Top 25 Bears in 2022: No. 2 Roquan Smith is clear leader of Bears' defense
We're counting down the Top 25 most important Bears for the 2022 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That's subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can't play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
No. 2 Roquan Smith
Experience: fifth season
Last year's ranking: No. 5
Looking back: With Khalil Mack gone, traded to the Los Angeles Chargers, Roquan Smith is left as the clear leader of the Bears' defense. The 25-year-old linebacker enters his fifth NFL season since the Bears selected him eighth overall in the 2018 draft. He's coming off back-to-back second-team All-Pro seasons.
Last season, Smith finished fifth in the NFL with 163 combined tackles. He added 3 sacks, an interception (which he returned for a touchdown) and 3 passes defended. He totaled 12 tackles for loss.
He can fly across the field and make tackles from sideline to sideline. He was snubbed from the Pro Bowl for the second season in a row, but he was -- and remains -- one of the elite inside linebackers in the NFL right now.
Looking forward: As soon as the Bears hired Matt Eberflus as head coach, the comparisons between Smith and Colts linebacker Darius Leonard started.
Both were 2018 draft picks and both are two of the best at the position. Leonard thrived with Eberflus as his defensive coordinator over four seasons together. The Bears are hoping that Smith will do the same. Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams seem like the right guys to optimize Smith's abilities.
Maybe more importantly than what happens on the field, Smith's future with the team hangs in the balance. Smith is in the final year of his rookie contract. If he and the Bears can't agree to an extension before the season, the issue will likely hang over everyone's heads all season.
The Bears would almost certainly exercise the franchise tag on Smith if a deal isn't reached by March, but getting an extension done before then is a preferable outcome.
Smith could excel in Eberflus' defensive scheme, but he needs to remain in a Bears uniform for that to happen.