The eighth overall pick in the draft, Smith skipped out on the Bears' entire training camp in Bourbonnais due to a contract impasse and was the last player in the league to sign his rookie contract. There was uncertainty as to whether that drama would define Smith's rookie year.
In the end, the Bears were left talking about what an impact Smith brought to their top-ranked scoring defense and how promising his future appears in Chicago.
"It was huge to watch him just kind of flourish, especially in the late part of the year," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of Smith during the team's season-end press conference last week.
"You know, you talk to Roquan and you can just feel him just feeling comfortable in the defense. So now he's not thinking as much, he's just playing with his instincts and he's playing fast."
Smith was the Bears' full-time starter at inside linebacker by the second game of the season after making his presence felt in a reserve role in the regular-season opener at Green Bay. Smith finish his rookie season with 121 combined tackles, 89 solo tackles, eight tackles for a loss, five sacks and an interception.
Smith appeared to improve as the season progressed, showing more comfort within the Bears' defense. In turn, the traits that Pace and the front office identified when making him the eighth overall pick were clearly displayed on the field.
Whether the contract impasse delayed Smith's growth as a rookie remains unclear, but the Bears came away confident in what's ahead.
"Those are his greatest strengths, his instincts and his speed," Pace said. "The sky's the limit for him. It's just exciting to see him grow. And I think you saw a glimpse of what he's going to be, especially in the later part of the season."