CHICAGO – Could anything have been more appropriate Thursday night in the first round of the 2018 NFL College Draft than the Chicago Bears selecting at No. 8 Roquan Smith, the first Butkus Award winner to ever play for the Bears in the same year Brian Urlacher will join Bill George, Butkus and Mike Singletary in the Hall of Fame?
There can be no doubt that Smith was high on the list of eight players general manager Ryan Pace said earlier in the week the Bears had identified that they would have been happy to have at No. 8.
Three quarterbacks – Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen — were among the first seven players taken, with the Bills trading directly in front of the Bears to select Allen with Tampa Bay’s choice, so we know at least four of Pace’s favorites were there if not more.
Also available and likely to have been on the Bears' list were safeties, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James, and edge rushers, Marcus Davenport and Tremaine Edmunds, two positions of greater need than the ILB spot Smith will man, so there is little doubt Pace believes he got the best football player.
It is also worth noting that the Raiders, just two picks after the Bears traded down to 15 with Arizona; the Packers traded out of the 14th spot; and the Ravens traded out of the 16th spot; so it is quite likely there was a deal to be made had Pace preferred to trade down to acquire more picks.
Clearly Pace and the Bears got their guy.
Now we are left to wonder whether they got the right guy and what they will do to address remaining significant needs with their second-round pick on Day Two and five remaining picks on Day Three.
The pick was wildly popular with the Bears faithful, a huge crowd of Bears fans that gathered at Soldier Field for the Bears Draft Night Party, and it has also been extremely well received by the local media with almost half of them gathered at Halas Hall predicting Smith was the Bears' guy.
I have nothing negative to say about the choice. There is little doubt in my mind Smith is one of the three or four best defensive prospects in this draft, and the Bears got much better value with Smith at eight than the Browns did reaching for cornerback Denzel Ward at four or the three clubs taking quarterbacks.
My only nagging doubt about the pick is whether or not Smith — who I think ideally should be a 'Will' linebacker in a 4-3 defense, quite possibly the next Derek Brooks or a much faster Lance Briggs — is a good fit for the Bears and Vic Fangio’s 3-4 base package.
Smith is undersized to play inside in the NFL but not that much smaller than Navarro Bowman, who along with Patrick Willis played inside linebacker when Fangio was running the 49ers Super Bowl and NFC Title Game defenses, of which Bowman and Willis were the heart and soul.
In Smith and Danny Trevathan, the Bears are likely to have two guys who never come off the field and should be able to cover receivers as well as any ‘backers in the league.
But the Bears had a top-10 defense last year with Trevathan, Christian Jones and Nick Kwiatkoski inside, and what they need desperately to improve upon that group is pass rush and another playmaker at safety — neither of which Smith’s presence improves.
Akiem Hicks plays the game quite reminiscent of the way All-Pro Justin Smith did for Fangio in San Francisco, and with Smith and Trevathan here apparently to clone Willis and Bowman — not quite as big but quicker and more athletic — what is still missing is a version of Aldon Smith to pair with Leonard Floyd and an upgrade for Adrian Amos.
Assuming the Bears stand pat at 39 in the second round, if any of Harold Landry, Arden Key, Lorenzo Carter or Duke Ejiofor are still available, one of them could be the pick that makes Smith that much more special.