Smith, the first SEC player taken in the draft, was a key part of Georgia’s 2017 team, as he led the Bulldogs in tackles and was regarded as one of the best players in the country. Below are five things you need to know about the Georgia linebacker:
1. Roquan Smith was the 2017 Butkus Award winner
Smith was one of the best defensive players in all of college football in 2017. He racked up 137 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks all while turning Georgia into one of the best defenses in the country. For his efforts he was awarded the 2017 Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in college football. Past award winners include players like Von Miller, Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis.
2. Roquan Smith was MVP of 2017 SEC Championship Game
Smith also had a tendency to play his best during the biggest games of the season. In Georgia’s final three games of the season — the SEC Championship Game and the two College Football Playoff games — Smith racked up 37 tackles and 5½ tackles for loss. In addition to winning the MVP award for the SEC Championship game, he was also the defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl. And had Georgia won the national title game, he likely would’ve been the MVP of that game as well.
3. Roquan Smith has drawn on-field comparisons to Luke Kuechly
Very rarely do off-ball linebackers get drafted in the top 10 of the NFL draft. Dating back to the 2010 NFL Draft, only three off-ball linebackers have been taken in the top 10. One of those players is Kuechly, who is one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
And ESPN’s Todd McShay sees a lot of similarities between Smith and the All-Pro Carolina Panthers LB.
“In today’s NFL, he’s a perfect fit … A lot of guys will make a tackle at the line of scrimmage that he’ll make two or three yards in the backfield,” McShay said on a conference call in the lead up to the NFL draft. “[He could be] Luke Kuechly. That kind of impact right away, and for a long time.”
4. Roquan Smith almost didn’t end up at Georgia
Georgia fans love Smith but there was a point in time he almost didn’t end up playing for his home-state Bulldogs. On National Signing Day in 2015, Smith originally committed to play for UCLA, famously putting on some UCLA gloves at his announcement ceremony. But before he sent his letter of intent, he backed off that pledge after it came out that the coach who recruited him there, Jeff Ulbrich, was leaving to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons. Smith then waited to make his final decision, before ultimately picking the Bulldogs.
5. Roquan Smith struggled with decision to declare early for draft
In the run-up to the 2017 NFL Draft, four Georgia juniors — Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter — all made the decision to come back to Georgia. In turn, they nearly helped deliver a national championship to Georgia. Smith wanted to do the same thing, and in his letter where he announced his declaration for the NFL, he made it known that he very much appreciated and cared about his time at Georgia.
“I’m so grateful for my teammates who have always supported me every step of the way,” he said. “And no thanks are enough for the coaches and staff who have provided the leadership, inspiration, and tireless hours in helping me develop as a player but also as a man. What we accomplished this year is only the beginning of what’s to come for this program. I’m proud to be a part of the foundation that Coach [Kirby] Smart is building on and his leadership and direction are going to bring many more great times and memories to the Bulldog Nation.