The inside linebacker could bring plenty to the Broncos’ defense in 2018.
INDIANAPOLIS — When linebacker Roquan Smith and the Georgia Bulldogs got the best of fellow draft prospect Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl in early January, Terrell Davis was there to celebrate with his alma mater.
Davis, of course, went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Broncos after they drafted him in the sixth round out of Georgia in 1995.
As Smith took the podium at the 2018 NFL Combine on Saturday, it was worth considering whether the winner of the 2017 Butkus Award — given to the nation’s best collegiate linebacker — could follow the same path as one of the other Bulldog greats.
Denver has seen its fair share of Georgia players over the years. The Broncos have drafted a pair of running backs in Olandis Gary and Knowshown Moreno since Davis joined the team, and they’ve selected five total Georgia products since Davis became a Bronco in 1995. Most recently, the Broncos chose Isaiah McKenzie with a 2017 fifth-round selection.
Champ Bailey, an all-time Denver great who joined the Broncos via a 2004 trade, attended Georgia before he was drafted by the Washington Redskins.
For now, the connection between Smith, Davis and the Broncos is purely speculative; Smith said he “didn’t get a chance to catch up with him as much” with Davis at the Rose Bowl.
“It was more so the running backs catching up with him,” Smith said. “But I have great respect for that guy and all the things he’s done for Georgia, as well as in the league for the Broncos.”
When asked what it would be like to follow in Davis’ steps from Athens, Georgia, to the Mile High City, Smith chose to answer in a more general fashion.
“It would be a tremendous honor to play anywhere in the National Football League,” Smith said. “It’s not a ‘gimme,’ it’s a privilege. I’d definitely take pride in … wherever I’m blessed enough to go.”
If Smith ends up in Denver — either via the fifth-overall pick or later, should the Broncos trade down — he would be an intriguing talent that could center the defense for the next decade.
Smith has drawn comparisons to Atlanta Pro Bowler Deion Jones, and he said Saturday that teams shouldn’t doubt the way he can influence a defensive unit.
“I feel like I can have a tremendous impact on the defense just with my play-making ability, my leadership qualities and everything that I possess just as a football player on and off the field,” Smith said. “I feel like that will definitely elevate any defense.”
And while inside linebackers aren’t normally viewed in the same fashion as outside linebackers or elite cornerbacks — both in media attention and salary — Smith said he doesn’t feel the position is underrated. Most teams, he said, know that great defenses must be led by a great middle linebacker.
“Linebacker’s huge.” Smith said. “You take control of the defense. Pretty much, most of the time [you’re] the leader of the defense. [You] pretty much have to make a lot of plays and all the checks for a defense. I think very-good linebackers can definitely elevate defenses.”
In Denver, that could mean taking a strong unit back to its championship level.
And in the process, it would help establish yet another strong link in the pipeline between the University of Georgia and the Denver Broncos.