The Chicago Bears defense has players at each level that have a Pro Bowl on their resume, in defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, linebacker Khalil Mack, and safety Eddie Jackson, but it could be fourth-year pro Roquan Smith that holds the key to how the unit fares in 2021.
Smith, coming off his best season as a pro, has already taken on more of a leadership role with the team as he was one of the few defensive starters that participated in the entire offseason workout program. His dedication and enthusiasm has been noticeable from head coach Matt Nagy.
“It’s about actions and not words with Roquan,” Nagy said last week at mandatory minicamp. “He is practicing and showing up in meetings right now like he’s a rookie. It’s special, it really is, and it’s not talk, it’s real. He’s out there, everything’s 100 miles per hour. He wants to learn. He’s willing to be a sponge. He doesn’t think he knows everything. He’s extremely motivated internally.”
The Bears picked up Smith’s fifth-year option, and while he’d like to get a long term deal done, he’s not stressing over it. “That’s going to come when it comes,” Smith said last week from Halas Hall. “I’m not too focused on that. My main focus right now is OTAs, getting out here with my teammates.”
He’s saying all the right things, he’s doing all the right things, and he’s leading by example. Everything points to the 24-year old Smith having a huge year four with the Bears.
He was recently named to NFL.com’s All-Under-25 Team where they selected the most promising rising stars in the league, and here’s what they had to say.
The Bucs’ Devin White was also considered for this spot, but Smith wins out because he was more effective in coverage than the darling defender of the 2020 postseason. Smith set career-high marks in tackles and tackles for loss in 2020, joining White as the only two players with 125 or more tackles and four or more sacks last season. The difference between the two players is in Smith’s larger body of work and his stellar coverage numbers, which landed among the league’s best.
Smith’s speed and coverage know-how makes him a prototypical inside linebacker for the modern game, and I expect him to build off his tremendous 2020 for an even more impactful 2021.