Roquan Smith is considered one of the top linebacker prospects available in the upcoming NFL draft. Not only was he wildly productive for the Bulldogs last season (137 tackles, 14 TFL and 6.5 sacks), he also possesses the skillset needed to become an impact player on the next level.
That’s why ESPN analyst Louis Riddick compared the Georgia product to another former SEC linebacker that he was extremely high on last year: Alabama’s Reuben Foster. During a conference call on Monday, Riddick had this to say when comparing the two:
“Reuben has obviously gotten himself into a situation that we’re all looking to see how it plays out,” Riddick said. “But when Reuben came out last year, if I had to put him against Roquan Smith right now, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t pick Roquan Smith, and Reuben was one of the top 2-3 players in the draft last year.”
For those people who don’t know, Riddick was big fan of Foster heading into last year. In a segment on NFL Live just days before the 2017 NFL Draft, he continued to defend the Alabama linebacker following a diluted sample from a drug test he was given at the combine.
“Without a doubt, he’s one of the top 4-5 players in this draft,” Riddick replied when asked about concerns surrounding Foster. “When you watch his tape, it is spectacular. Reuben Foster is a shutdown linebacker.”
Everyone knows that Foster fell to the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the first round (No. 31) due to concerns about his character. After a productive rookie season despite injuries, he has now found himself in hot water following multiple arrests. The charges include domestic violence, possession of an assault weapon and making criminal threats.
In fact, Riddick and Greg Cosell — who was also on the conference call — were asked about the 49ers’ options at linebacker, which is what led him to compare the two players in the first place. Ultimately, Riddick revealed that Smith “should be the first linebacker off the board” and is “easily be a top 10 player”.
None of this is surprising. Yes, Smith does have size deficiencies (6-1, 236). With that said, the lack of size isn’t nearly as big of an issue in today’s NFL. Plenty of the league’s top linebackers have smaller frames. Deion Jones (6-1, 222), Bobby Wagner (6-0, 235) and Foster (6-1, 228) are just a few of the examples.
What Smith does possess is much more important. He’s got elite instincts and athleticism. He’s also a fluid linebacker who is an extremely efficient tackler. Smith’s ability to play on all three downs from the get-go will help him become one of the NFL’s top young linebackers almost immediately.
Riddick was onto something when he made the connection between Smith and a West Coast team. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up somewhere on that side of the country considering team needs. Whether that’s San Francisco at No. 9, Oakland at No. 10 or Los Angeles (Chargers) at No. 17, all of those are strong possibilities.
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