Roquan Smith: Breakdown of His First Two Seasons

With all of the quarterback and tight end controversy that has surrounded the Chicago Bears, Roquan Smith has been a bit of a forgotten man. It seems like the consensus opinion is that Smith is a good player who is continuing to ascend. However, no one has really presented any hard evidence to support or deny that claim.

Below is a look at Smith’s tape to find out just how good he actually is.

Roquan Smith: Breakdown of His First Two Seasons

Inconsistent as a Run Defender

It was apparent pretty early into Smith’s college career that he was never going to a stud run defender. His range, explosiveness, and instincts were evident but he was regularly overwhelmed when he had to take on blocks. He just doesn’t have the length or power to consistently stack and shed blockers.

That has not changed once Smith got to the NFL. If Smith gets caught in the phone booth with a blocker, he almost always gets washed out of the play. Like mentioned before, it is difficult to believe he will get much better in this area because of his size limitations. He just isn’t made for thumping in between tackles.

In order for him to become more effective as a run defender, he must become quicker at diagnosing plays and craftier at eluding blockers. Smith still looks a tick slow at processing running plays, but when it clicks, he gets there in a hurry like the play shown above.

Also, Roquan Smith should try to elude blockers without taking himself of the play like he did in the above play. This way, he would not have to attempt to take on as many blocks.

Even though he isn’t and probably won’t ever be great at defending the run, that won’t make or break him. The Bears have one of the most stout defensive of lines in the NFL and their linebackers are afforded more clean looks because of this, and aren’t as relied upon as much in run defense.

Assignment Sound in Zone Coverage

The most important aspect of Smith’s game is pass coverage. Pass coverage is the most valuable asset that linebackers can provide.¬† Below is an evaluation on how Smith has impacted the passing game with his zone coverage ability.

In looking at all of Smith’s 2019 snaps, he rarely, if ever, egregiously blew coverage assignments. He seems to have a pretty good idea of his responsibilities in zone coverage. Zone coverage is definitely not a weak part of his game, but it also is not something a player should want to hang their hat on either.

Smith doesn’t really go above and beyond what he is asked to do and that can be how linebackers add value in zone coverage/robber roles. The three clips up above are examples of that. The best linebackers see things before they happen, bait quarterbacks into bad throws, and fall off of their zone to make a plays.

This ability revolves around a linebacker’s understanding of what opposing offenses are trying to do. That said, Smith has an above par understanding of offenses, but he’s not where he needs to be. Smith reacts more than he diagnoses what an offense is doing. Obviously, he is only two years into the NFL and is still learning. Yet, these are the kinds of plays he needs to start making in order to be considered one of the best at his position.

Results Were Mixed in Man Coverage

Roquan Smith was never badly beaten in man coverage, but he does tend to give up too much separation at the top of routes. This happens because he rarely uses his hands to impede receivers. He often tries to mirror and match opposing receivers, and he just isn’t fluid enough to make a living playing that way.

Even with him allowing this separation, he is never in that bad of shape coverage wise. There are clearly aspects of his game to work with. He just needs to become more physical in his technique and more patient when reading his man.

Last Word

Based on the past two seasons, Smith’s play has been average. While the splash plays have been awesome, he just has not been consistent enough. Roquan Smith is still having too many lapses when defending the run, and he has yet to make a meaningful impact in pass coverage. The talent is there, but the overall production has not been.

It will be interesting to see how many obvious passing situations Smith is on the field for going forward. He has usually been the player the Bears have subbed out when they want to get a third safety on the field. Smith seeing the field more on those downs would say a lot about how the Bears view his progress.

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