As apart of a brand new series, Rookie Preview aims to preview every rookie selected by Ryan Pace and give insightful analysis for the latest in Bears history.
As Bears training camp draws closer, there is optimism surrounding the Bears defense and their latest addition to the defense. For the second time in three seasons, the Bears had turned to the University of Georgia to find a linebacker. When the Bears were on the clock with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Bears selected Georgia Linebacker Roquan Smith, someone who looked up to current Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
After the Bears moved on from Jerrell Freeman, it immediately became clear that the Bears needed another middle linebacker. Most fans thought that Nick Kwiatkoski was ready to take over, however, general manager Ryan Pace had other plans in mind.
Unlike the selections of Mitchell Trubisky in 2017 and Leonard Floyd in 2016, there was a different feeling surrounding the Smith pick. For the first time in what felt like forever, the Bears seemed as if they had landed an impact player on defense. Smith wasn’t just another college prospect. He was someone who was a known producer, a proven product that had all the tools needed to be successful at the next level.
In his final season at Georgia, Smith totaled eighty-five tackles, six and a half sacks, and fourteen tackles for loss.
There are many reasons to love a guy like Smith. He brings speed to a defense, meaning he can fly from sideline-to-sideline to stop running backs. Another reason to love Smith is that he can physically match up against bigger targets such as tight ends or even against running backs. He’s also a very smart player, knowing when to begin pursuing someone and when to stop.
Currently, the only concern with a player of Smith’s caliber is his size. He’s listed at six-foot-one and weighs 225 lbs. However, with the NFL being somewhat of a copycat league, it’s clear that when looking at the size and weight of Smith, they compare very favorably to another Pro Bowl linebacker that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio coached while with the San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis.
Willis too was known as someone who would with just one play, end up changing games on defense. In fact, had he still been playing today, he would have likely still been one of the best linebackers in the game. That’s why the Bears rebuild on defense might finally be complete. Smith has an unlimited amount of upside and Vic Fangio is the perfect person to help him fulfill that potential.
Since Brian Urlacher retired in 2012, the Bears have not had a big play linebacker on defense. While the addition of Danny Trevathan in 2016 did help, the skills that Smith brings will make this defense better from day one. Expect to see fewer opponents running to the outside, while bigger targets such as tight ends being slowed down.
One thing to be clear regarding Smith. Like any first-round pick, his development will take time. Understand that it’s all a process. He won’t be the star of the Bears defense starting September ninth, but he’ll certainly improve throughout the course of the season.
For a franchise that’s already had a proven existence of great linebackers such as Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, and Dick Butkus, the expectations are clearly high for a guy like Roquan Smith. And while he’ll face challenges along the way, it’s clear that he seems to bring the attitude and skill set to live up to whatever he faces.
Get ready Chicago, your next big thing on defense had arrived.