Bears trade up, draft Georgia LB Leonard Floyd

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • With the ninth overall draft pick in Thursday night's first round, the Bears selected Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd, who possesses the pass-rush skills that could translate to double-digit sacks in the NFL. The Bears traded a 4th-round pick, and 11th overall, to TB to move up to No. 9.

    With the ninth overall draft pick in Thursday night's first round, the Bears selected Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd, who possesses the pass-rush skills that could translate to double-digit sacks in the NFL. The Bears traded a 4th-round pick, and 11th overall, to TB to move up to No. 9. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/29/2016 12:19 AM

The Bears went into the draft wanting to upgrade their pass rush, and they demonstrated how much of a priority that was by trading up two spots to select Georgia's raw but talented linebacker Leonard Floyd.

With the ninth overall pick they bet on potential, tabbing Floyd with the ninth overall choice. He possesses the pass-rush skills that could translate to double-digit sacks in the NFL, but he's considered a project.

 

"We said all along we wanted to improve the athleticism and speed on our defense, and we've definitely done that with Leonard Floyd," Bears' general manager Ryan Pace said. This guy lines up all over the field for Georgia, (but) we see him as an outside linebacker on our defense. He brings great athleticism for a guy that tall with that kind of length. He brings some juice to our defense that we need and will definitely help our pass rush."

The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd mostly played outside linebacker in Georgia's 3-4 defense, the same base scheme the Bears play, and he checks most of the boxes as a pass rusher: tall, fast, quick and explosive (39-inch vertical). But he's considered a project and a classic boom-or-bust gamble who could be the next Aldon Smith (33 sacks in his first two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers) or the next Dion Jordan (3 sacks in his first two seasons with the Miami Dolphins).

Floyd is a quick-twitch athlete with instant acceleration. He looks skinny and lacks strength, but in addition to flashing excellent pass-rush potential, he has great range vs. the run and in coverage.

The Bears relinquished the first of their two fourth-round picks (the 106th overall), and the 11th overall, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to move up to No. 9. It was the first time they moved up in the first round since 1996, when they selected cornerback Walt Harris.

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Because of his versatility, Floyd gives Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio more flexibility than he had last year.

He measured the tallest of any linebacker at the Scouting Combine yet is athletic enough to cover slot receivers.
Fangio was the 49ers' defensive coordinator in Smith's rookie year, when he had 14 sacks, and in his second season when he added 19 sacks before his production plummeted because of alcohol and drug problems that resulted in multiple suspensions.

Asked if comparisons to Smith were valid, Pace said: "Aldon Smith is a rare player. That would be a great thing if this guy becomes that type of talent."

Floyd lined up at a number of positions for the Bulldogs; as a stand-up pass rusher with great explosion off the corner, in coverage and as an inside rusher where he was able to slip through cracks in the middle of the line.
Although Floyd's upside is as a pass rusher, he had just 17 career sacks, which Pace attributes to the way he was used at Georgia.

"When you watch the tape, they move him all over," pace said. "He's such a versatile athlete, so he's playing inside linebacker one snap and the next snap he's in nickel running down the field with a slot receiver. And then he's rushing. You see him at all these different positions. I think with him playing more of a pass-rush position, he'll have more production."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

NFL Network's draft analyst Mike Mayock compares Floyd to Smith but notes that there is disparity among scouts on his potential.

"He is one of the most polarizing conversations in entire draft," Mayock said. "He has a 'wow' get-off and he bends like Gumby. I don't know if he can convert speed to power in that pass rush.

"He has the best burst and get-off in this entire draft. He's a sub-package, designated pass rusher on Day One, just like Aldon Smith was in San Francisco."

Floyd, who left Georgia with a year of eligibility remaining, is slightly overage and will be 24 before the Bears' season opener Sept. 11.

Pace said he was unconcerned with the age factor and added that game tape discounts any knocks on Floyd's perceived lack of strength.

"(Coach) John (Fox) always says that we can make a guy stronger and get him bigger, but we can't get him faster and more athletic," Pace said. "He's definitely fast and athletic. One thing I like what he does is that he's got such great length that guys don't get into his body.

"When you see him playing the run on the edge of the defense, he uses his hands really well and he plays with such great separation that it's hard for guys to get into him. That helps him a lot even though he's a little thinner framed."

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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