When media experts describe Roquon Smith, the Bears first round selection of the 2018 NFL draft, one word comes up time and again: “instinctive”.
Instinct. It’s a magical word suggesting that a player has this mystical quality that can overcome all other obstacles that a flawed prospect might face. It’s often said that it’s more valuable than any other characteristic because it’s something that you can’t teach. And it almost automatically goes with another word that all fans with all of their own flaws associate themselves with: “underdog”. Which is probably why this was such a popular pick for the Bears before the draft even began.
“Roquan Smith is the truth, man,” Louis Riddick, former NFL personnel executive and current ESPN analyst, said April 16. “The kid is a player in every sense of the word. He should be a Pro Bowler very quickly.”
Riddick wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard and read a number of local reporters and fans slobber over the prospect of the Bears drafting Smith. They conjure up images of Mike Singletary’s awareness with Brian Urlacher’s sideline to sideline speed.
However scouts and coaches whose careers are on the line can’t afford to let their hearts rule their heads. Underdogs have no place in the game until they prove themselves. At which point they aren’t underdogs any more. That’s why this pick is only so-so in my book.
Because you know what else you can’t teach? Size. Roquon Smith may have gotten himself up to 235 pounds but he’s got a small frame that played last season at 225. All that instinct stuff is great until a 310 pound offensive guard that moves like an angry rhino lays his body on you in the middle of the defense and blows you out of your hole. That’s when reality sets in. And I’ll take reality over the ephemeral and mystical any day of the week. And it’s something that happened to Smith more frequently than anyone would like just at the college level. When it happens to you with any frequency in the NFL, you’re still an underdog fighting to survive the odds. And you might always be one right until you find yourself out of the league.
In fairness to the Bears, there were no really excellent picks for them in this spot. This was a terrible draft for first round talent. The three no brainers, Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb and Quinton Nelson, were all gone and all they had left to choose from was a group of deeply flawed players, any one of whom could have been taken anywhere between 7 and 15. Even with Smith’s lack of physical upside he was as good as any of them and I’m fine with the pick.
And I can imagine a scenario where the Bears compensate for Smith’s weaknesses. Put some big linemen in front of him like nose guard Eddie Goldman and defensive end Akiem Hicks, maybe they occupy the blockers and leave Smith free to roam. It should be interesting to see what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio does and I’m looking forward to it.
But don’t tell me Smith is something he’s not – elite, clean selection who is sure to bring the defense to the next level. He’s not. That’s your heart talking. He’s just another dirty, underdog prospect in a 2018 draft that is full of them. Unless and until he shows otherwise.