If you watched the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship game, you were probably wowed by Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith who looked like he was all over the field. And that’s because he was. He’s a playmaker and a potential top 10 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. In Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft, he has Smith going to the Oakland Raiders at pick No. 10.
If Smith makes it to pick No. 12 when the Bengals are drafting their first player of the year, Cincinnati would be foolish to let him pass by their pick without a serious look. Smith is a player who will be able to make an immediate impact in the NFL and the linebacker position is surely one at which the Bengals could use a top player to pair with Vontaze Burfict. Plus, with how often Burfict misses time, having another reliable linebacker can only be a good thing for the Bengals’ defense.
“I feel like I can make a tremendous impact on the defense, just with my playmaking ability, my leadership qualities. And everything that I possess, as a football player on and off the field,” Smith said at the NFL Combine. “I feel like that will definitely elevate any defense.”
Smith racked up 137 tackles (85 solo), 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 forced fumble in his final season (junior year) at Georgia. But before he was taking down quarterbacks in the SEC, Smith was an offensive player in high school.
“It was pretty amazing,” Smith said of playing wide receiver in high school. “In high school I played defense as well. I actually played both ways. I was at a smaller school so I played both ways. I played receiver and running back. It was pretty awesome having the ball in my hands. And being able to make plays. Because I had pretty much done it throughout my childhood. But at the end of the day I thought I was a better linebacker. And I didn’t really like getting hit. So I preferred to give it out.”
One of Smith’s strengths is what he refers to as his relentless pursuit. If you watched the National Championship game you surely saw it.
“My relentless pursuit. I believe in that,” Smith said. “I was always taught, if you start something, finish. And take advantage of every opportunity. And tomorrow is not promised. If it’s my last play that I ever play, how do I want to go out? So I feel like every play, I treat like it’s my last play. And I bust my tail like I don’t have a next play.”
The Bengals haven’t drafted a first round linebacker in years; the last time was 2008 when the team selected Keith Rivers out of USC. Prior to that it was 2005 with David Pollack. Neither of those picks worked out well, though, it was due to injury and no fault to the Bengals. Smith was actually asked if he feels the outside linebacker position has been de-valued at the NFL level with teams shying away from picking linebackers early on in the draft. He didn’t feel like that was the case.
“I don’t feel like it’s underrated,” Smith said of the position. “Because great teams have great defensive players, more so at the linebacker position. You can take control of a defense. Pretty much most of the time we’re the leaders of the defense. And you have to make a lot of plays. And all of the checks for a defense. Very good linebackers can definitely elevate defenses.”
Smith is surely someone who looks like he can elevate a defense and another part of that is his ability as a leader. He says he’s “just a guy who truly cares about his teammates.”
“On and off the field, regardless of the situation, always there for them through adversity,” Smith said of his leadership ability. “Whether they’re at their high or at their low. Someone you can depend on. Someone that you know is committed on and off the field and leads by example as well.”
As far as what Smith says he’ll be bringing to the NFL, much of it has to do with his football IQ and knowledge of the game. At the linebacker position that’s a great asset. The thought of Smith and Burfict together is a pretty great one.
“I feel like I’m very instinctual,” Smith said. “My IQ of the game and my sideline to sideline ability. My ability to strike guys and make plays. I’m just a playmaker, if you ask me.”