Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

April 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm.

Bears 2018 draft: LB Smith strengthens middle

In his first three drafts, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace built a reputation for taking risks.

Using the old ceilings and floors analogy to describe talent, Pace took players with cathedral ceilings who entered the NFL at a basement level.

But there was no risk involved with drafting linebacker Roquan Smith.

At least in the first two days, Pace stuck to the safe route in his first draft with Matt Nagy as head coach and selected Georgia’s Butkus Award winner Smith, steady Iowa center James Daniels and highly productive Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller.

“It feels like it did work out that way this year,” Pace admitted.

Calling it a matter of how the draft board fell more than playing it safe, Pace kept the team’s obvious need for a pass rusher in the back of his mind while bringing player evaluations to the forefront.

“You’ve just got to be careful that you don’t force these things,” Pace said. “I’m glad we attacked needs, but we also took best players on the board.”

The Bears spent most of Saturday looking at defense. In Round 4, the Bears took Western Kentucky inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe. They finished with Delaware defensive tackle Bilal Nichols in Round 5 and Utah defensive end Kylie Fitts in Round 6.

Finally, in Round 7, they turned back to offense and took Georgia wide receiver Javon Wims.

While outside rusher was a huge need, so too was inside linebacker. Danny Trevathan’s problems staying on the field and the loss of Christian Jones in free agency had left the Bears paper thin on the interior. It’s also a reason the Bears later took Iyiegbuniwe.

In Smith, the Bears took a player somewhat undersized (6-foot-1, 236) for the middle but probably big enough for the way the game is now played.

“I think in today’s NFL, the linebackers are becoming more and more of this – sometimes you might sacrifice a little bit of size to gain a lot of athleticism and a lot of speed, and Roquan definitely has that,” Pace said.

The immediate comparison was to NaVorro Bowman or Patrick Willis, who played at about the same size in the system of Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with San Francisco.

“I feel like me and Patrick Willis both have similar speed and whatnot and both have a high IQ of the game,” Smith said.

Added Pace: “Those are pretty lofty comparisons, we’ll see.”

Smith will be either competing with Trevathan for a starting spot or with Nick Kiwatkoski at the other inside linebacker position. And he will be playing in a linebacker corps with former Georgia teammate Leonard Floyd.

“It’s going to be insane,” Smith said. “Leonard Floyd, I looked up to the guy a lot. Coming from Georgia, he was an older guy. He was a redshirt junior when I was a freshman.”

After Pace showed himself unafraid to move up and down the Day-1 draft board in his first three drafts, he waited until Round 2 to make such a move in this draft.

It appeared the Bears were done picking until Saturday when they took Daniels in Round 2 to shore up their guard/center situation. But Pace used an extra fourth-round pick and next year’s second-rounder to acquire New England’s second-rounder this year and selected Miller.

Later they added Wims to finish an offseason of complete reconstruction of the receiver corps. With Miller, Wims, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Bennie Fowler, Kevin White and Josh Bellamy, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky should have a totally upgraded group of targets.

“We certainly have enough,” Nagy said. “Without a doubt. You’re at a point right now where there are really good numbers in regards to all the positions.

“So whether it’s the running back position, the tight end position, wide receiver and then the depth at O-line, we’re in a really good spot. So that was the goal going into free agency, going into the draft. I feel like we accomplished that.”




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