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Pace, Bears 'fired up' after landing Smith

Bears general manager Ryan Pace maintained a poker face throughout his pre-draft press conference Tuesday, but that wasn't the case when he spoke to the media Thursday night.

Pace appeared as euphoric as a kid on Christmas morning after the Bears selected Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith with the eighth pick in the first round of the NFL Draft.

"Such a great night," Pace said. "To come away with one of the top defensive players in the draft, SEC defensive player of the year, Butkus Award winner, we're fired up. The whole draft room's excited. The whole building's excited."

Smith helped Georgia reach the CFP national championship game last season, starting all 15 games and leading the Bulldogs with 137 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 14.0 tackles-for-loss and 20 quarterback hits. The 6-1, 236-pounder was named MVP of the SEC Championship Game and Defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl in the CFP semifinal.

"The first thing that comes to mind is his instincts, his play speed and his physicality," Pace said. "I mean, he hits with impact. Those are things that jump out.

"Every game you watch, he's just so explosive. This guy's flying around, making plays. In today's NFL, the linebackers are becoming more and more of this. Sometimes you might sacrifice a little bit of size to gain a lot of athleticism and a lot of speed, and Roquan definitely has that."

Take a look inside Halas Hall moments after the Bears selected LB Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Smith is a versatile three-down linebacker who excels against the run, in pass coverage against backs and tight ends and rushing the quarterback.

"He's got such great burst," Pace said. "He's such a sudden, twitchy player. He times his blitz really well and he's got outstanding burst. He is one of those guys who can just uncoil when he hits, so when he strikes a guy, it's very impactful. He's built that way; a thick, sturdy guy."

The Bears were impressed with Smith's leadership on the field and his demeanor off it. They interviewed him at the Combine and brought him to Halas Hall for a pre-draft visit. The night before the visit, he dined with Pace, coach Matt Nagy and director of player personnel Josh Lucas.

"Roquan is not only a great player, but he has outstanding intangibles," Pace said. "That's a huge strength of his and it was a very attractive quality for us. We spent a lot of time with him. He's everything you're looking for as a player, but then also his makeup, it's huge for us."

Smith first landed on the Bears' radar midway through last season.

"Our scouts had been pounding the table for this guy for a long time," Pace said. "We were at a Bears game in our booth and I remember [director of college scouting Mark] Sadowski talking about him then. His name's come up a ton and then once you meet him, it just kind of cements it for you. He's just a special person and a special player."

Smith earned high grades from all Bears evaluators, including Pace, Nagy, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and scouts Sam Summerville and Francis St. Paul.

"This is one of Vic's top players, Matt's top players, my top players," Pace said. "We might have 10, 12, 15 grades on a guy, and it's so comforting when I can look at that band with the grades and they're all right next to each other. That's definitely how Roquan, was and it makes the pick easy when we're all unified like that."

Given his football IQ, Smith figures to make a smooth transition with the Bears.

"He's an economics major with a 3.2 GPA and is a highly intelligent player," Pace said. "When we met him and interviewed him, that shined through the whole way. We interview guys at the Combine and here, and every time it was A-plus, A-plus. The information our scouts were gathering at the school, same thing. From players he played with, same thing. This guy checks all the boxes."

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