Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, observers zeroed in on a pair of prospects as likely to be drafted by the New York Giants. They were Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin and University of Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Floyd was a controversial and divisive prospect leading up to the draft. His athleticism and versatility were evident, both on the field and in the gym. He was an accomplished pass rusher in the SEC with a unique set of tools. However, his build (6 feet, 6 inches, and a lanky 240 pounds at the combine) left many concerned that he would either be unable to find a home on the field or that he would be unable to hold up to the rigors of playing in the trenches in the NFL.
But still, the common consent was that he was the Giants’ top target in the draft, with Jerry Reese even going to his Pro Day workout — Usually a sure sign of the Giants’ interest.
But as we well know now, the Tennessee Titans traded up to draft Conklin while the Chicago Bears jumped the Giants to draft Floyd. This Sunday Floyd will finally be coming to MetLife Stadium — albeit in a Bears’ uniform — and Giants fans will get to see the prospect they had so hotly debated.
The Box Score
The box score rarely tells the whole story. Stats are nifty, but raw tackle numbers are subjective — was it a good play by the defender, or did he make the tackle 12 yards downfield after the defense was gashed for a run? I personally view sacks as a “team” rather than individual stat.
Floyd started the season slowly, with 13 tackles and half a sack in his first four games. Slowed by injuries, he wasn’t able to use his athleticism to its fullest effect.
"I see great potential and I think he is doing quite well,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “I think earlier in the season he had some nagging injuries, he had a calf strain, a hamstring strain that kind of slowed him down a bit. But here as of late, I think over the last month he has had a very productive run there in that stretch of time and he continues to get better, so I see a bright, bright future in Leonard Floyd."
And Floyd has indeed started to come on. Since returning to the field in Week 7 after a Week 4 calf injury, Floyd has had 10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
On The Field
When it comes to moving beyond the box score, Floyd’s athleticism is evident. However, the limitations of his frame are evident as well.
Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo summed up Floyd well on Wednesday. “He's really coming into his own. He has a lot of nice length. They're using him as an edge player and outside linebacker or defensive end. They do drop him into coverage a little bit but he's getting his feet wet and he's coming on for them,” McAdoo said.
Against Tight Ends
Primarily playing the outside linebacker position in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 Under scheme, Floyd can be matched up on either tight ends or offensive tackles on any given play. We’ll start with a look at how he deals with tight end blocks against the run.
This is the first play of the game, and the Buccaneers want to start out by running the ball right down Chicago’s throat. They’re lined up in a heavy formation, with a jumbo tight end next to the left tackle and an in-line tight end at the end of the line — Former Giant Brandon Myers, as it so happens.
Floyd (black box) is lined up wide of the tight end as a rush linebacker in the 9-technique. His job is outside contain, to make sure Doug Martin can’t bounce the run outside, to string the run to the sidelines if this is an outside run, or to hold the back-side if this is a counter run. As it turns out, this is a run through the B gap, between the left guard and tackle.
Let’s see how he takes on the tight end’s block.
Floyd (still in the black box) uses his length well to fend off the tight end’s block. He has his arms extended and plays with pretty good leverage to control him while the play develops. Once the running lane closes thanks to the efforts of Will Sutton, Floyd discards the block to help make the tackle from behind.
Against a player of similar build Floyd’s explosive athleticism gives him an edge. He can match strength with a modern tight end and isn’t at a disadvantage when it comes to length.
Against An Offensive Tackle
Going against a 250-pound tight end is one thing. Rush linebackers are generally expected to beat them. Going against an offensive tackle is a different beast altogether.
This time the Bucs are in an off-set I formation and Floyd is matched up on second-year offensive tackle Donovan Smith out of Penn State. This is an interesting matchup because at 6-5, 330 pounds, with 34 3/8” arms, Smith is almost exactly the same size as Ereck Flowers (though Flowers’ 37 reps on the bench press to Smith’s 26 suggests that Flowers is stronger, or at least more bloody-minded).
Let’s see how Floyd does against an opponent who has similar length and bout 90 pounds on him.
As you can see, this rep doesn’t go nearly as well for the rookie linebacker. Matched up 1-on-1 with the much larger tackle is a losing proposition. There are some linebackers with the leverage and power to stand up to tackles, or even move them.
Floyd isn’t one of them.
Squared up, Smith is able to simply overpower Floyd, bending him in half. While the rookie is able to right himself, and make a second effort, he isn’t a factor and it’s not much more than token resistance.
In a later play Floyd gets a good jump off the snap, beating Smith to the edge, but the shove of a single hand sends Floyd sprawling.
Getting The Sack
None of that is to say that Floyd is a bust. With 4.5 sacks to his credit since Week 7, he is certainly disruptive. He just doesn’t have the raw power to be used like Von Miller or Khalil Mack — his game is different.
Here we see the Buccaneers in the shotgun formation facing a third-and-20. Without a tight end there is almost no doubt that they’re going to throw it here. The Bears are using just three down linemen, two of whom are lined up at the Wide-9 technique. Floyd (black box) is a stand-up rusher, playing heads up on the left tackle. That isn’t, however, where he finishes.
It’s difficult to see without an animated picture, but Floyd uses his length to keep the offensive lineman’s hands off of him as he scrapes down the line of scrimmage. He makes first contact with the left guard — the left tackle has to deal with the right defensive end. Rather than engaging, he keeps the guards’ hands off of him and keeps moving down the line and the left guard passes Floyd off to the right guard.
Floyd keeps his feet and hands moving, not engaging while also preventing the right guard from locking on the way Smith did in the run play above.
When Winston breaks the pocket, Floyd puts his agility to use, slipping past the guard who has no hope of mirroring him in the open field. The linebacker quickly tracks down the quarterback for a 7-yard loss.
So, did the Giants miss out when the Bears jumped them for Floyd? There’s really no way to tell. Eli Apple has (for the most part) played very well when he has been on the field this season. He has a strong work ethic and all the traits to be a very good corner. In fact, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sidelined with a stiff back, the Giants might not have beaten the Bengals without Apple’s outstanding coverage from the first whistle to the last.
Watching Floyd’s game as he develops, Steve Spagnuolo certainly could have had some fun scheming for Floyd along with Devon Kennard and Keenan Robinson behind Jason Pierre-Paul, Johnathan Hankins, Damon Harrison, and Olivier Vernon.
But what’s done is done; Apple is a Giant and Floyd is a Bear. This, however, is a unique opportunity for both teams to potentially get a glimpse into an alternate universe where they easily could have swapped rookies.