ATHENS — They were celebrating at The Hedges on Broad, a little local bar that got a taste of national air time Thursday night, and they were throwing down at Timothy O’Toole’s Pub in Chicago. Both parties broke out simultaneously when Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith was selected by the Bears with the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft.
Everybody seemed to like it. Smith, the Bulldogs’ Butkus Award-winning linebacker, further endeared himself to his new fan base when he immediately rushed into a mob of Bears fans at AT&T Stadium to take selfies after his selection was announced.
Smith was asked by Bears writer Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com what Bears fans can expect of him when he joins the team.
“What they can expect from me when I arrive is a relentless guy,” Smith said. “On the field, off the field, I go about my business the right way. I can’t put into words how excited I am about this opportunity. I’m ready to give the city of Chicago everything I have in me.”
Smith wasn’t the only Bulldogs player to get a first-round call. Isaiah Wynn, who started at guard for Georgia his first three years and at left tackle in his final season, was chosen by the New England Patriots with the 23rd pick. Eight selections later, the Patriots tabbed Sony Michel to play running back.
New England currently features UGA alums David Andrews (starting center) and Malcolm Mitchell (wide receiver) on its roster. Georgia hadn’t had an offensive lineman drafted in the NFL’s first round since George Foster in 2003. It’s the eighth time in school history the Bulldogs have had two players selected in the first round.
Smith was in Arlington, Texas, for the draft proceedings and expected the early call. He was dressed in a tailor-made gray suit that had the date of April 26, 2018, sewn into the collar and sharply accentuated it with a Georgia red tie. Represented by the sports wing of the powerful group, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Smith was the first SEC player selected at No. 8 and Georgia’s highest pick since receiver A.J. Green went No. 4 in 2011. He’s the seventh first-round pick for the Bulldogs since then.
ESPN analysts covering the draft gushed about Smith’s selection, particularly Kirk Herbstreit, who called the Bulldogs’ Rose Bowl game against Oklahoma and the national championship game against Alabama.
“He’s a plug-and-play, first-day, show-up, could be the Rookie of the Year type of linebacker,” Herbstreit said during the broadcast. “He can do it all, play in the box, play in space. Talking to defensive coordinators in the NFL and the way offenses are changing, they want guys who are versatile, who can not only defend the run, but can get walked out over a tight end or a back and be able to hold their own. He can do that. He can blitz. … I love the awareness in the passing game. … Perfect pick.”
Smith left Georgia after his junior season after leading the SEC in tackles with 137 and adding 6.5 sacks. He started the last two seasons and was defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl.
In Chicago, Smith will be reunited with former Georgia teammate Leonard Floyd, who has starred for the Bears at inside linebacker since being picked ninth overall in 2016. Floyd, who played outside and inside linebacker for the Bulldogs, has recorded 67 tackles and 11.5 sacks in two seasons in with the Bears.
“I looked up to the guy a lot. I’m beyond excited right now,” Smith told reporters in Dallas.
Smith will also be playing for the franchise that produced Butkus, whom he met in Los Angeles during Rose Bowl preparations and via satellite when he accepted the Butkus Award in Athens. Chicago also produced Mike Singletary and many other great linebackers.
“It’s a great franchise. It’s got a lot of rich tradition,” Smith said, still bathing in the moment.
The Bulldogs and Smith last season beat teams that produced three other top-10 selections Thursday in Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall), Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson (6) and Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey (9).
Georgia, the reigning SEC champ and national runner-up, is expected to test its previous record for most players selected in a seven-round draft this year. It had eight players selected in both 2002 and ’13. More than a dozen players were evaluated this year, with 10 attending the combine in February.