The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, who has declared early for the draft. For the total list of all players leaving school early, see our underclassmen tracker.
Junior | 6’1″ and 225 Pounds | Born May 27, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.51 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: DNP | broad: DNP
The Bulldogs nearly defeated the Crimson Tide in last season’s National Championship game thanks in large part to their dominant defense. Smith was the heart and soul of the unit, providing the type of sideline-to-sideline tackling ability that can suffocate an entire run game on its own. The former high school receiver remains a bit undersized, but he wins regardless thanks to an explosive first step and nose for the ball. Georgia’s only unanimous All-American from 2017 is considered the best off-ball linebacker in the draft by most pundits, and he’s expected to become their fourth first-round pick since 2013.
Smith started as a sophomore and played well on a disappointing 8-5 Georgia squad, but nobody was prepared for his junior coming out party. Overall, he racked up 137 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, and 6.5 sacks — as an inside linebacker! Pro Football Focus credits Smith with just 16 missed tackles on 251 career attempts, and he routinely showed an affinity for rising to the occasion by racking up 11-plus tackles in the SEC Championship as well as both College Football Playoff games last season. However, Smith tallied just three career pass deflections without ever securing an interception, which is surprising given his elite athletic ability for the position and overall ability to find the ball.
A closer look at Smith’s film does show some issues in getting proper depth in zone coverage, but he’s a complete beast when it comes to diagnosing screens and covering backs out of the backfield. It’s easy to see why draft pundits have compared him to Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, as Smith effortlessly flies across the field to defeat any and every ball carrier.
Sideline-to-sideline tackler pic.twitter.com/dS7fuXTGvi
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 16, 2018
Smith’s speed and quick-twitch ability upon recognition helped him make many of his standout tackles, but he also undoubtedly benefited from playing behind one of the country’s best defensive lines. Life proved more difficult when linemen were able to get their hands on the smaller linebacker, and he struggled to disengage quickly on inside runs at times. Still, Smith is a difference maker as both a blitzer and quarterback spy, two skill sets that could make him a terror on all three downs for years to come at the next level. His play-making ability behind the line of scrimmage also can’t be understated considering how his career-year numbers stack up with those of past top-ranked inside linebackers.
- Roquan Smith: 137 tackles, 14 TFL, 6.5 sacks
- Reuben Foster: 115 tackles, 13 TFL, 5 sacks
- Jaylon Smith: 111 tackles, 9 TFL, 3.5 sacks
- Ryan Shazier: 144 tackles, 23.5 TFL, 7 sacks
- C.J. Mosley: 107 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks
While off-ball linebackers typically aren’t prioritized over pass rushers and lock-down corners in the draft, last season three such players were selected within the first 32 picks. Smith routinely separated himself as a special player on a special defense, and his production matches the threshold we’ve seen from past first-round linebackers. His rookie impact will depend on his ability to adjust to NFL speed and physicality, but he shouldn’t have to wait long come draft night to find out where his future will be.
In our most recent mock draft, we have Smith going to the Dolphins at No. 11.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Becker – USA TODAY Sports