Finding NFL player comparisons for college prospects is an inexact science, but Chicago Bears first-round pick Roquan Smith sees something in himself that reminds him of a one-time Vic Fangio pupil.
Smith compared himself to Patrick Willis, a player he admitted to be a big fan while growing up. I suppose if you’re going to make a comparison to an NFL player, it might as well be a favorable one. Willis was a stud during his playing career with the San Francisco 49ers, making seven Pro Bowls and being named a first-team All-Pro five times.
As the 49ers’ defensive coordinator for the final four years of Willis’ career, Vic Fangio – who will coach up Smith in the middle of the Bears’ defense for the foreseeable future – would know a thing or two about the validity of the comparison. The first three years were nothing short of spectacular for Willis, who made three Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro member twice. Willis averaged 91 tackles per 16 games and missed just five games in three years. San Francisco’s star linebacker had an injury shortened 2014 and retired after his age 29 season, but the numbers during his prime years tell you everything you need to know about why the Bears’ newest linebacker idolized him.
As far as the comparison goes, let’s just say the similarities are eerie. Here’s a snapshot of the similarities between Smith and Willis:
- Both played their college ball in the SEC (Smith at Georgia, Willis at Ole Miss)
- Both won the Dick Butkus Award for being college football’s best linebacker (Smith in 2017, Willis in 2006)
- Both were named All-American linebackers (Smith in 2017, but Willis did it twice)
- Both were the first linebacker taken in their respective draft class (Smith at No. 8, Willis at No. 11 in 2007)
And soon, Smith will join Willis in having played for Fangio – whose retention after a brief dalliance in free agency is looking more important than ever after the NFL Draft.