Roquan Smith ranked as number 5 off-ball linebacker by NFL members
Roquan Smith has been a bright-spot on the Bears roster since he was drafted 8th overall out of the University of Georgia in the 2018 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Smith set many defensive records and milestones in Chicago, including recording 107 total tackles, the second most ever for a Bears’ rookie, and a sack against the Green Bay Packers on his very first snap in the NFL. Alongside an interception against the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2018-19 playoffs (only the sixth playoff interception for a Bears rookie ever), Smith showed flashes of elite play since his introduction to the league.
Flash forward to the end of his fourth year in the NFL, Roquan Smith is recognized as one of the best linebackers across the league, and one of the top players under the age of 25 across all positions. Smith has played in 61 games, starting in 59 of them, and has only missed four total games, all in 2019 due to a pectoral tear near the end of the season. In this time, the linebacker recorded 23 games with 10+ tackles, 524 total tackles, 14 sacks, and six forced turnovers, mainly off of five interceptions. This on-field performance resulted in Smith being voted as a top five off-ball linebacker, as seen below.
ESPN polled executives, players and coaches and on the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL:
1) Darius Leonard
2) Micah Parsons
3) Fred Warner
4) Devin White
5) Roquan Smith
6) Demario Davis
7) Tremaine Edmunds
8) Bobby Wagner
9) Lavonte David
10) Jordyn Brooks pic.twitter.com/WYF2j9AFTB
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) July 8, 2022
Does Roquan Smith deserved to be ranked higher?
Despite his stats, Roquan Smith has struggled to get the same level of national recognition that some of his peers receive at the end of the season. Smith has never been selected to a Pro Bowl, snubbed most notably this past season after recording 163 tackles alongside three sacks. Smith was awarded second team all pro in 2020 and 2021, but in both instances, these rankings seemed low.
In 2020, Smith was beat out for the first team selection by Darius Leonard, Bobby Wagner, and Fred Warner. During the season, Smith recorded more tackles and sacks than any three of those players, and only Warner matched his interception total (the other two had a combined zero).
In 2021, Darius Leonard, De’Vondre Campbell, and rookie Micah Parsons received the first team vote over Smith. Again, the Bears’ linebacker recorded more tackles than any of the other three, with only Parsons recording more sacks (Parsons also lined up as an edge rusher approximately 40% of the time).
This lack of national recognition for Roquan Smith may result in him being ranked too low in many league wide polls. From this list, it is somewhat evident that media awards and voting are more important than actual statistics, as Smith is below players he consistently outperforms, including a player in Parsons who has only played one NFL season.
Many of these players are somewhat difficult to compare, as differences in size and utilization affect statistics and opportunities on the field. Smith is generally limited to an inside, off-ball linebacker, but it will be interesting to see how Smith’s usage, production, and perception change after working more with new head coach Matt Eberflus, who was the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis and helped rebuild that side of the ball with the help of another talented linebacker in Darius Leonard.
Do you think Roquan Smith is ranked too high, too low or just right? How do you see his role in Chicago and on the defense changing as the team moves to a 4-3 defense?