By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — As the big moment neared Thursday evening, Bears coach John Fox was pounding the table inside the Halas Hall draft room.
Now in his second year in Chicago, Fox had previously been part of the Denver brain trust that drafted dangerous edge rusher Von Miller. Current Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had worked with Aldon Smith in San Francisco. This was in the back of the mind of general manager Ryan Pace as the Bears’ pick at No. 11 in the NFL Draft approached, as was the knowledge that interesting options were at his fingertips.
That the Bears then traded up two spots to select Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd at No. 9 speaks volumes to their belief in Floyd and their belief in the importance of rushing the passer. To get its guy, Chicago traded its No. 11 pick and a fourth-round selection to Tampa Bay.
“We were excited about it,” Pace said of moving up for Floyd. “We wanted to be aggressive and ensure we got the guy we want.”
The Bears passed on offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and linebacker Myles Jack, among others, to draft Floyd, who stands at 6-foot-6 and 244 pounds. He will need to add size to become a more effective edge rusher in the team’s 3-4 defense, though that’s not considered a concern for the Bears brass.
What stood out to the Bears was Floyd’s speed.
“The athleticism is so evident on tape,” Pace said.
Some craziness unfolded before the Bears’ initially-slated 11th pick. Tunsil tumbled down draft boards when a video of him smoking a substance appeared on his Twitter account just minutes before the start of the draft, a drama his camp cited as a hack. Jack fell out of the top 10 and eventually the entire first round as medical concerns scared away NFL teams. Neither were seriously considered by the Bears.
Hargreaves and William Jackson III were both on the board, as were defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and defensive end Shaq Lawson. But the Bears brass stuck to its convictions with Floyd.
“I’m so freaking excited to be a Chicago Bear,” Floyd said.
In the 23-year-old Floyd, the Bears have a 3-4 edge rusher who will move around in sub packages, Pace said. Floyd’s excited about joining the likes of linebackers Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in the Bears’ defense, which has made notable upgrades this offseason.
A day earlier, Pace had spoken of how the Bears’ draft night process works. There’s not much left to discuss beyond solutions to move up or down in the order. In this case, opportunity unfolded for Chicago due to Pace’s good relationship with Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, and the Bears pounced.
With a stable draft baord, Pace stayed true to a linebacker with whom he holds great belief.
“We added a major pass rush threat to our defense,” Pace said.
Many scouts consider Floyd to be a boom-or-bust prospect. He didn’t produce eye-popping numbers at Georgia, with just 4.5 sacks in 2015, but Pace referred to the eye test as impressive. His size for the position is obviously a question, though Fox stated that it shouldn’t be a problem.
The Bears believe in Floyd’s fascinating future in Chicago — so much, they moved ahead of the Giants to poach him away. Nobody was taking their guy away.
Table pounding ensued at Halas Hall as Floyd became a possibility, and it continued on after, too. The Bears believe Floyd’s something to celebrate.