The Bears on Thursday night traded up two spots in the first round of the NFL Draft to select Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd with the ninth overall pick.The 6-6, 244-pounder appeared in 38 games with 32 starts over three seasons for the Bulldogs, recording 184 tackles, 28.5 tackles-for-loss and 17 sacks.
“We said all along we wanted to improve the athleticism and speed on our defense and we’ve definitely done that with Leonard Floyd,” said general manager Ryan Pace.
“This guy lines up all over the field for Georgia. We see him as an outside linebacker on our defense. He brings great athleticism for a guy that tall with that kind of length. He brings some juice to our defense that we need and will definitely help our pass rush.”
The Bears dealt the 11th overall pick and one of their two fourth-round selections (106th overall) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for the No. 9 choice.
“We were concerned he would go a couple of picks ahead of us,” Pace said. “This is a guy we identified, a guy we wanted, so we didn’t sit on our hands. The luxury of having extra picks gives us the ammunition to do those things.There was a consensus on this player; all the scouts, all the coaches all had this guy graded very similar. For me, that kind of makes it an easier decision. In addition to that, it fills a major need on our defense. We were excited about it and wanted to be aggressive and ensure we get the guy that we wanted.”
It’s been 20 years since the Bears last traded up in the first round, jumping five spots to select cornerback Walt Harris at No. 13 in 1996.Floyd played one year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia before enrolling at Georgia in 2013. After starting eight of 13 games as a freshman, he was voted the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP as a sophomore in 2014 when he registered 55 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss and six sacks. Last season Floyd led Georgia in sacks for the third straight year with 4.5 and tied for the team lead with 10.5 tackles-for-loss.
“When you watch the film on him he’s not just rushing from the outside linebacker position, he’s floating in the middle of the defense and shooting through an interior gap with great burst,” Pace said. “I don’t think you can have enough pass rushers in today’s game; if you look at the playoffs this past year it really showed that. You need to load up on pass rushers and that’s what we’re doing.”
Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.Bears selected Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd with the ninth overall pick.Pace revealed that coach John Fox was strongly in favor of selecting Floyd.
“He’s been pounding the table to add these kind of guys for a while,” Pace said. “We talk during the season [and Fox says], ‘Hey, Ryan, we’ve got to 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.”
At 6-6 and 244 pounds, Floyd has a lanky frame that lacks bulk. Asked if the Bears’ first-round pick needs to add weight and strength, Pace said: “John says that we can make a guy stronger and get him bigger, but we can’t get him faster and more athletic.
“He’s definitely fast and athletic. He’s got such great length that guys don’t get into his body. When you see him playing the run on the edge of the defense, he uses his hands really well and he plays with such great separation that it’s hard for guys to get into him. I think that helps him a lot even though he’s a little thinner framed.”
Pace feels that Floyd’s ideal playing weight is “probably in the 240s.”
“The last thing you want to do is bulk this guy up and then you’re taking away what he does best,” Pace said. “You see some guys put on too much weight too fast and they look stiff and they lose some of that twitch that makes them a special player.We’ve got to do it the right way. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our strength and conditioning coaches, our sports science director Jenn Gibson, to get Leonard at an optimal playing weight to maximize his talent.”