Pres·sure (noun) - the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something. Or in the case of a football team's defense, to make someone stop doing something. Defense in football has one objective: keep the other team from scoring points. The two main tactics for accomplishing this are 1.) stopping the run and 2.) exerting pressure on the passing game; usually in that order. Teams with defenses that cannot employ those two tactics effectively are destined to lose more than they win.
The 2015 Bears are not very good at exerting pressure against the pass. They have given opposing passers plenty of time this year on multiple occasions. Those bonus moments have cost the Bears wins. Although Chicago has been decent about piling up sacks (especially recently; they are averaging 3.75 per game over the last 4 weeks) their ability to bring pressure off the edge has been inconsistent. Extra time in the pocket has been even easier to come by since Pernell McPhee has been slowed due to injury. The absence of McPhee's pressure has highlighted what most Bears fans have known all season; Chicago has a very real need for another quality pass rusher on the edge of their defense.
The current defensive roster has 5 players with 4 or more sacks. That is good news for the team's defensive balance. The bad news is that 3 of those players (McPhee, Eddie Goldman and Jarvis Jenkins) have 5 sacks or less, and remaining 2 (Lamarr Houston and Willie Young) only have 6 and 5.5. Taking a quick look around the league you will see that the sack leaders have double that number, and some of them are closer to triple. Vic Fangio needs another rusher who can grow into a double-digit sack threat to send off the edge opposite Pernell McPhee. This will allow the Bears to keep opposing offenses off balance by disguising where pressure will come from on any given play.
It is worth noting the yeoman's job that the entire defensive unit and their coaches have done this season. With a completely new scheme to install and limited talent to fill the new roles it requires, they have still managed to allow the the 2nd fewest passing yards per game in the entire league. That is a stunning statistic and signals excellent things to come for Chicago on the defensive side of the ball. However if the Bears want to slam shut the passing openings which have plagued them at the end of games, adding another talented edge rusher from the college ranks would be an ideal way to do it.
Leonard Floyd, EDGE, Georgia
At first glance, Floyd is not your prototypical 3-4 edge rusher. He stands a somewhat lanky 6'4" and weighs in at just over 230 pounds. A further look at his stats would show you pedestrian sack numbers this season (4.5). The next logical question is: "So why focus on him? He's nothing special". Then you flip on some game film and it becomes obvious very quickly that he is indeed special.
Floyd is an excellent natural athlete who has a rare skillset. His combination of abilities make him one of the most versatile players I have seen in a college football defense in long time. As a Bears fan you might read that last statement and immediately think of the classic Phil-Emeryism for describing such a player; "scheme-versatile". I wouldn't blame you for that, but try not to let the Bears past mistakes affect your view of Leonard Floyd. Instead replace that image in your mind with another, talented and athletic player who the Bears chose without being sure about where they would play him: Brian Urlacher.
The connection between Urlacher and Floyd is not direct, but it's worthwhile. Urlacher was a terrific athlete who played a hybrid safety/linebacker role in college and developed into a capable pass rusher in the pros. Leonard on the other hand is a player who started off as an edge rusher (at the front of the defense) and evolved into a very good multipurpose linebacker. The rare quality both players share is that despite their formidable size they can run and cover like safeties.
It is important to note that while Floyd's role has greatly diversified over the last year he has not lost that core ability pro teams crave: pass rush. He has very good quick twitch acceleration. His first step is easily good enough to earn him a trip past any heavy-footed pass protectors, but he's not a one trick pony. Leonard also has an excellent ability to "bend the edge". That's scout-talk for the ability of a player to dip his inside shoulder at full speed and slip underneath a tackle's block, while still gaining ground toward the QB. This combination is the foundation for successful speed rushers. Add in good hand usage along with better-than-expected strength and you have a player who creates pressure off the edge on a regular basis.
Pass rushing prowess alone would be enough to earn Floyd a strong look from NFL teams but he has so many more positive traits. He possesses an incredibly robust set of skills for a defender:
- Very good speed, even over longer distances
- Above average change of direction skills, can cut and move with receivers
- Aggression; plays with an edge and is not afraid to be physical
- Very solid run reads; is rarely fooled by fakes or misdirection
- Excellent run defender; able to both set the edge and flow down the line of scrimmage to make a play
- Terrific tackler; fills his gaps quickly, hits hard and wraps up solidly
- Excellent pass coverage defender; big enough to take on tight ends but fast enough to run stride for stride with slot receivers 20 yards downfield
With such an impressive array of abilities it would be easy to start thinking Floyd is an ideal defender, but like all young players he has areas that will indeed improvement when he moves to the pro game. The best illustration of both his best and worst qualities are shown in two separate games from this season. Against Vanderbilt Leonard dominated, showcasing the best parts of his game. He abused both offensive tackles off the edge routinely, produced massive pressure on the QB and had several excellent snaps of both short and deep pass coverage. He forcefully stopped the run when he rotated into one of the middle linebacker spots.
Against Alabama he still played well but the outcome was not the same. He struggled to produce his signature first-step pressure off the edge, as the Crimson Tide tackles were both larger and quicker. Floyd was not shut out but he did not have the same impact. Once Heisman winner Derrick Henry started to take over the game on the ground Georgia's coaches responded by moving Floyd to the middle to try and stop the bleeding. He lessened Henry's impact from that point on but could not change the outcome. He gave everything he had, playing both smart and hard against a superior team, but Alabama was too much for Georgia to handle.
Floyd will need to add good weight to deal with larger offensive lineman in the NFL. He shows surprising strength and tenacity already, but he'll have to work hard to continue getting stronger once he starts playing on Sundays. His hand use is good but he'll have to add at least one more move and use combinations of moves more often than he does now to get free. These are not uncommon things for rookies to need work on, but failing to address them could limit his overall impact as a pass rusher.
Very few players can easily blow by an offensive tackle for a sack on one play and deflect a 15-yard out route intended for the TE on the next. Floyd can and does on a regular basis. That ridiculous mix of abilities makes him a weapon that could fill multiple roles and provide impact on all 3 levels of the Bears defense in his first season. Vic Fangio has always favored linebackers who can do at least two things very well. The prospect of having a player like Floyd, who can be moved almost anywhere on defense and still have an impact, would make even a coach as stoic as Fangio downright giddy with anticipation.
Making Their Mark (2015 draftees who are thriving in the pro game)
Ali Marpet (G, Buccaneers) - Marpet was a small school player who turned a lot of heads at Senior Bowl last year working against players from the power conferences. Tampa Bay grabbed him late in round 2 and they have not been sorry. Guards are doing their best work when the name of the player they are blocking doesn't get called very often. Marpet's opponents have gotten very little air time this year. After a shaky start, he has excelled at shutting down any interior pressure the Bucs have faced.
Grady Jarrett (DT, Falcons) - Sometimes you just cannot explain why quality players fall as far as they do in the draft. Jarrett is just such a player. He was excellent against the run at Clemson and played in a ton of big-time games. Despite that resume' versus top ACC talent he slipped all the way to the 5th round before the Falcons swooped in to pick him. He has continued being a sturdy run defender and is one of the interior stalwarts for the Atlanta defensive line.
Failure to Launch (slow starters on the NFL stage)
Jason Myers (K, Jaguars) - I don't normally single out players in the kicking game because it is an inexact science at best, but Myer's failure this season is far beyond normal. He has missed 7 PAT's in 13 games this year. For an improving Jacksonville team, those are critical points they need to compete in close games. Expect Myers to face real competition for his job in the offseason. Barring serious improvement on his part, he won't be getting paid to kick footballs in the NFL next year.
Reel-to-Real (tips for watching game film on your favorite players)
The Rule of 3: Never make your final determination about a player without seeing 3 full games of their play. The most recent contests are the best, but take whatever you can get. Floyd is a perfect example. If you only saw the Vanderbilt game you would likely want to draft him in the top 10 overall. Once you add in the Alabama game, you can see where he needs work and put a more realistic picture of his overall game together.