Less than an hour before the NFL draft started Thursday night in Arlington, Texas, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio strolled into the media room at Halas Hall and loudly announced he had a scoop.
“Who are you guys drafting?” a reporter yelled.
Out came a golf ball.
Fangio displayed it proudly. Earlier Thursday, he said, he’d made a hole-in-one on the fourth hole of The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He had to fight off a breeze, so he used a 9-iron from 125 yards out — and in the ball went.
“I’m hot,” Fangio proclaimed.
He stayed that way as the draft played out.
With five offensive players taken before the Bears’ pick at No. 8 — highlighted by quarterback Josh Allen going to the Bills, who traded up for the No. 7 pick — the stars aligned again Fangio. General manager Ryan Pace selected Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith — a reward for Fangio for building a top-10 defense, despite it being short on difference-makers, and for sticking around for new coach Matt Nagy.
Smith isn’t just a safe pick — he’s an outstanding one who immediately changes the complexion of the Bears’ young, blossoming defense. Pace needed a Mitch Trubisky on defense to boost the Bears’ rebuilding effort — a young new face who can bring hit-you-in-the-mouth life. It made too much sense not to take him.
“I know Vic and his staff will maximize this player, and that’s what’s exciting about it,” Pace said after the first round concluded. “Vic’s been around a lot of good linebacker play, and this just adds to the great linebacker play the Bears have had as well.”
Pace called Fangio’s input “very important” on Smith.
“This is obviously one of Vic’s top players, [and] one of Matt’s top players, my top player,” Pace said. “We might have 10, 12, 15 grades on a guy, and it’s so comforting for me when I can look at that bandwidth of grades and they’re all right next to each other.
“That’s definitely how Roquan was, so it makes the pick really easy when we’re all unified like that.”
Smith fits Fangio’s mold for inside linebackers. At 6-1, 236 pounds, he’s built similarly to former 49ers star Patrick Willis (6-1, 240). And that’s just the start.
Smith’s instincts, range, speed and tenacity, and his take-charge demeanor off the field, also fuel comparisons to Willis, who was a tone-setting, five-time All-Pro in the middle of Fangio’s elite 49ers defenses. Pace said that Smith has “outstanding intangibles.”
During a conference call, Smith, the Butkus Award winner as the best college linebacker in 2017, described Fangio as a great guy who “coached a lot of legends.”
“I’m excited to play for his defense and get things going,” he said. “It’s going to be very special.”
Smith didn’t need to be briefed about what Willis and NaVorro Bowman meant to Fangio’s top-rated defenses in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014.
“Those are legends in the game,” Smith said, excitedly cutting off a question about them.
Inside linebacker was an underplayed need for the Bears. When healthy, Danny Trevathan, in particular, is good. But Smith could be the special one who truly takes over where Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs left off several years ago.
Drafting Smith was another hole-in-one.
“Fangio was so fired up to give you guys that information,” Pace said, laughing. “He’s been walking around with his chest out all day. [But] he couldn’t be happier. [Smith is] an important acquisition for us.”