The 2018 NFL Draft is absolutely crucial for the Green Bay Packers. After Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone, the organization found out how many weaknesses become glaring when the future Hall of Famer is not on the field. One of those glaring issues was the defense. Basically, the entire defense. Guys like Blake Martinez, Kenny Clark, and Mike Daniels headlined what became a rather lackluster defense as it ranked 22nd in yards against and 26th in points against. With Mike Pettine taking over the defense, he has his work cut out for him as he aims to improve the spotty performance of Green Bay last year. Major keys to transforming this faltering 3-4 defense are the men in the middle, the inside linebackers. Blake Martinez tied for first in tackles for the entire league in 2017 with 144, but there was quite the drop off with Jake Ryan.
*Queue Roquan Smith’s entrance music*
Smith is a 3-4 inside linebacker prospect from the University of Georgia who measures out at 6’1”, 225 pounds of pure monster. Though the Washington Redskins, who pick one spot before the Packers, seem to have eyes on Smith, stranger things have happened on draft day.
Roquan Smith’s Strengths:
Smith is extremely athletic not only for an inside backer but for a football player in general. According to an article by John Keim, Smith was a former wide receiver before he made a transition to the heart of the defense. This is quite a switch as wide receivers tend to want to be anywhere on the field other than that middle. His transition, however, has been extremely impressive winning the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in college football as well as a consensus All-American in 2017.
His athleticism allows for him to cover guys that are typically matchup nightmares for defenses and provides him with the ability to fly sideline to sideline. This is a cliche phrase for inside backers, but he is the absolute embodiment of the cliche with a 4.57 40 yard dash according to Walter Football. Smith beats backs to spots and has the agility and discipline to break down, press the line of scrimmage, and finish the play as he demonstrated through his 11.5 tackles for loss.
Smith also appears to be quite the leader. In an LA Times article by Chris Foster, Smith is detailed as a faith-driven, fierce competitor who is held in high regards by his teammates. His fellow linebacker, Lorenzo Carter, said “He’s just one of those players,” and proceeded to note how inspiring his play is on the field.
Roquan Smith’s Weaknesses:
Smith is on the small side as a linebacker. Weighing in at 225 in the NFL can get a backer pushed around which Smith has tried to compensate. At times, he will attempt to avoid defenders as opposed to taking on a block, shedding it, and making a play. This works to his advantage when getting to the edge, however, on plays up the gut, good offenses exploit his eagerness to avoid. Oklahoma showed it on this touchdown run by Anderson which can be credited to Smith (#3) ducking under a block by the guard instead of climbing over the top and stopping Anderson for a medium gain.
This can be remedied by tacking on good weight. When a backer is ducking under or flat out avoiding blocks, he is one of two things: Aggressive or Soft. If he is aggressive, his decision making can be adjusted through film and experience. If he is soft, though, he will not last.
Where will Smith be drafted?
Smith is projected as a mid-first round draft pick. He has generally been rated the best inside linebacker in the 2018 draft.
How does Smith fit the Packers?
Though there may be other positions that need attention, a high motor, respectable anchor in the middle is something that the Packers need. When rebuilding a defense, a field general is extremely important and Smith provides that. Having a man in the middle who can call plays and have the football IQ to facilitate the defense given to him is the foundation needed for a successful unit. Roquan Smith is a perfect fit next to Blake Martinez as another athletic linebacker who fills a leadership role. Keep an eye out for him as the picks are submitted in April.