in drills, they also wanted to figure out what his best position might be. . That has been the “pleasant” problem for Georgia coaches during the last three years – where to put their top playmaker. It was not as if he could not perform at any of these positions, but more so that he was needed elsewhere to fill the voids created by injuries or poor performances by others. Since first putting on the Georgia uniform, Floyd played all the “name” game positions – Jack, Sam, Mike and Will. He’s lined up as a rush end and even played inside as a defensive tackle for three contests late in the 2014 campaign.
Wherever he has played, Floyd has done so at a high level. He started 32-of-38 games at various positions while recording 184 tackles that saw him deliver 33 of those stops behind the line of scrimmage. He got in on twenty quarterback sacks and pressured opposing passers 54 times. On five of those plays in the backfield, he caused fumbles, recovering two to set up Georgia touchdown drives. All in all, a good day of work is usually the norm for Floyd on Saturdays. Now, he’s likely ticketed for the outside linebacker position on Sundays with Chicago.
Floyd has never been known for being a bulky guy and his thin frame did draw considerable concerns from scouts who analyzed him in 2014. He played at 237 last season after checking in at 220 during his first two years, but impressed team decision-makers with his 244-pound weigh-in at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. While his frame is likely at a maximum growth potential, he demonstrated to the Bears that he has plenty of strength and also eased concerns about his surgically repaired shoulder.
Floyd has that quick first step that will usually see him gain advantage on a slower offensive lineman. He can get up field quickly and reaches the corners with good urgency to push the outside running game back in. He flashes that burst to surprise a lethargic blocker (see 2015 ULM, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Missouri and Georgia Southern games), which allows him to get instant penetration. He has the lateral range to slip into the backfield when working in-line and with his quick hands and feet, he has no problem retreating and chasing down receivers when working in the second level (might be considered as a Sam linebacker because of this). He has the acceleration to take a wide loop around the corner and still pressure the pocket.
He stays low in his pads and has the loose hips to redirect, also displaying the second gear needed to excel in long pursuit. He is a quick twitch type with very active hands and good balance, keeping his feet on the move while doing a nice job of avoiding low blocks. Because of his shoulder surgery, Floyd was limited a bit early in the year, but as the 2015 season progressed, he showed that he actually was getting stronger and quicker deeper into the games, thanks to his excellent athletic ability. There’s no reason to doubt that he can do the same at the next level.
Continue reading about the Bears’ rookie class..