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Leonard Floyd: Great Player, Okay Pick

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
Players drafted in the Top 10 should be able to defy gravity
Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things I do in my real job is make the distinction between achievement and expectation. For example, if someone with a big budget finds a nice house, then the achievement is nice, but it only meets expectations. On the other hand, if someone finds a great house on a limited budget, then that’s a real achievement that exceeds expectations.

Leonard Floyd was the Bears’ top draft pick, and—in a rarity for the organization—a player they traded up to acquire. He is one of ten DE/OLB players drafted between spots 4 and 14 since 2011. That range represents the five spots in front of him and five spots behind him, making for an 11-slot band, or about a third of a round in the draft. Some critics might point out that the fifth pick in the draft actually represents as much “draft value” as both #9 and #55, meaning that if I’m going to compare Leonard Floyd to Khalil Mack, I should actually throw in Cody Whitehair. While this is technically true from the perspective of draft capital, I reject the idea. Floyd was a high-value investment in the first round, and if Pace can’t make up a couple of slots worth of draft value, then he’s not the manager the Bears need right now.

Obviously, there are scheme issues and assignments to consider, but the other nine players in this group are probably the best points of comparison we’re going to find for #94. The players in question are Deforest Buckner, Leonard Williams, Vic Beasley, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Ezekial Ansah, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, and Robert Quinn. Side note: some readers might be saying “but you left out Barkevious Mingo!” To which I might reply “Yes, I did.”

Put into this context, it is obvious that Floyd has a lot to live up to. More accurately, Ryan Pace’s selection of Leonard Floyd should be accompanied by high expectations. The first obvious point of comparison is the man drafted only two spots ahead of him, DeForest Buckner. It’s worth pointing out that Buckner could not have been taken by Pace without an even bigger move, but he’s still one of the best references for Floyd because he was a fan favorite around here and because he by any reasonable judgement, the rookie out of Oregon has had a solid first season. He recorded 6 sacks and 73 tackles (all including assists), plus he got his hand on a pass. Sporting Charts has him down for 14 hurries. He also recovered two fumbles. This can be pretty random as he forced neither of them, but it shows he did keep his eyes open for opportunity.

Less impressive out of the gate were former #6 overall pick Leonard Williams and #7 from 2011, Robert Quinn. In his first year Williams recorded 3 sacks and 63 tackles along with 9 hurries. I realize that, like Buckner, Williams has a different job to do on his team, but he also was also not as dominant as some had expected. Robert Quinn posted only 5 sacks, a forced fumble, a pair of defended passes, 7 hurries, and only 22 tackles in his rookie year. This group sets some modest expectations for Floyd.

What about the guys who were heavy hitters even as rookies? Maybe this will help a little (organized by sacks in rookie year):

How Does Floyd Measure Up?

Player (Pick) Sacks Tackles Hurries PDs FFs FRs
Player (Pick) Sacks Tackles Hurries PDs FFs FRs
Smith (#7) 14 36 7 4 2 1
Ansah (#5) 8 32 11 1 2 0
Floyd (#9) 7 33 16 2 1 1
Buckner (#7) 6 73 14 1 0 2
Watt (#11) 5.5 56 5 4 0 2
Quinn (#7) 5 22 7 2 1 0
Beasley (#8) 4 26 22 3 2 0
Mack (#5) 4 76 22 3 1 0
Barr (#9) 4 70 4 3 2 3
Williams (#6) 3 63 9 0 0 0

Speaking only for myself, I try not to think too hard about Vic Beasley, who was selected at #8 in 2015. However, while his sack and tackle totals as a rookie were modest by the standards of this group, it’s worth noting he also had an interception, and his 22 hurries makes his pass disruption comparable to Khalil Mack, drafted 5th in 2014. Beyond the hurries, Mack’s tackles really stand out. Drafted four spots after Mack, at #9 just like Floyd, Anthony Barr only played in 12 games but he’s also the only one of these defenders besides Floyd to get a touchdown.

In 2013, Ansah went fifth overall and is one of the few players in this group to outpace Floyd’s rookie sack total. Aldon Smith was a terror from the beginning. Beyond noting the 14 sacks, it should be pointed out that he and Floyd are the only two with a rookie safety; the worst someone might be able to say about his on-field performance is that he only had 7 hurries (because, you know, 14 sacks). J.J. Watt went 11th the same year as Smith but his numbers don’t do justice to his total presence.

The “average” of these players would have 2 defensed passes, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 6 sacks, 50 tackles, and 11 hurries. Other than Floyd, only one had an interception, only one had a safety, and one had a defensive touchdown.

Floyd measures up well. He has an extra sack and five extra hurries, but he’s short by about 17 tackles. On the plus side, he does have a safety and a defensive touchdown. In other words, he’s a solid player at his draft position. He is in the top third in terms of both sacks and hurries. In only two categories (passes defended and tackles) is he in the bottom half. If you want to work the numbers to his benefit, you can say he leads the group in “defensive scoring,” but that’s a stretch.

Overall, I like the pick so far. I like what Floyd offers the Bears. However, it was not an extraordinary pick. It was the type of pick Pace needed to have, and it was the sort of pick that can help to build a team into the future. It might even have been the best pick that Pace could have made. However, this was not a steal. It was the kind of pick a fanbase should expect from a GM getting real value from the draft board. Embrace Floyd as a solid addition to the Bears, but while finding him was an achievement, that’s exactly what the #9 pick should be.