We didn’t get a chance to talk to Roquan Smith about not making the Pro Bowl despite another outstanding season, but it doesn’t matter. Roquan has been snubbed for league-wide honors so often in his four-year career, we know how he feels about it.
”The Pro Bowl stuff, it’s a popularity thing,” Smith told the Sun-Times after — even more incredulously — not making the NFL’s Top 100 list prior to the 2021 season.
“I’m not out there tweeting all this stuff: ‘Vote me, vote me.’ That’s not something I do. Hey, I play ball. I come out in every game and do what I need to do, and I let everything else handle itself. I’m not too worried about, ‘Vote me into this’ and ‘Vote me into that.’ The Bears organization knows who I am for this organization.”
Smith did not make the initial NFC Pro Bowl roster at inside linebacker despite 140 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss, three sacks and a interception he returned 53 yards for a touchdown that made the difference in a 20-17 victory over the Bengals.
As was the case last year, both players who beat him out were worthy: the Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner leads the NFL in tackles with 158 — he was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth consecutive season. Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons has 12 sacks and is a leading contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
And if it doesn’t bother Smith, it bothers Bears usually soft-spoken defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
“It’s a travesty to me that he’s not getting these accolades,” Desai said. “He deserves every single accolade that one of the best linebackers in the league deserves — and he is one of the best linebackers in the league. You can put on the tape week-in and week-out.
“With the stats he’s got — obviously the interception for a touchdown; he’s top five in tackles, solo and total. He’s at the top of every category in the league and his play and his relentless nature and his speed on the tape shows up every week.
“I know he doesn’t look into those things, and neither do I normally. But yeah, I’ll take the burden for him and I’ll make sure people in the league know that he’s one of the best linebackers in the league.”
For the record, Smith was named to The Sporting News All-Pro first team (a poll of NFL head coaches) and the Associated Press All-Pro second team last season, so it’s not like he has been totally ignored. But he falls through the cracks in the Pro Bowl voting, in part because, as a dedicated inside linebacker, he doesn’t have enough splash plays — he has three sacks, one interception, no forced fumbles or fumble recoveries this season. At this point last season, he had 17 tackles-for-loss. This year he has nine.
Parsons not only has 12 sacks, but 27 quarterback hits and 17 tackles-for-loss and three forced fumbles. But that’s because he plays a pass-rushing game, even lining up at defensive end in two games this season. So really only one true inside linebacker made the NFC team.
“Micah Parsons is a different linebacker in a different system,” Desai said. “Roquan’s played a true inside linebacker for us all the time. You can skew [statistics] however you want to skew it. But the one thing you can’t skew is that this guy is in the top five in pretty much everything.
“So you can look at whoever you want and compare him to whoever you want, but when you look at his production on tape and see the speed and instincts with which this guy plays and how he [makes] people around him better, he’s kind of been the one constant for us this year that’s played in every game and has been productive every single game — his ability to get off blocks, to key and diagnose plays and get to the ball carrier on a consistent basis is unique, and I think that’s what needs to be emphasized.”
The 24-year-old Smith also was slowed by a hamstring injury that limited him to 18 snaps against the Lions. He never missed a full game, returning the following week to play all 53 snaps against the Cardinals, with eight tackles and one-tackle-for-loss against the Cardinals. But that kind of grit doesn’t make the highlight reels, or the box score and generally doesn’t get noticed outside of Chicago.
And even though he has played 95% of the Bears’ defensive snaps this season, Smith’s opportunities have been limited relative to other every-down linebackers. Smith has played 849 snaps in 14 games this season. Wagner has played 1,053 snaps in 14 games for the Seahawks.
“He’s definitely one of the top linebackers in the league, if not the best one,” said teammate Alec Ogletree, who has lined up next to Smith most of this season. “If you really watch the film and understand and actually see our defense and see who is out there making plays, he’s one of the guys that makes plays all over the field.
“And he’s done that every year throughout his career and continued to get better. [This] just adds a little more fuel to the fire for him.”