Entering Free Agency, the Rams had three big-time players on the defensive side of the ball that were going to have the option to walk away and join another squad, Cory Littleton, Michael Brockers, and Dante Fowler Jr.
The sentiment amongst fans, beat writers, and analysts, was that they certainly would not be able to keep all three, most likely would not be able to keep two of the three, but worst-case scenario, Les Snead and Sean McVay would retain one of these staple defensive players.
On Monday the first domino fell as DE/DT Michael Brockers signed a 3-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Then Cory Littleton, the player that everyone thought was the most important to retain, was lured away by sinful temptation and signed with the Raiders of Las Vegas.
At this point, Rams Nation had to feel that Dante Fowler Jr. would surely be back in LA. Well, on Wednesday morning he signed a 3-year contract with the Falcons worth upwards of $16 million per season.
Alas, three of the most important pieces of the Rams defense were gone. But then a little bit of hope was restored when it was announced moments later that former Chicago Bears OLB Leonard Floyd had been signed to a one-year “prove-it” deal for $10 million, worth up to $13 million.
So who is Leonard Floyd and can he truly replace Fowler? At a time with no sports, this could be an interesting betting point in a market starving for gambling items. But let’s break it down!
Leonard Floyd is a tall (6’6), lean (240), fast (4.6 40), and versatile outside linebacker. He was drafted with the 9th overall pick in the 2016 draft out of the University of Georgia. Over his career he has accumulated 108 solo tackles, 18.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interceptions.
What jumps out to most people is the low sack total, compared to Fowler who put up 11.5 sacks just last season. However, people are quick to forget that prior to Fowler signing his one-year “prove-it” deal last offseason, he had only accumulated 16 sacks in his first four seasons, two and a half less than Floyd’s first four years.
This is an eerily similar situation where Floyd can come in on a one-year deal, ball out, and get paid next offseason. It’s the kind of signing that has low-risk and high-reward for the Rams, at least for this season.
Let’s take a look at what Floyd does well.
While he does not boast Khalil Mack or Von Miller type sack numbers, he is still a gifted pass rusher and has some good pass rush moves. He only registered three sacks last year but did generate 12 QB hits and 26 pressures.
On this play, Floyd avoids the Tight End chip, uses his speed to take the tackle outside, and then cuts back inside to take down Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. It looks simple, but it truly puts his athletism on display. Keeping the QB inside the pocket by starting outside and then jutting underneath the tackle is a very impressive play that requires elite speed and quickness.
This next sack is just pure strength.
I don’t think I need to break this play down much. Floyd simply bullrushes the tackle right into the QB and takes him down for a big loss. His quickness off the snap catches the tackle off guard, and then he is able to use his strength to finish the play.
Floyd has the skill-set and talent to be one of the better pass rushers in the NFL, but it all comes down to consistency. He needs to work on getting off the snap quick every play. New Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley worked with Floyd when he was in Chicago with Vic Fangio, so he clearly knows the potential is there, and he hopes to get more out of him with the Rams.
I still wouldn’t expect Floyd to pump out a 15 sack season, but he should certainly increase his numbers from last year and could flirt with double-digits.
Now let’s talk about the bigger reasons as to why he was brought to L.A.
Coming out of college, one of the concerns regarding Floyd was his ability against the run. During his time in Chicago, he became an extremely stout run defender. This is actually one of the strongest parts of his game as he is great at setting the edge and funneling running backs inside. He is a sure tackler as well when it comes to stopping the run.
Another strength of his game is his versatility and ability out in pass coverage. For an OLB/Edge, Floyd has a high percentage of dropbacks in coverage, and he is actually quite good.
DC Brandon Staley will likely add some of his own wrinkles, but remember he comes from Vic Fangio’s tree. Fangio’s system requires OLBs to be able to drop back in coverage as he disguises different pass-rush packages (something that gave the Rams offense fits a few years ago). My point being, Staley needs an OLB that is efficient in pass coverage, and this was not one of Dante Fowler’s strong suits, at least he was not asked to do it very often.
When Floyd became available, this could have very well been the thought process for the Rams. Get a player that is familiar with Staley, can run the scheme effectively, sign for a cheaper clip, and give a one-year contract in hopes that he breaks out as a pass rusher.
Statistically speaking, I’m not sure if Floyd will have a better year than Fowler, but he may be the better fit for what is required of him. I think it’s a good signing and should pay dividends in 2020, and potentially beyond.