Any conversation about the Chicago Bears' inside linebackers seems to start and stop with first-round pick Roquan Smith, who after joining the team as the eighth pick overall is expected to instantly become one of the defense's best all-around players. But don't overlook Danny Trevathan's critically important role in any success the Bears will enjoy in 2018.
Trevathan joined the Bears in 2016 when GM Ryan Pace signed him to a lucrative four-year, $28 million deal. He was the team's biggest free-agent move that offseason but his tenure in Chicago got off to a rocky start. He appeared in only nine games due to a combination of thumb and knee injuries.
Trevathan had a slightly healthier season last year. He missed a handful of games with a calf injury but still finished with 89 tackles, two sacks and an interception in 12 starts. His season ranked 12th-best among linebackers on Pro Football Focus' grading scale (he finished the year with an 84.7 grade).
With most of his defensive teammates back for another year, Trevathan will take on even more of a leadership role. Most importantly, he'll serve as Smith's mentor in the middle of the defense.
Trevathan will benefit as much from Smith as Smith will from Trevathan. Opposing offensive coordinators are likely to pay more attention to Smith's game-changing skill set, leaving Trevathan in more favorable situations to make plays. It may take a few games for Smith to earn that kind of respect from Bears opponents, but the assumption is he will and once he does, Trevathan will be the beneficiary.
The good news for Chicago is that Trevathan, when healthy, is about as reliable of a defender as the team has on the roster. If he's given a chance to make plays, he's going to make them. He doesn't need Smith to be great to find success on the field, but Trevathan's ability to thrive alongside the first round pick is an added benefit.
This season marks the best chance Trevathan has had since joining the team to match some of the remarkable numbers he produced with the Broncos. In 2013, the last time he played a full 16 games in a season, he had an incredible 152 tackles.
Trevathan has to prove to the Bears that he can contribute over a full season; he has to stay healthy and start 16 games. If he has another injury-riddled season, Pace can move on from him with little cap consequence next offseason. Trevathan certainly doesn't want to receive his walking papers, and he knows the pressure is on in 2018 with the commitment Chicago made at inside linebacker in the NFL draft.
The best way for Chicago to get a massive return on its investment in Smith is if Trevathan has the kind of season Pace envisioned a couple of years ago. If he stays healthy, Trevathan could easily become the team's most important defensive player by the time the season ends.