Bears defend Leonard Floyd's modest statistics at Georgia

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- General manager Ryan Pace on Thursday night enthusiastically described Georgia’s Leonard Floyd as a pass-rusher “who brings juice” to the Chicago Bears defense.

The problem with Pace’s theory, however, is that Floyd had just 4.5 sacks for the Bulldogs last year, and left school with 17 career sacks.

But Pace had an explanation as to why Floyd’s collegiate statistics looked rather ordinary. Remember, the Bears traded up two slots to select Floyd at No. 9 overall, the first time Chicago had moved up in the first round in 20 years.

"It’s a good question. You know, when you watch the tape, they move him all over,” Pace said. “He’s such a versatile athlete, so he played 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.”

Floyd is expected to play outside linebacker in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme. And make no mistake; Floyd is going to play in 2016. The ninth pick of the draft must contribute immediately. The last thing the Bears want is for their top pick to be a non-factor for a second consecutive year.

“He’ll be an outside linebacker in base and in nickel package,” Pace said. “We can move these guys all around. When you watch the film on him he’s not just rushing from the outside linebacker position, he’s floating in the middle of the defense and shooting through an interior gap with great burst. So I don’t think you can have enough pass-rushers in today’s game, and the playoffs this past year really showed that, so if you can load up on pass-rushers, I think that’s what we’re doing.”

The onus to develop Floyd is squarely on coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who clearly pushed Pace to draft the athletic linebacker. Pace joked that Fox had been “pounding the table” for the Bears to draft more edge rushers to help the Bears get off the field on third down.

“Vic likes this guy a lot, as well as [outside linebackers coach] Clint Hurtt,” Pace said. “So both those guys are excellent coaches. It just gives me a lot of confidence when you bring someone like this in the building for them to further develop the player. In addition, this player has the right attitude and mindset for that. He’s hungry, he’s high energy. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm and passion. I think that all comes together.”

The Kyle Long saga in 2013 taught us a valuable lesson. At first glance, the Long pick seemed curious; he'd played only one full year at Oregon, starting a miniscule five games. Three consecutive Pro Bowls later, Long is one of the cornerstones of the roster.

Maybe Floyd travels a similar path. But until Floyd proves he can sack NFL quarterbacks, it’s fair to have a healthy degree of skepticism over the choice.