We had so much hope for Leonard Floyd coming into the season. Everyone did.
Akiem Hicks predicted Floyd would be primed for a Pro Bowl year. History and statistical data suggested Floyd was on the brink of a breakthrough season. The idea of a healthy Floyd had us dreaming of the dominant pass-rusher he was drafted to be and it appeared he had found the missing piece … his hands.
Unfortunately, a broken hand threw a wrench in everything. Floyd stumbled out of the gate, his production never took off (despite lining up opposite Khalil Mack), and questions about his long-term future with the team were worth asking – even if it wasn’t going to be a conversation we were going to have for a while. But one person never wavered in his faith that Floyd would put it together. And that’s Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, who reminded everyone of that on Thursday at Halas Hall.
Vic Fangio on Leonard Floyd: "I kept having to hold you guys off when you were wondering where he was the first few weeks. I told you he would be better when he got full use of his hand and he has. … He’s playing better and better every week.”
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) December 20, 2018
When you’re right, you’re right … and Fangio hit the nail on the head here.
It’s taken some time for Floyd to get in the swing of things. He didn’t play a game without any type of protection on his right hand until Week 7 against the Patriots. It was a long time coming, but Floyd still didn’t have a feel for things in that game or in the one that followed against the Jets. And then, it started to click against the Bills in Week 8.
So many great things in football have humble beginnings, so I understand if you overlooked Floyd’s Week 9 stat line in Buffalo. Let’s revisit it, because that game is the starting point for a new and improved Floyd. He came away with four tackles, a quarterback hit (his first since Week 4), a pass defended, and a pick-six. To be clear, this wasn’t a day to write home and tell mom about … but it wasn’t nothing either. In fact, Floyd being productive was the first sign that he had fully moved on from the hand injury that hindered him throughout the season. Because since Week 9, Floyd has played how we thought he could.
Just check out his stats since then:
- Seven games
- 4 sacks
- 7 tackles-for-loss
- 8 quarterback hits
- 23 tackles
- 1 pick-six
In case you’re curious, that comes out to a 16-game pace of 9 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, 16 tackles-for-loss, and 53 tackles. There isn’t a Bears fan who wouldn’t have signed up for those numbers from Floyd prior to the start of this season. Maybe we’re dreaming on upside here, but a healthy Floyd has rushed the passer, defended the run, and even dabbled in pass defense. This seven-game stretch has featured Floyd showcasing all the tools that made him a top-10 pick back in 2016 and contributing to an NFC North championship squad. This is the breakout we hoped to see back in August and we’re seeing it just as the Bears are gearing up for a playoff run. What a time to be alive.
It’s one thing to be playing well. But it’s another to be doing so with confidence, swagger, and an edge. For example, take a look at this late-game sack of Aaron Rodgers:
For starters, that might be the most violent hit I’ve ever seen Floyd deliver in his Bears career. In real time, I almost flinched because a part of me expected the referee to call an unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting the quarterback too hard. I mean, he tossed Rodgers aside as if he was a discarded foam piece of imitation cheese. And that’s saying nothing of the swag you must have to pull up with a “time’s up” celebration and flashing what appeared to be the championship belt at the Packers sideline. So much good stuff.
There is no denying Floyd just had his best game as a member of the Bears. He picked up two sacks, six tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and three quarterback hits. It also brings his production against Green Bay to 5.5 sacks, 5 tackles-for-loss, and 9 QB Hits in six games.
Wowza! It’s production like that against your chief rival that’s going to catch some eyes. And if you tack on that information to what we’re seeing of late, it brings about a conversation that is tougher to have now than it was only a few weeks ago.
The Bears have plenty of time to figure out whether they want to pick up the fifth-year option on Floyd’s rookie deal, but there is nothing wrong about thinking about such a thing while we have a moment to breathe. Teams can begin exercising the fifth-year option on 2016 first-round picks starting on December 31 and must give a written notice to players who qualify for it prior to May 3, 2019.
So while the Bears don’t need to rush to a decision, Floyd’s future is something that will move from the back-burner sooner, rather than later.