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Leonard Floyd’s Breakout Year (Already Happened)

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears
Floyd already arrived
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As Lester told us back in February, there has been talk that Leonard Floyd is poised to have a breakout year in 2017. Supposedly, he is ready to make a leap. With that in mind, I sent about looking for reasonable goals regarding what could be considered a “leap” for Leonard Floyd.

While sacks are not the only stat to measure a player’s ability to apply pressure to the quarterback, they are one of the few that has a consistent definition and can be compared across large groups of players for a time. They are also the number that many people point to when insisting that a player needs to step up. So, while there are other ways to go about it, the sack counts here are used as a shorthand for “measure of quarterback pressure.”

Per Pro-Football-Reference, 384 defenders who played in the front seven were drafted between 2011 and 2015, and 252 of them went on to record at least one full sack. This is probably too broad of a basis for comparison, so I also pulled numbers on the 74 players who might conceivably be categorized as “edge” rushers and were drafted in the first two rounds from 2011 to 2015 (I looked at DEs, OLBs, and LBs).

Only 10 “highly drafted” edge rushers had at least 8 sacks per year (and only 12 players in the larger group did the same). That seems to be a pretty nice target. Another way of looking at it is by looking at sacks per game. We covet Aaron Donald around here, and only 10 players in the whole group did better than Aaron Donald’s career sack rate to date, which is 0.583 sacks per game.

What’s interesting about these numbers is that they are also more or less the level of performance Floyd already hit in his rookie campaign. Floyd’s 7-sack season was only bettered on a per-year basis by 16 players drafted from 2011 to 2015. Floyd himself had a sack rate of .583 sacks per game, meaning that he equaled Aaron Donald’s career sack rate.

In fact, if Floyd simply maintained this same level of play across 16 games, he would manage about 9.5 sacks. 9.5 sacks per year is Aldon Smith territory (exactly). The only four players drafted from 2011 to 2015 who average double-digit sacks per year are J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Justin Houston, and Khalil Mack.

In other words, Floyd has already broken out. Now he just needs to play consistently and stay healthy.

It’s great if Floyd improves, but he really just needs to keep doing what he has already done on a slightly more consistent basis. A repeat of 2016 Leonard Floyd who simply stays healthy for 16 full games is actually a rare and special player.