By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Walking through Halas Hall for the first time in April, Leonard Floyd was instantly enamored by the Bears’ rich history.
A native of Eastman, a small town in southern Georgia, Floyd suddenly felt at home in Lake Forest. He didn’t want to leave that pre-draft visit. Floyd wanted to be a Bear. Those images of franchise lore caught his eyes, as did the chance to join forces with what he viewed as a rising team.
Floyd quickly envisioned his future with the Bears.
“That’s a big goal that I’m going to push myself to reach — to try to be one of the greats of the Chicago Bears,” Floyd said with his eyes wide open.
Last Thursday, the Bears moved up two picks in the first round and invested in Floyd’s future with the No. 9 pick. Bears coach John Fox was pounding the table, and general manager Ryan Pace was pumped up to get the best player left standing on his draft board.
When Floyd was introduced at Halas Hall on Friday, there was a palpable euphoria from the organization.
“We’ve said all along that we wanted to improve the athleticism and speed on our defense, and we’ve definitely done that with Leonard Floyd,” Pace said.
Lost in Pace’s praise of his pick is the reality that the Bears moved up and took a risk. Floyd stood before the media looking like more a new Bulls new shooting guard than an NFL edge rusher. He’s 6-foot-6 but so slender at 240 pounds, down from his weight at the NFL Combine. The goal will be to add 10 to 20 pounds to Floyd’s frame.
Adding to the reasons for concern, Floyd wasn’t overly productive at Georgia. Part of that is because he played a jack-of-all-trades linebacker role that minimized his pass-rushing opportunities. Floyd had 17 sacks in three seasons and just 4.5 in his junior season of 2015. Production doesn’t pop consistently on film.
Still, there was no hesitation for the Bears to take Floyd. They even jumped ahead of the Giants to ensure he was theirs. The Bears’ sentiments for Floyd are warranted, because he has potential to thrive in Chicago.
“You can’t coach athleticism, you can’t coach speed,” Fox said of Floyd. “I think Leonard has a unique ability to bend and rush.
“He maybe hasn’t gotten as many opportunities as he has in the past — I know some things were made of that — but we look at the tape and we see a lot of athleticism and good speed off the edge.”
Pace and the Bears brass have earned trust in their first 16 months in Chicago. When Floyd came to Halas Hall for his pre-draft visit, the Bears put him through a series of tests to confirm their beliefs in his future — evaluating his athleticism in a series of drills and consulting with the organization’s nutritionists for ways to add size in their dietary program.
During that visit, the Bears confirmed their belief in Floyd. They saw that his athleticism fit the edge rusher role in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense and came to the conclusion that his lack of dominant production in the SEC was the byproduct of his versatile position.
Now, Floyd’s willing to work and prove himself.
“They have faith in me,” Floyd said. “I’ll do whatever I can to not let them down — to exceed my expectations.”
There’s work to be done for Floyd to become a Von Miller or Aldon Smith prototype, but that’s what the Bears banked on by taking the edge rusher with the No. 9 pick and passing on Laremy Tunsil, Vernon Hargreaves and more. The Bears made the jump up to get Floyd and take their chances on his potential.
Investing in Floyd’s future was well worth the risk in the Bears’ eyes. He has the physical tools to be great and appears to have the desire to reach it, and the Bears have the resources to make it work.
Floyd will soon settle into Halas Hall, his comfortable new home, and begin fighting for to make more Bears history.
“It’s like a dream,” Floyd said. “It felt great. I still feel like I’m dreaming now, to be honest with you.”