One thing about the Chicago Bears? When it comes to linebackers, they have a legacy that is pretty much untouchable. They’ve put four men at that position into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and had several others reach the Pro Bowl. Among them is the great Lance Briggs. He understands the high expectations of Bears linebackers these days. Expectations he feels Roquan Smith still hasn’t met.
That may sound unusual to some. The former 1st round pick appears to have picked up where he left off last season. He’s flying around the field, always near the football. Through five games, he has 40 tackles including six for a loss. That puts him on pace for 128 this season, which would be a career-high and something no Bears linebacker has accomplished since Briggs himself.
So why is the seven-time Pro Bowler not buying the 23-year old?
Adam Jahns of The Athletic discussed it with him. It comes down to a simple reality. For all the good things Smith can do, he’s not making a big enough impact. Players of his talent level are expected to create game-changing moments. This is not something the former 8th overall pick has done nearly enough.
“The one thing is he’s flying around,” Briggs said. “You are seeing him fly around and you are seeing him fill the gaps. But for him in a guy as talented as he is, you want to see the bigger plays. Making tackles in the open field are great – love it. But I think it’s one of two things for him … you need to take the ball away or you need to be in double-digit tackles. And that’s one thing we’re not seeing.”
#Bears Roquan Smith didn't have a great overall night, but this play he made in coverage is nothing short of fabulous.
He carries his assignment up to the Safety, follows Brady's eyes into the middle of the field, and puts his shoulder into the ball after catch. Gorgeous. pic.twitter.com/cNK8CHRW5J
— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) October 13, 2020
On a positive. Roquan Smith here, diagnoses the play immediately, fills the hole, & ultimately reaches Ronald Jones at the mesh point for a certain TFL. Alas it appears that Ronald Jones is covered head to toe in olive oil. Making it impossible to wrap him up in the backfield. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/fS7Jg0GSAu
— James Russell (@jamesru1) October 12, 2020
Roquan Smith still has a lot of proving to do
Briggs is no doubt speaking from his own experience. Despite being a 3rd round pick when he was drafted, he still managed to collect four interceptions in his first three seasons with the team. Three of which he returned for touchdowns. He also had 25 passes defended. Smith has two interceptions in his career to date and just 10 passes defended. Though to be fair he does already have seven sacks. Briggs only had 2.5.
Smith hasn’t been bad. Not even close. He’s been one of the better players on the Bears defense and is one of the 10 best inside linebackers in the NFL. What Briggs is saying is that isn’t who they drafted him to be. They didn’t take him that high in 2018 to be good. They drafted him to be great. Keep in mind he was selected one spot higher than Brian Urlacher was back in 2000. Others like Junior Seau and Luke Kuechly went that high too.
Expectations are understandably elevated for such players.
The great part is Smith is still so young. Most guys his age would be entering the league this year. He’s already one-third of the way into his third season. That experience could prove invaluable as he continues to mature as a player. The signs are there. He looks like he’s starting to grasp what it takes to be great. It is a matter of taking that final step.
Chicago has the utmost faith that he will get there. Roquan Smith has come painfully close to those sought-after turnovers several times this season. A mixture of bad luck and bad timing has gotten in the way. It feels like some big ones are coming.
If nothing else, one can at least say the linebacker is the Ryan Pace’s first pick in the 1st round that isn’t a bust. Call it progress.