In Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bears’ choice with the eighth overall pick in the draft, they’re getting not only a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine with the agility to cover running backs and tight ends, they’re getting a player with leadership qualities that extend beyond the field.
He led the Bulldogs with 124 tackles in 2017, making plays all over the field vs. the run. The 6-foot-1, 236-pound Smith also has exceptional speed (4.51 in the 40) to match up in coverage. His time was the second fastest among all linebackers at the combine.
Smith had a team-best 6.5 sacks last year while winning the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in the country and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He has an impressive closing burst as a blitzer and when chasing plays away from him, and he does a good job finding the ball and fighting through traffic, even when he’s at a size disadvantage.
He’s a tad undersized, but Smith more than makes up for that with superior instincts, football I.Q., leadership, speed and the movement skills that made him a standout wide receiver in high school. The consensus is that he has the qualities to take over as a defensive leader and become an impact player early in his career.
Smith can occasionally get engulfed by linemen, and he may need to improve his hand use to become more effective taking on blocks. But he might be the best tackler in the draft, he won’t back down from contact, he’s a top competitor and hits like a player 20 pounds heavier. Smith has an alpha-male personality that extends into the locker room and makes him a candidate to make a defense his own.
Georgia’s defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who held the same title with the Bears from 2013-14 and spent 10 years as an NFL coach, said he’s never coached a linebacker as fast as Smith, at any level.