How Good Can Roquan Smith Get?
After winning the Dick Butkus Award in 2017, it was only fair Roquan Smith was drafted 8th overall in 2018 by the Bears. As a true Freshman at the University of Georgia, Smith saw little playing time as a rotation player, recording 20 tackles. His sophomore year(2017), he became the starter, and the leading tackler of the Bulldogs defense. By 2017 Roquan was a dominant force, recording 137 tackles in 15 games. He was a clear cut top prospect. Smith ran the second fastest 40 at the combine, recording a 4.51. Yes, if you watched one Bears game, you could tell he was fast. Combining his instincts, and understanding of the game with that pure speed is what makes him lethal. Putting him into a Vic Fangio 3-4 style defense highlighted his skill sets, and he was able to make an immediate impact as a Rookie.
This love story between Smith and the Bears didn't start with a honeymoon phase. Roquan Smith's agents and the Bears were unable to agree on a contract after the draft. Smith missed 12 practices and two preseason games due to the holdout, and a hamstring injury. The injury was speculated to be caused by coming into training camp late, and jumping into practice cold. He was even drawing criticism from Brian Urlacher, and Coach Fangio. Fangio cited on multiple occasions, that if Roquan was with the team for the full offseason, he would have played better. Coach never maliciously spoke of Smith, it was more like an old Italian Uncle trying to keep you humble. He didn't start week one, but after coming in and recording a sack on his first play as a pro, it was hard to keep him off the field. Having a condensed amount of time to learn the playbook was obviously going to hinder his performance to start the season, but by mid-season, he looked like a pro bowl caliber player. He recorded 53 tackles in his first 8 games and 75 tackles in his final 9.
Big players make big plays, in big games. 36% (49/137) of his tackles his last year at Georgia came against the teams biggest opponents; Alabama, Auburn(2 games), and Oklahoma. His rookie season in Chicago he made 38% (49/128) of his tackles in the 6 divisional games. Looking at the schedule this season, Chicago's divisional opponents seem like some of the weaker teams they will face. It is essential that the Bears are able to win most of those divisional games to earn another playoff birth. As a pass defender Smith has also shown great improvement. His entire career at Georgia he had 3 passes defended and 0 interceptions, but this could be due to teams avoiding throwing the ball around the best linebacker in college football. None the less, Chicago's defensive scheme depends on middle linebackers to cover players entering an extended zone in the middle of the field. His speed and instincts made it a seamless transition into defending NFL passing offenses. He recorded 6 passes defended and 2 interceptions in his rookie season. His interception in the playoff game against the Eagles came in a big moment. The Eagles were driving, looking to go ahead 10 points in the second half when Smith ripped the Ball out of Wendell Smallwood's hands. This was a momentum changing play that led to a Bears field goal, evening the score.
The caption of his latest tweet read "Just looking forward to getting better...Chicago let's get ready." With his rookie season behind him, and him participating in all of this years OTA's it begs the question; How good can Roquan Smith be? He is only 22 years old and has done nothing but improve in every aspect of his game. Expect him to make a major jump this season. It wouldn't be surprising if he records 140 tackles and makes it to the pro bowl. From what he displayed in his rookie season, he should be a contender to win all-pro honors for years to come.