Leonard Floyd’s speed better kill.
Because if it doesn’t …
OK, let’s not get too carried away right now with criticism. Optimism is meant to reign supreme during the NFL draft.
The Bears deserve credit for being bold with their trade, but they didn’t exactly draft a sure thing at a time when they need them most when they leapfrogged the New York Giants in the first round Thursday night to select the speedy outside linebacker from Georgia.
It’s OK to question the pick, while still having faith in what general manager Ryan Pace is building and the quality coaching that John Fox and his staff, namely defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, provide on a daily basis.
If anything, what’s brewing at Halas Hall under Pace and Fox these days is the No. 1 reason to believe the Bears made the right choice with the ninth overall selection. The Bears swapped first-round picks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and gave up one of their two fourth-round picks (No. 106) to get him.
“We said all along we wanted to improve the athleticism and speed on our defense,” Pace said. “And we’ve definitely done that with Leonard Floyd.”
But Bears fans have been sold athletic talents with upside before and then seen mixed results.
Floyd could be like Kyle Long and turn his natural talents into Pro Bowl seasons. Or he could be like Shea McClellin and struggle to turn his athletic gifts into actual on-the-field results.
“It was just all of us coming together, a vision for the player, coaches and scouts feeling the same way about it,” Pace said. “Just a lot of confidence in him going forward.”
An issue is that their confidence will be tied to a fitness plan for Floyd, an older rookie who will turn 24 in September. Floyd’s lean build – he is listed at 6-6 and 244 pounds – was a noteworthy pre-draft concern.
“We can make a guy stronger and get him bigger, but we can’t get him faster and more athletic,” Pace said, reciting one of Fox’s philosophies.
But, “the last thing you want to do is bulk this guy up and then you’re taking away what he does best,” Pace said.
The Bears need Floyd to be different than power rushers Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston. But as fast as he is, Floyd only made 4 ½ sacks and 10 ½ tackles for loss last season for the Bulldogs. The Bears are expecting much more than that.
Questioned about Floyd’s low production, Pace made a good point. From outside linebacker to inside linebacker to some snaps at nickel back, Floyd did a bit of everything at Georgia.
Pace said Floyd will only be an outside linebacker for the Bears, saying his length gives him a significant advantage on the edges. Pace went on to call him a “major pass-rush threat.”
In an ideal world, Fangio and outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt turn Floyd into the second-coming of Aldon Smith, one of the league’s best pass rushers for Fangio and San Francisco 49ers a few years ago.
“That would be a great thing if this guy becomes that type of talent,” Pace said.
There is no guarantee that he will.