Leonard Floyd has been tabbed a breakout candidate every year since his rookie year concluded.
Floyd has been a familiar face in the Bears’ starting lineup for the entirety of his four-year tenure with the team, and he has always been a solid player. Nevertheless, it felt a bit disappointing that he had yet to develop into the top-tier pass rusher the team drafted him to be with the No. 9 pick in 2016.
Last Thursday, he looked like that player.
Now, to say assuredly that Floyd will be a double-digit sack artist based off of his two-sack performance against the Packers would not be wise. However, he looked better in Week 1 than he has at arguably any point in his career in terms of pass-rushing prowess.
After an offseason full of hype surrounding a potential breakout year in his fourth year with the Bears, Floyd showed up in a big way right out of the gate. Let’s take an in-depth look at his performance against Green Bay.
On this play, Floyd lines up as a 9-technique, which is a good fit for him schematically given his athleticism when given space to accelerate in. Chuck Pagano wisely utilized him in this role often in Week 1. He keeps his outside arm free when engaging with the chip blocker, and he plants his foot so his body faces outside of said blocker. Once he disengages, he squares his body towards Aaron Rodgers and delivers a powerful punch to Bryan Bulaga at the initial point of contact, maintaining his weight underneath him in the process. He gets his inside hand inside of Bulaga’s shoulder pads and keeps the other hand free.
With Bulaga’s stance when the two engage, he is prone to a cut inside since he is upright and has a skinny base. Floyd takes advantage and disengages, keeping his body squared to Rodgers nearly the whole time. He uses his athleticism to close in with impressive speed and maintain body control to wrap up the former MVP.
Floyd lines up as a 9-technique here, as does Khalil Mack. The Bears used plenty of wide-9 looks on passing downs against Green Bay, and with the athleticism they have at edge rusher, it’s a smart decision. On this play, Floyd rubs off of a chip blocker and almost instantly breaks off of it. Again, he squares himself to Rodgers and gives himself a very good angle to the quarterback. The extra momentum he gets from lining out so wide creates much more explosion in his punch to David Bakhtiari. He drops his hips well again, and he garners so much strength that he drives back the All-Pro left tackle a few feet.
Had it not been for Jamaal Williams lowering his shoulder on him after delivering a physical blow to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Floyd could have potentially gotten in on the sack and come away with shared credit with Roy Robertson-Harris, who looked impressive in his own right on the play, showing off athleticism on the stunt and using his strength to throw center Corey Linsley off balance.
This next play is the sack that many have been raving about over the past few days. Again lined up wide in a wide-9 front, Floyd fires off the snap with very good acceleration. After utilizing a hesitation move, he plants his outside foot and drops his hips tremendously to cut inside and deliver a nasty bull rush to Bakhtiari, driving him back roughly five yards. His hand placement was stellar, and the force with which he sprung into contact with his weight underneath him was incredible. He was able to get so low when he dropped his hips, especially for a 6-foot-5 edge rusher. That flexibility and ability to get underneath a blocker for a longer rusher is awe-inspiring.
Look at the end result of the bull rush. Bakhtiari is literally so far out of his stance that Floyd has him leaning backwards, upright as can be.
Floyd very well could have ended up with three sacks on the night, but an illegal contact penalty from Kyle Fuller negated this next play. Floyd is designed to keep contain and attempts to chip the tight end slightly, though it proves unsuccessful. With Eddie Goldman having the left side of the interior occupied, Floyd has a clean one-on-one, delayed rush situation with Bakhtiari. Once he decides to rush, he squares his body towards Rodgers and goes for the kill. He takes an explosive first two steps before engaging with Bakhtiari, and he is able to get inside hand placement, drop his hips to get underneath the blocker and convert his speed to power with the bull rush. That explosiveness allows Floyd to collapse the pocket around Rodgers, and he finishes the play off by disengaging his hands and bringing him down.
Floyd’s bull rush was on full display in Week 1, a rarity in his arsenal in previous seasons. It expands his game exponentially because teams are so used to having to deal with his speed that, more often than not, most blockers will have trouble adjusting to that aspect of his game.
Floyd also showed off the athleticism and versatility in space that he has made evident over his first few years with the team. Green Bay does a good job of scheming the tight end, Robert Tonyan Jr., open by making him head to the flat behind a wall of outside-zone blockers blocking to the opposite direction. Their selling of the run is textbook here, as essentially all of Chicago’s defenders are prepared to stop the run. Eddie Jackson, who would have normally come down to make the play, slipped while changing direction as a result of his biting on the play action. Tonyan catches the ball with a clear line to the first-down marker, but Floyd recovers and turns on the jets, closing in on him before he can make it there.
On this play, Floyd starts off in contain but closes in with a solid punch. Though the hand placement isn’t ideal for a rush, his arm extension is. His natural length allows him to easily disengage with Bakhtiari. Floyd is able to quickly read that Rodgers intends on climbing the pocket and scrambling up the middle because the Packers sealed off Chicago’s stunt very well and opened up a massive hole for him in the A gap. Rodgers is able to add on a few extra yards due to his drifting inside and shifting outside with a solid cut, but Floyd’s speed and body control allowed him to catch up with the State Farm commercial star and wrap him up from a difficult body angle.
It’s unfair to reach conclusions after just one game, but Floyd played on a whole new level compared to his performances of past years. Not only did he look athletic—he’s been that his whole career—and not only was he versatile, as he has been since joining the team, but he was also powerful and explosive.
A lack of a power move has been a missing factor in Floyd’s game for so long, but his bull rush was fantastic against Green Bay and their two standout offensive tackles. He converted speed to power with ease and looked incredibly polished on his pass-rushing moves.
Combining that with his size, speed and versatility in space, and Floyd has the makings of a player who could play a big role in the Bears’ defense and, potentially, be in for a big extension next offseason.
He’s no longer just an athlete with a football helmet on like he was early in his career—he’s a legitimately good football player whom opposing offenses need to pay attention to.
Granted, it helps to be rushing alongside blue-chip defenders like Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, but the fact still remains that Floyd appears to have taken strides longer than his lengthy frame and developed into a dangerous pass rusher.
Floyd and the Bears have only played one game this year, and there is still a lot of football to be played this season. However, the Georgia product lived up to the offseason hype and then some in his season debut, and that’s worth getting excited about.
This year, Floyd can finally be that breakout candidate.