Fans of the Chicago Bears have been through a never-ending cycle of misery for the last decade. Devoid of talent throughout the roster, the Bears are hoping new hires – General Manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus – can inject the once proud fanbase with life in 2022.

However, there is no life without a heartbeat. Bears LB Roquan Smith is just that for a team that hangs its hat on defense. On a depleted roster, Smith is the light at the end of the tunnel for Chicago. In fact, in a recent article penned by CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin, Smith was nominated as the one player the Bears can’t afford to lose.

“The supporting cast around QB Justin Fields is already iffy both up front and out wide, so there isn’t much star power to lose,” writes Benjamin. “Smith, on the other hand, is the beating heart of a defense now run by Matt Eberflus. If he goes down, they’ll be especially dependent on the pass rush and a young secondary.”

Through four seasons in Chicago, Smith has proven to be productive and reliable in the middle of the Bears’ defense. He has earned second team All-Pro honors in back-to-back seasons, though there is certainly a case to be made that Smith was snubbed from the first team in 2021.

Smith finished fifth in the league in tackles in 2021, and sixth in the 2020 season. He plays with a certain aggressiveness that is not always accompanied by his level of intelligence on the football field.

But don’t let his tackling ability fool you. Smith’s athleticism and speed make him one of the best one-on-one coverage linebackers in the NFL. Smith logged 138 snaps in man coverage last season without allowing a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus.

Smith (25) is unquestionably one of the NFL’s best young defenders and the Bears will soon pay him as such.

Many stars entering a contract season choose not to attend voluntary — and even mandatory — team activities in the offseason until a deal gets done . But if you haven’t figured it out already, Smith is not like most players. He has attended every single offseason practice since the defensive-minded Eberflus took the reins.

Having not won a playoff game since 2010, the Bears aim to retool the roster with young talent. Smith exemplifies everything that teams look for when establishing a new culture. Sure, there is a long road ahead on offense, but Smith gives the Bears a chance to be competitive on the defensive side of the ball for years to come.

Featured image via Jon Durr – USA TODAY Sports