Roquan Smith was supposed to emerge as one of the top young linebackers in the NFL in 2019. Instead, his season was marred by a bizarre deactivation against the Vikings in September and an all-around down year.
Still, the Bears haven't wavered in their belief in Smith, who was the team's first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft. He's one of the club's most important draft picks entering the 2020 season and one of just two first-rounders who remain on the roster from the Ryan Pace era. Mitch Trubisky is the other.
Smith has to deliver this season especially after Pace prioritized re-signing Danny Trevathan over Nick Kwiatkoski, who was arguably the team's best young linebacker in 2019. As a result, Smith was recently named the Bears' key homegrown player this year.
Bears fans love Roquan Smith. Bears coaches love Roquan Smith. Bears teammates love Roquan Smith. PFF does not love Roquan Smith. Smith ranked 44th among 58 off-ball linebackers who played at least 500 snaps last season. The eye test isn't thrilling, either. He gets washed out of running plays too often. His expected strength entering the league was in pass coverage, but he hasn't stood out there, either, sometimes getting taken off the field. There is value in a heady defensive signal-caller whom numbers can't fully evaluate, but there just haven't been the impact plays expected from a top-10 pick. Perhaps this is the year Smith earns all that love.
Smith finished 2019 with a 52.4 season grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranked 24th among Bears defenders. It was a significant regression from his rookie-season grade of 67.4. He was especially bad against the pass, where his coverage grade dropped from 72.7 to 55.4 and his pass-rush grade dropped from 70.9 to 51.5.
The Bears need Smith to realize his full potential in order for the defense to be the elite quarterback-wrecking group it's capable of.