After releasing Jerrell Freeman and letting Christian Jones leave in free agency, the Chicago Bears have some work to do at the linebacker position. As things sit today, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski would be the starters, which is fine considering defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s style of defense only really uses two linebackers.
Still, if an injury were to occur the Bears would be in big trouble. Depth needs to be added to the LB position and we can expect general manager Ryan Pace to address that positional need in the draft. The recurring question of this year’s draft seems to be when will the Bears address what?
There is a lot of unknown heading into draft day. Many teams will either trade up or down, which makes things very difficult to predict. Recently, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had the Bears taking Georiga LB Roquan Smith at No. 8 overall. Of course, most people would want the Bears to take OL Quenton Nelson with that pick, but in McShay’s mock draft Nelson was picked by the Colts at No. 6 overall.
McShay is one of the few draft analysts I trust this time of year, so he what he predicts is fairly accurate. Smith has the talent and drive that may make him a top 10 pick. Here I will break down Smith’s game and decide if he’s worth the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft.
Name: Roquan Smith
Size: 6′ 1,” 236LBS
Elite Athlete. Smith was a wide receiver in high school. Making the transition from WR to LB tells me how athletic this kid is. Smith, who has crazy speed, ran a 4.51 40-yard dash. That’s impressive for an LB at any level. His speed and quickness allow Smith to roam sideline-to-sideline. He fits the mold of a typical Ryan Pace draft pick–a freak athletically, who does more than just a couple things well on the football field.
Three-Down Player. Over the last few years, the Bears have had issues with their LBs playing all three downs. Players like Pernell McPhee and Willie Young struggled to play more than two downs at a time. It’s safe to say they were no Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs. Smith, on the other hand, is a different story. He is your prototypical next-generation LB. Smith is a player who could come in and start right away, while also playing at a consistent rate.
Outstanding One-On-One Tackler. Smith makes plays in the open field. He is a phenomenal one-on-one tackler. His pursuit is relentless. On film, I saw him make tackle after tackle by himself. He is quick to identify what the opposing team’s offense is doing. This brings me to my next observation.
High Football IQ. Yet, another reason why Vic Fangio would love to have Smith on his defense. His football instincts and intelligence are through the roof. He understands many different football concepts and is fast to identify zone reads, jet sweeps, and screens. Smith is also a force in coverage. He matches up very well with athletic running backs who can make things happen in the passing game. He rarely is fooled on the field, and that is a tribute to his hard work and preparation off the field.
A Bit Undersized. Most consider Smith undersized compared to other LBs in the NFL. He can be pushed around at times by offensive lineman and blocking tight ends. With that being said, his quickness and speed allow him to make up for his physical weaknesses.
Takes Questionable Routes to the Football. Smith gets in the habit of taking unconventional routes to the ball carrier. In college, he was able to make up for it because of his athleticism. That will be more difficult in the NFL, as the athletes are the best in the entire world. He gets himself into difficult situations–like trying to take on two O-linemen at the same time, instead of taking a smarter and quicker route.
Attacks too Quick. The best linebackers are the most patient. At times, Smith attacks to quickly, which leaves him in no man’s land. At the next level, Smith will need to wait a few more seconds to make his move. This will allow him to read the offense and make the best possible move. This is something that will take some time to get used to.
While McShay may like Smith at No. 8 overall, I do not. He is a solid LB and should have a successful NFL career. The problem is there should be better players available there. For example, Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb (longshots) or Trumaine Edmunds and Denzel Ward. In terms of potential, I believe Edmunds has the higher ceiling.
Now, if the Bears end up trading back then I could see Smith come into play. His skill-set and athleticism are exactly what the Bears are looking for in an LB though–this is what makes this draft so interesting. There are so many players like Smith that aren’t perfect but could make an impact from day one. Pace has his work cut out for him.