Before the 2018 regular season even started there was plenty of drama surrounding Chicago Bears’ first-round draft pick, Roquan Smith.
Smith decided to hold out until he and the Bears agreed on a contract. Can you really blame the kid for trying to ensure that he would be taken care of financially in a sport where injuries are more common than not?
No, but some people did. Those critics have been silenced because Smith has been everything the Bears hoped for and then some. First off, the former Georgia Bulldog is a tackling machine.
Since 1990, there have been three Bears’ rookies with 100 tackles. Brian Urlacher 122 (2000), Mark Carrier 122 (1990), and now Smith 107 (with one more regular season game to play).
Smith leads the best defense in the NFL in tackles. If that doesn’t get him some much-deserved attention, I’m not sure what will. He also has five sacks on the year. To put that into perspective, Urlacher recorded eight sacks his rookie season.
Danny Trevathan is one of the best interior LBs in the league, but even he trails Smith by 15 tackles. With that being said, Trevathan deserves a lot of credit for mentoring Smith. Learning and adjusting to Vic Fangio’s scheme isn’t always an easy task, but the former Super Bowl champion has helped Smith have an impactful rookie season.
Don’t let the offensive takeover in the NFL fool you. Interior LBs are very important in today’s game, especially versatile ones like Smith. They are asked to rush the passer, cover RBs like Alvin Kamara and Tarik Cohen out of the backfield, and make tackles all over the field. Doesn’t sound like the easiest job in the world if you ask me, but Smith is making it look that way.
While Smith doesn’t make the most flashy plays, he makes the right plays in the biggest moments. Take this one against the Packers for example.
— The Bears Report (@TheBearsReport) December 16, 2018
Smith has great coverage on Jimmy Graham in the end zone, which forces Aaron Rodgers to make a risky throw. Smith deflects the ball away and into the arms of safety Eddie Jackson. That was the play that ultimately won the game for the Bears against the Packers and the NFC North crown.
Again, Smith is versatile. He can cover quick RBs and big TEs, while also being an effective, fundamentally sound tackler. Remember when people wanted Quenton Nelson to fall to No. 8? Right now, the Bears are thankful Roquan Smith was available.
Smith should be considered a serious DROY candidate. He won’t win the award because he’s not the most flashy player and doesn’t make the flashy plays, but he’s fundamentally sound, which is why he has a chance to be the Bears’ best LB since the days of Urlacher and Briggs.
Yet, no one is talking about the rookie out of Georgia. No one and I mean no one has made more progress from the start of the season to the end than Roquan Smith.
The more experience Smith gets, the better he’s going to be.
Here’s a quote from Brad Biggs’ interview with Smith. You can find the full interview here:
“Every game it has slowed down for me little by little,” Smith said. “It’s just about going out and getting better and improving on the previous game. I definitely think reps helps out a lot, so live game reps every week are really what have helped me improve. You learn something new each week.”
Imagine how Good Smith is going to be after a full offseason and training camp? The sky’s the limit.
While players like Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, and Akiem Hicks deserve all the praise in the world for the Bears dominance on defense, people should stop leaving Roquan Smith’s name out of that discussion.
His instincts, speed, football IQ, and versatility are why general manager Ryan Pace and company made him their first-round pick last April. Still, I don’t think anyone thought everything would come together so fast.
Move over Urlacher, Butkus, Briggs, and Singletary, Chicago has found its next star LB.
Follow Nick on Twitter @PetroTLS.