Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith in rare territory at his age
One of the benefits of drafting Roquan Smith was drafting one of the younger players in his draft class. Now, Smith will enter his fourth season in the NFL and will be just 24 years old when he does so.
Considering his age 21, 22, and 23 were in the NFL, he has a head start on many players for long-term career achievements. Smith has 361 tackles. There are only two players who have recorded more tackles before they turned 24 years old. Check out the top 10 below.
There is an argument to made that tackles are not a great start to measure success. If a tackle is made 10 yards down the field it is not as valuable as a stuff on third and three for a one-yard gain. When you look at the totality of the 10 men on the list, you can get a sense that this is not quite a 1-10 listing of the best starts to a career.
Roquan Smith matches up with elite names
However, names that do show up on the list include Junior Seau, Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis, and Luke Kuechly.
Overall, only Ray Lewis and Luke Kuechly had more tackles to start their career. It is very true that tackles are not an end-all stat, but it is just as true that at some point when the only three guys to have over 350 are Lewis, Kuechly, and Smith, they are probably doing so because they are great players.
When looking at the career of Roquan Smith and how he compares to his peers, he does not stand out head and shoulders above others, although Darius Leonard and Fred Warner are an excellent company.
Still, beyond Leonard going to a small school, Smith was drafted ahead of him because Leonard will be turning 26 soon, while Smith just turned 24. They are about 21 months apart in age. When Leonard was in his age 24 season, it was his second NFL season, Smith will play his fourth year at age 24. So, last season Smith was at the age of Leonard in his rookie year. We just so happened to see Smith breakout and play similar to what Leonard had been doing since he was 23.
So, while you can argue that Leonard hit the ground running and Smith has slowly been catching up since, that is no surprise. The older player was ready to go, and the younger guy had some more maturing to do.
Now, Smith is entering his prime and should have a longer run in this prime than Leonard. This is why it is so unprecedented and special what Roquan Smith is doing. There just are not many athletes who can succeed in those age 21, 22, and 23 seasons in the way that Smith did.