Bears are on Cloud Nine after selecting inside linebacker Roquan Smith

SHARE Bears are on Cloud Nine after selecting inside linebacker Roquan Smith
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Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith levels Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who just gets the ball off for a incomplete pass during a game last season. | Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal Constitution via AP)

When Bears general manager Ryan Pace said there was a “cloud’’ of eight prospects he liked for the eighth pick overall in the NFL draft, did you worry it had blown in from a Colorado weed bar?

Pace’s wobbly first-round performance had gone from unfortunate (Kevin White) to intriguing/incomplete (Leonard Floyd) to somewhere between incredibly inspired and I’ll have whatever Ryan’s smoking (Mitch Trubisky). Where would his next pick fall in that joyride of a record?

Wonderfully, safely, smack dab in the middle.

RELATED STORIES Bears draft a Trubisky for the defense Pace has been around for 3 seasons but doesn’t have much to show for it

Pace used the eighth pick Thursday night on Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, who has enough speed and smarts to play any down in coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense. If Floyd can stay healthy, the Bears have a shot at improving on a group that finished 10th overall in the NFL.

This was a safe pick, but don’t mistake it for being an uninspired pick. The risk was taken out of the Bears’ hands by a bunch of teams that craved quarterbacks. It meant that lots of talent was available when it was time for the Bears to choose.

Three quarterbacks went in the first seven picks, but so did defensive end Bradley Chubb (to Denver) and guard Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis), two players they coveted.

No problem. Here came Smith, who was considered the top inside linebacker in the draft. He was fast enough to play wide receiver in high school. No, Dick Butkus didn’t play wideout at Chicago Vocational High School, but what was that, 100 years ago? The more speed, the better. He’s a “sudden, twitchy’’ player, Pace said. Maybe he can catch some passes from Trubisky.

“I feel like I’m a rangy guy, sideline to sideline,’’ Smith said. “I can put my facemask on you. I feel like I can do a lot of things. . . . My IQ, knowledge of the game, I feel like it’s on a different level.’’

His enthusiasm is contagious, meaning that Bears fans will change their 2018 predictions from 13-3 to 14-2 after listening to him.

“I’m beyond excited,’’ Smith said. “I can’t put into words how excited I am about this opportunity to be a Chicago Bear. It’s insane. I’m ready to give the city of Chicago everything I have in me.’’

What a crapshoot the draft is. Nobody really knows anything. Go ahead and get excited as hell about this pick. You should. Have hope. But might I suggest stirring in a teaspoon of reality into your 24-Hour Energy Shot?

Smith is a sure thing? Impossible to say. A generational pick? I have no earthly idea. Nor does anyone else.

Let’s go back five years. Of the 32 first-round picks in the 2013 draft, 11 players have made at least one Pro Bowl. Of the top 12 picks, only two have made a Pro Bowl. Pro Bowls obviously aren’t the best gauge of success, but the point is that many times, what some of the smartest people in football thought they knew for sure, they didn’t.

But Pace said he got the man he wanted. The only surprise is that he didn’t tell the media he had already filed adoption papers.

“He’s just a special person and a special player,’’ Pace said.

The Bears were lucky they weren’t in the market for a quarterback. There had been so many disparate opinions about the top four QBs heading into the draft that it was hard to shake the feeling that all of them were a reach in one way or another.

The woebegone Browns used the No. 1 overall pick to take Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, which means that by August, Mayfield will retire to pursue his lifelong dream of being a stage actor.

On the other hand, maybe he and the other first-round quarterbacks will be great, and Trubisky will turn out to be a bust. That, friends, is the NFL Draft and why the life of a general manager is so precarious.

Make no mistake, everything for the Bears still depends on Trubisky. We’ll be saying that before next year’s draft. And the draft after that.

But the Bears seem surer now of their quarterback than when they took him with the second pick overall last year. Given how much abuse they took for the choice last season, that’s an excellent sign. No one can say for sure whether Trubisky will be a star, but his team sure is acting like he’ll be.

They need to address wide receiver in either the second or third round Friday. Trubisky still doesn’t have enough weapons. That needs to change if the Bears want to make big strides in 2018 and stop the streak of four seasons with at least 10 losses.

But that’s for another day. On Thursday night, everything looked sunny, possibly because a cloud had lifted.

Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.

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