Roquan Smith went to the University of Georgia. It’s not Linebacker U, but going to the Chicago Bears with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft means heading to the pro equivalent. No team has a list of linebackers like the Bears: Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and now, Roquan Smith.
But Smith, at 6’1 and 236 pounds, doesn’t boast the kind of intimidating physical stature featured by some of those Monsters of the Midway. That weight is 11 pounds above where he was listed in Athens, and yet it never seemed to be a problem for the unanimous All-American while he was playing for Kirby Smart.
At the combine, Smith ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, but insists he was running 4.4’s in training and wasn’t 100 percent healthy in Indianapolis. He’ll now transition to a league evolving to mirror the college game: more spread out, predicated on mismatches, and in desperate need of linebackers who can run, cover, and play in space.
Watch Smith in the Rose Bowl chasing around future No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and that’s all one needs to see in order to understand his place in the modern NFL, yet the questions surrounding his game heading into the draft process came as fast and furious as a Roquan Smith tackle.
Already an adept veteran at giving non-answer answers (Smart’s old boss, Nick Saban, would be so proud), I tried to get behind the smiling, congenial Smith so at the very least he’d brag about himself. But pushing him just makes him smile, chuckling as he does his best to give you another answer he knows won’t wind up on any bulletin boards or clickbait headlines.
What you get spending time with the rookie is the impression he’s someone who very much understands who he is and what he brings to the table, a unique trait for a 21-year-old professional athlete. Although he’s a funny, mild-mannered guy, Smith plays like a man possessed … perhaps possessed with the knowledge he can beat any ball carrier to and spot, and when he gets there, he is likely to take them down.
That would certainly provide most linebackers with the kind of grinning, calm off-the-field demeanor Smith possesses. It’s just most linebackers don’t run like the wind, hit like a semi, and play with a Mensa level understanding of the game like he does.