The shenanigans at middle linebacker are over. No more duct tape, no more patch work. We have fixed a position that has been FUBAR far too long. That’s the emphatic message the Oakland Raiders send by taking Roquan Smith at No. 10 overall in this April’s draft. The 6-foot-1, 236-pound former Georgia Bulldog is a new era linebacker with an old-school work ethic. He can run, he can tackle, and he can cover.
Smith can not only stymie the run, but also go stride-for-stride with pass catchers in coverage. Whether in man or zone coverages (in front and behind him), Smith was an asset in coverage and not a liability like many other collegiate linebackers.
That is probably because the former high school wide receiver mixes intelligence and moxie with athleticism reserved for other positions. Smith blazed a 4.51 40-yard dash time at the combine. Combine that with lightning-quick lateral movement and it is no wonder he is dubbed with the over-used “sideline-to-sideline” characterization.
“My relentless pursuit,” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I believe in that. I was always taught, if you start something, finish. Moreover, take advantage of every opportunity. In addition, tomorrow is not promised. “If it’s my last play that I ever play, how do I want to go out? Therefore, I feel like every play, I treat like it’s my last play. And I bust my tail like I don’t have a next play.”
The will and want to reach the pinnacle of their performance is not a common trait amongst NFL hopefuls. Smith’s play backs his talk — and then some. He was good as a sophomore racking up 95 tackles (five for loss) and was even better as a junior this past season with 137 tackles (14 for loss) and 6.5 sacks.
It would be easy for Smith to rely solely on his athletic ability. Yet, the linebacker studies the game and wants to get better every snap. That is the kind of grinder new Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden desires in his players. Smith would make an immediate impact if selected and plugged into the Raiders system.
“I feel like I can make a tremendous impact on the defense, just with my playmaking ability, my leadership qualities,” Smith said. “And everything that I possess as a football player on and off the field. I feel like that will definitely elevate any defense.”
Even if the Raiders brought back NaVorro Bowman to operate the middle that should not preclude Oakland from seizing Smith. He is not only the long-term fix at a long desolate middle linebacker position; Smith can bounce outside while the elder statesmen hold down the Mike.
Many knock Smith’s lack of ideal height and weight. Plus, for good reason. Smith can get swamped and engulfed by bigger blockers and that will be frequent in the NFL. The players he will meet on the professional field will be just as fast. As a result, Smith will need to refine his hand game and shed those blocks. His lack of size will always be a point of contention (a hindrance until he proves it will not be). With than in mind, Smith studies Atlanta Falcons’ linebacker Deion Jones (6-1, 222 pounds) and speaks with former Georgia Bulldog and current Carolina Panther Thomas Davis (6-1, 235 and a safety in college) regarding the nuances of the game.
Much like the opposing offense, Smith attacks the size impediment with uncanny precision and cool calculation.