Roquan Smith sure isn’t looking like a linebacker who endured a 29-day holdout, is he?
It was a long time coming, but we finally witnessed that signature breakout performance by the Bears rookie linebacker in the team’s Week 9 win against the Buffalo Bills. Smith played a season-high 78 defensive snaps on Sunday and collected a team-leading 13 tackles (11 solo!) as part of a dominant performance by a defense that sparked a 41-9 rout. It’s the latest development and sign of growth for Smith in this system, and that it came two weeks after seeing his playing time cut drastically hints that this could be just the beginning of something special.
It’s been a bit of a slow burn for Smith to get to this point, but hasn’t it been worth it? It says a lot about his talent, football IQ, and upside that Smith has played so well despite missing as much time as he did in training camp and in the preseason. The arrow has been pointing up for Smith (and the Bears defense) since he entered the starting lineup and there hasn’t been any signs of that slowing down.
Here’s a look at how Smith’s stats project over the course of a 16-game season, based on his production since joining the starting lineup in Week 2:
- 117 tackles (89 solo)
- 7 tackles-for-loss
- 2 forced fumbles
This is the type of production that would garner chatter for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. And while there’s still time before we travel down that road, Smith’s showing in Buffalo clearly caught someone’s eye for a different honor.
Smith is one of five players to be nominated for the NFL’s Rookie of the Week award. He joins a talented group of nominees including Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb, Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker, and Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley. It’s a crowded field, especially after Mayfield (297 passing yards, 2 TD), Chubb (85 rushing yards, TD), and Ridley (71 receiving yards, TD) put up big offensive numbers and Baker (a pick-six and five tackles) had a highlight-reel day on the defensive side of the ball.
I’ll admit my bias here, but there’s something about those 13 tackles from a Bears inside linebacker that really stands out from this crowd. But even if Smith doesn’t win it this week, I think it’s easy to say this won’t be the last time he’s nominated for the award.