After two years of using sheer aggression to snag their player of choice, the Chicago Bears waited patiently on Thursday night as the selections unfolded almost ideally and yielded Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Perhaps they potentially had an opportunity to move up and acquire a player like Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson. Perhaps they could have moved back as team like the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals saw opportunities to get their franchise quarterback.
Nobody necessarily would have faulted general manager Ryan Pace for making either move. However, waiting landed them one of the most productive players available in this draft class and at a position of need.
Nothing is guaranteed with Roquan Smith, but he’s a linebacker who survived the grind of the SEC, recorded 137 tackles and 6 sacks in 2017 and ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at 236 pounds. Those are all the markers you’re looking for in a linebacker in Vic Fangio’s defense.
His ceiling might not be as high as Tremaine Edmunds, but his floor is much higher. And that is a good sign for the Bears on a couple of levels.
For starters, it symbolizes Pace planting a flag that he thinks this roster is in a position to compete sooner rather than later. It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a playoff team going into 2018, but if this is Chicago two years ago, you probably trade on the potential of Edmunds (who is only 19 years old, is 6-foot-5 and runs a 4.54-second 40) and take a stab at landing a star for the future.
But it’s clear they went with Smith because they think he can comfortably provide starting-caliber linebacker play. And the difference in upside doesn’t provide them with enough of a benefit to outweigh what he gives you now.
That’s the message Pace wanted to send. They see a window of opportunity to make a very sudden jump, and Smith helps them get better right this instant. At the same time, he was comfortable enough with Smith to forego leveraging any additional picks to move up for Chubb or Nelson.
It’s a safe, sweet spot for the Bears, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Then there’s the history of the position in Chicago. Again, it guarantees nothing in terms of productivity, but selecting a linebacker who winds up having long-term success curries a different level of favor with the Bears than it does elsewhere.
It’s simply an added benefit and (hopefully) wasn’t a factor in Pace’s decision-making process. But with a fan base as vocal as Chicago’s and an ownership group that can be as influenced by public opinion as the McCaskeys, it’s very clearly helpful to add a player that you both think can help the franchise and might become a local star.
If Smith lives up to his billing, he’ll win over Bears fans incredibly quickly. He’s a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can also flip his hips and run in coverage. He’s undersized but that only adds to the mystique.
Smith makes sense for the Bears, and this only takes us by surprise in the sense that it wasn’t in line with what we’ve seen in previous Pace drafts.