Blogging The Boys will begin taking a look at some of the NFL Draft prospects that will be in the 2018 NFL Draft class. We’ll try to do this on a Friday night or Saturday morning so you can pay attention to that player in their next game if you should so choose. Some weeks, we will look at potential targets that will be within the Cowboys’ expected draft range. Others, we will highlight some of the elite members of the class.
As we prepare for the Cowboys to take on their bitter rival from Philadelphia, BTB continues to look at potential draft targets for America’s Team. Last week, we took a look at Colorado defensive back Isaiah Oliver — one of the best defensive back prospects in this class. This week, we are sticking to the defensive side of the football.
It is no secret that the Rod Marinelli’s unit goes as Sean Lee goes. The Pro Bowl and All-Pro linebacker is among the best at his position in the entire sport. He single-handedly improves Dallas’ defense from poor to average. Unfortunately, though, Lee has battled injuries throughout his career.
Until he is, the Cowboys will be at a place with Sean Lee that they were with Tony Romo for so long. They’ll be living on a prayer that he manages to make it through, despite every point of data that told them to prepare ahead of time.
The Cowboys attempted to pair Jaylon Smith up with their star linebacker, but Smith’s road to recovery has been an uphill battle. While Smith shows promise in rushing the passer, he struggles in coverage and diagnosing plays properly. Anthony Hitchens is set to be a free agent this offseason. Dallas does not really have anybody waiting in the wings at one of the most important units on the team.
Dallas needs to address this problem. Fast. If Dallas opts to go linebacker on day one in April, here is one prospect that knows how to make an impact on a defense.
Roquan Smith — linebacker, Georgia Bulldogs
Roquan Smith is one of the more intriguing defensive prospects in this upcoming draft. Smith currently leads one of the best defenses in all of college football, and his skill and versatility virtually makes him a lock to be a first-round pick. Needless to say, Roquan Smith is a player that Cowboys fans need to familiarize themselves with throughout the draft process.
Smith entered the college scene with lots of attention. The highly talented four-star Georgia native committed to the UCLA Bruins on national television during ESPN’s National Signing Day coverage back in 2015; however, Smith never faxed his paperwork to the Bruins. Nearly two weeks later, the Peach State native signed with the Georgia Bulldogs in one of the crazier recruitment in recent memory.
Smith has showed why he worth all of the hype throughout his collegiate career. As a true freshman, he played in ten games, recorded 20 total tackles, and he was credited with 1.5 tackles for a loss. As a sophomore, though, his game improved across the board.
Number 3 played in all thirteen games for the Bulldogs, improved his total tackles to 95 (52 solo) — which led the entire team — made five TFLs, and he even forced two fumbles — recovering one. He showed a little bit of what he was capable of during coach Kirby Smart’s first two seasons in Athens, but the 2016 year in particular was only the beginning of what was to come.
This season, Smith has been a huge reason why Georgia is among the elite teams in all of college football. Before last Saturday’s ugly loss to the Auburn Tigers, Georgia was the number one team in the nation — thanks in large part to Smith and that nasty defense that has shut down high-powered rushing attacks such as Notre Dame and Mississippi State. Smith racked up seven total tackles, one tackle for a loss, and a sack against the Fighting Irish, and he recorded eight total tackles against the Maroon and White Bulldogs.
In just ten games, Smith has already recorded 82 tackles — 49 of which have been solo — has brought down ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage for a total of 4.5 TFLs, and he has even been credited with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble so far this season. The Bulldogs rank fifth nationally in both rush defense and total defense; their star linebacker is a huge reason why.
In fact, he is up for one of college football’s most prestigious awards.
#UGA's Roquan Smith has been named one of five finalists for the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given annually to the nation’s top defensive player. pic.twitter.com/97GwEc0yPa— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) November 15, 2017
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller included Smith in his post-trade deadline mock draft earlier this month:
27. New Orleans: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
One of the hottest names in college football lands on a defense that's improving week-by-week. Roquan Smith has the range, instincts and playmaking to be the weakside linebacker the team thought they were getting in Stephone Anthony.
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports has the Georgia backer going in the top half of the first-round in the mock draft that he released earlier this week (14 to the Raiders, to be exact):
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. This pick makes too much sense to alter. Can't do it. Smith is proving to be the premier three-down linebacker in the 2018 class, and this connection is one of the few exceptions in this mock. Oakland needs a play-making linebacker in the worst way.
Oh, and look where SBNation’s Dan Kadar currently has the Georgia defender slotted:
17. Dallas Cowboys: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
This is a difficult pick. But you have to wonder if the Cowboys think long and hard about Sean Lee because he just can’t stay healthy. Smith is a really good athlete who could slot into a coverage linebacker role. That’s not to say he can’t come up and thump though, as he leads a talented Georgia defense with 82 tackles.
Smith may not have the size for a prototypical linebacker, but he is perfect for the way the NFL is trending in today’s day and age. Offenses are now spreading defenses out, and it is now more important than ever for linebackers to be able to play in space. Smith can do that as good as anybody in this class. He showcases impressive pursuit, can tackle in space, and is more than willing to lay the wood when given the chance.
He possesses 4.5 speed, but just as important is his football intelligence. Teammate John Atkins calls Smiths’ football IQ “out of this world” — something that should catch the eyes of the Cowboys’ front office:
Added Atkins: “He’s got a football IQ out of this world. Roquan, he can make calls not only for the defensive front, but for the secondary too. That’s big for a linebacker who can communicate both ways. Some days he’s telling the safeties what to do.”
Smith is one of those football players who double as film junkies. During his downtime, whether it is between classes or after practice, he pulls up tape of the upcoming opponent.
Skill + speed + football intelligence? Count me in.
What do you think, BTB?
*Note: gifs courtsey of AJIndDraft and Blxrr Highlights; stats gathered from sports-reference.com
Catch up with our previous installments below!
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Austin Bryant, DE Clemson
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Tarvarus McFadden, CB Florida State
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Martinas Rankin, OL Mississippi State
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Daron Payne, DT, Alabama