At 8:07 p.m. Thursday night, the capacity crowd filling the Auditorium Theater screamed in excitement, literally shaking the building to its foundation. Thousands more outside, across Michigan Avenue in the NFL's Draft Town, had the same ecstatic reaction. The Bears, slotted to pick at No. 11, had traded up to the ninth pick in the first round through a trade with Tampa Bay and were suddenly on the clock.
Three minutes later, the pick was phoned in, from Halas Hall in Lake Forest to the Bears' table downtown. When Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was announced by Commissioner Roger Goodell as the team's selection, the crowd erupted in joy yet again. The Bears had drafted a fast, athletic linebacker. The jump up two spots had cost the Bears a fourth-round selection, but had netted the team a potential playmaker on defense.
Floyd was lauded by scouts for his tremendous athleticism and pass-rush potential, and is seen as an ideal fit as an edge rusher in Chicago's 3-4 defense. That body type and skillset fit the exact mold of what the Bears were looking for from their first-round pick, the reason the trade up was so important. Bears fans both inside the auditorium and outside in Grant Park were pleased with the newest arrival to the roster.
Leonard Floyd was lauded by scouts for his tremendous athleticism and pass-rush potential.
"It was a little bit of a surprise, but I liked it," said longtime fan Dana Lokken, who was in Selection Square wearing the jersey of Bears Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus. "Hopefully it's the outside pass rusher we need and he'll shore up the defense a bit. You got to love the big hitter and so maybe Floyd can bring back the Monsters of the Midway that we used to know."
General manager Ryan Pace said following the selection that the team valued speed and athleticism on defense, and that's exactly what Floyd brings to the table. At the Scouting Combine in February, Floyd ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches. Both of those were among the best for any linebacker in the draft class, proving what the defender showed on the field at Georgia was the real deal. Bears coaches and scouts then attended his Pro Day and invited him in for a visit to Halas Hall, helping the entire group reach an agreement that Floyd was the ideal fit for the team.
"There was a consensus on this player that all the scouts and all the coaches had this guy graded similar, so for me that kind of makes it an easier decision," Pace sad. "In addition, it fills a major need on our defense, so it we were excited about (this pick) and wanted to be aggressive about it."
In 2015, Chicago was one of the worst defenses in the NFL on third down, allowing opponents to convert on more than 44 percent of attempts. A lack of pass rush had something to do with those struggles, as Chicago had 35 sacks on the year. Enter Floyd, whose primary job will be to rush the opposing backfield with explosiveness.
Teaming with free agent additions Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, along with returning players like Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, the Bears are much faster in the middle of the field now than they were a few months ago. That increased speed should help when it's time to make important stops.
"Floyd is actually who I thought (the Bears) were going to take, I was surprised it took a trade up to get him but I did feel like we were going to grab a pass rusher," Bears fan Antonio Salinas said outside the Auditorium Theater. "I'm very optimistic, especially with what we got in free agency and what we added (on Thursday). Plus there's still so much more to go in the draft."
A little more than three hours after the Bears shook the theater with their trade, the first round of the 2016 came to a close. Many teams were pleased with the picks they made in Chicago, but it was the hometown team that added to its defense that was as happy as anyone across the league.