Jones was the fastest linebacker at the combine in 2016 out of LSU. He weighed 225 pounds and was drafted in the second round. Conversely, in 2008 when the Falcons also needed a middle linebacker, they drafted Curtis Lofton out of Oklahoma. He was an old-school “thumper” linebacker, who weighed 245 pounds when he was drafted.
But NFL offenses have evolved to getting running backs in space against linebackers, seeking mismatches. Linebackers in today’s NFL must be fast and cover much more ground.
Smith was measured at 6-foot, 7/8 inches and weighed 236 pounds. He was listed at 225 pounds last season at Georgia. He said that was his sophomore year weight.
“I love Roquan Smith,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “I think he’s today’s NFL off-the-ball linebacker and it’s mostly about speed. He’s 225 pounds. Deion Jones was drafted in the second round in Atlanta two years ago. He’s the prototype. I think Roquan Smith takes it a step farther. A very similar type guy. I love the way he plays.”
Smith fits the new prototype and could be headed to the Raiders, who need a middle linebacker, with the 10th overall pick.
“I feel like I can make a tremendous impact on the defense, just with my playmaking ability, my leadership qualities,” Smith said. “And everything that I possess as a football player on and off the field. I feel like that will definitely elevate any defense.”
After Smith’s much-publicized de-commitment from UCLA to Georgia after linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich joined the Falcons’ staff, he went on to play 38 games for the Bulldogs and totaled 252 tackles and 20.5 tackles for losses.
Like Jones, Smith can work the field for sideline to sideline hunting down ball carriers.
“My relentless pursuit,” Smith said. “I believe in that. I was always taught, if you start something, finish. And take advantage of every opportunity. And tomorrow is not promised.
“If it’s my last play that I ever play, how do I want to go out? So I feel like every play, I treat like it’s my last play. And I bust my tail like I don’t have a next play.”
He’ll have to work on his pass coverage, but he has the attack blitz part of the position down. He had 6.5 sacks for the Bulldogs last season.
“Just timing it up,” Smith said. “Preparation. Knowing the snap counts of my opponents.”
Smith struggled with his decision to enter the draft, which will be held April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.
“It was my last chance at being a child and not having to worry about adult responsibilities,” Smith said. “So that definitely played a part. When I was talking to many individuals who may have left college early, they were saying they really missed college.
“If they could go back one time. So really taking everything like that into consideration. I really thought about it hard, but at the end of the day, after weighing the pros and cons, it was in my best interest, so I did leave.”