September 21, 2021

Top 25 most important Bears in 2021: No. 5 Roquan Smith

Smith is knocking on the door to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro

Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.

What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one that fans follow closely this season?

Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2021 (or maybe he will be?), but he certainly is among the most important.

No. 5 Roquan Smith

Position: Inside linebacker

NFL Experience: 4th season

Looking back: Roquan Smith’s 139 total tackles in 2020 and 18 tackles for loss led the Bears. He also had four sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He became the Bears’ first defensive player with 100 tackles in three consecutive seasons since Lance Briggs did so for six straight seasons from 2004 to 2009. Smith was a second-team All-Pro selection by the Associated Press in 2020. His 139 tackles were good enough for sixth in the NFL. Statistically, it was the best season by a Bears inside linebacker in a decade.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Smith was forced to sit out the team’s playoff game against New Orleans because of an elbow injury suffered in Week 17. Missing arguably the team’s best defender for the playoffs obviously was a tough hurdle to overcome.

Looking forward: As Bears fans saw at the end of last season, the team is in much better shape when Smith is healthy and wreaking havoc on the field. While the team did a nice job adding depth to the linebacker position with the addition of veteran Christian Jones, the Bears need Smith on the field.

This is a huge year, personally, for Smith. He’s on the cusp of the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro. He should have his sights set on becoming one of the highest-paid inside linebackers in the NFL. The Bears exercised the fifth-year option on Smith’s rookie contract, keeping him with the team through 2022. It’s possible a contract extension could be in the works as early as this year. The Bears, no doubt, want to lock up the 24-year-old former first-round draft pick longterm. Smith is in line for a huge payday, but it could be even bigger if he surpasses his 2020 performance in 2021.

In case you missed it: Previous installments of the top 25

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.