This is CHGO’s Chicago Bears 2022 player preview series. Learn more about each player and what to expect from them this year.
Roquan Smith is entering the final deal of his rookie contract after being the Chicago Bears’ first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Despite having success throughout his career as one of the better linebackers in the league, Smith enters his fifth season in the NFL without a single pro bowl nod or first-team all-pro designation.
After putting up impressive numbers last season, Smith is looking to make the most of his contract year all while transitioning to a new defense.
Advanced Stat to Know: Smith led all linebackers in the NFL with 67 Stops. (PFF)
Best Game of 2021
Smith’s best game came Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens where he had a career-best 17 combined tackles, six of which constituted as a stop and two occurred behind the line of scrimmage. The linebacker also surrendered just 13 yards on four catches and had two quarterback pressures.
Could Roquan Smith elevate his game further in the Chicago Bears’ new scheme?
Asking Smith to take his game to new heights may be a bit much for a linebacker that has over 100 tackles each season since joining the league and is coming off a year in which he finished fifth in the NFL with 163 combined tackles.
But there is reason to believe that head coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams can unlock more of Smith’s potential by putting him in a better position to succeed.
It is yet to be determined if Smith will end up as the team’s weak side (Will) or middle (Mike) linebacker. Regardless of which position he settles into, what the coaches will ask of him caters to his strengths.
Smith will be tasked with roaming sideline-to-sideline and making plays all over the field. That should be no problem for a linebacker with his speed and instincts. He should also see more chances of making plays in the backfield coming off blitzes. Smith has already been dominant in this regard, and if the Bears can get him attacking downhill more often, Smith will only become more impactful.
Smith can also become a more dominant player by fully embracing the Bears’ H.I.T.S. philosophy.
If there’s one thing that has been lacking throughout his career, it’s takeaways. Yes, he’s had at least one interception each season as a pro, but he only has one forced fumble and fumble recovery.
The new regime will want more. Colts linebacker Darius Leonard had a whopping eight forced fumbles last season in this defense. Expect Smith to be more aggressive at knocking the ball out.
Smith is a proven top linebacker in the league and there may be more potential that will be untapped this season, especially when it comes to forcing turnovers.
With a new system in place that caters to his strengths, a team-wide focus on generating takeaways, and the extra motivation that comes in a contract year — it will be fun to watch Smith dominate opponents all season long.
Prediction: Starting Will Linebacker.
Stats: 160 TKLS, 4 Sacks, 15 TFL, 4 PBUs, 2 INTs, 3 FF, 1 FR.