LeGere: Bears draft 'tackling machine' Roquan Smith
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.
"They can expect a relentless guy, on the field and off the field," Smith said. "I'll go about my business the right way and do what it takes to put the Bears in the best possible situation every time I step onto the field (on game day) and on the practice field. I'm ready to give the city of Chicago everything I have in me. I'm so excited. I can't wait to go up to Chicago and get to work. You're getting the best football player in the draft."
Smith gave the Bulldogs everything he had in 2017 with 124 tackles, and he made plays all over the field, especially vs. the run. The 6-foot-1, 236-pounder has exceptional speed (4.51 in the 40) that also allows him to match up in coverage. His time was the second-fastest among all linebackers at the combine.
But the Bears expect that they're getting more than just a player who will put up impressive tackle numbers. The consensus is that Smith has the qualities to take over as a defensive leader and become an impact player early in his career.
He might be the best tackler in the draft and, although linemen can occasionally engulf him, 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 take over a defense.
Smith said one of the keys to leadership is knowing your audience and proving your commitment by your actions.
"I feel like it's a combination of a few things," he said. "I feel like I can be a vocal guy, but not a rah-rah guy all up in your face all the time. I feel like you have to know your teammates to be able to accept them. But my main thing, I lead by example. Guys tend to follow guys who do things the right way and go about their business. I feel like guys respect that because I know I have the utmost respect for individuals that do things the right way."
Smith is a tad undersized, but he 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. Smith leaves no doubt that he's heard the knocks about his lack of desired size, but he has a ready answer for any doubters.
"You hear that a lot here and there," he said when asked about the size question. "But if you look at the top linebackers in the NFL right now, the guys are around the height of 6-1, which I am, and around the weight of 235. So I don't view myself as undersized. I know what I bring to the table. You say I'm undersized, (and) everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but I feel like (that doesn't affect) my skill set and everything I bring to the table."
As an "undersized" linebacker, Smith is in good company. The Panthers' Luke Kuechly, one of the perennial tackle leaders in the NFL, weighs 238; while the Falcons' do-everything MLB Deion Jones is just 222 pounds.
Smith had a team-best 6.5 sacks last year while winning the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in the country. He also 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 was instrumental in helping the Bulldogs get to the national championship game against Alabama.
"I took a lot of pride in just being the best possible teammate I could and always being there for my teammates regardless of the circumstances," Smith said. "Through adverse times (I would) always have an open arm and welcome the guys regardless, just knowing (no matter) what the turnout may be, that I'll be there for them regardless. I just really enjoyed the brotherhood that we shared there."
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.
Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan led the Bears in tackles last season with 91, despite missing four games. Injuries also kept him out of seven games in 2016, his first season in Chicago. Nick Kwiatkoski, the 2016 fourth-round pick, is currently the starter next to Trevathan. The Bears have been pleased with Kwiatkoski's progress, but he is not considered to be the difference maker that the team expects from Smith.
• Bob LeGere is a senior writer at Pro Football Weekly. Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere or @PFWeekly.