Roquan Smith Wins Butkus Award as NFL's Best Linebacker

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, left, slips away from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith (18) to avoid the sack in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023.

Roquan Smith was the best linebacker in college football and not much has changed.

Smith was awarded the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in the NFL in 2022. He also won the award, which is given annually to the top linebacker in high school, college and the pros, in 2017 while at Georgia.

Smith is just the fourth player to ever win the award in both college and professional football, following Patrick Willis (2006, 2009), Von Miller (2010, 2012), and Luke Kuechly (2011, 2014, 2015, 2017).

Dick Butkus' son, Matt Butkus, came to the Under Armour Performance Center to present Smith with the honor.

"I'm very grateful to receive this," Smith said. "Receiving it in college meant a lot to me, being recognized as the best. I have a great deal of respect for your dad and the way he played the game. I try to [mirror] some of that in my play. This means a lot to me and I can't wait to put it up in my man cave."

Last year's winner of the NFL Butkus Award was the Cowboys' Micah Parsons. The year before that, it was the Steelers' T.J. Watt. Smith is the second Raven to win the award, following Terrell Suggs (2011).

During Smith's senior year of high school at Macon County (Ga.) in 2014, Malik Jefferson took home the award. Jefferson went on to play at Texas and was a third-round pick in 2018. He currently plays for the Cowboys, his sixth NFL team.

Smith had a monster fifth season, as he finished third in the NFL in tackles (169) and logged three interceptions and 4.5 sacks. That stellar play helped earn Smith a five-year, reported $100 million contract extension from the Ravens.

The Butkus Award adds to Smith's long list of accolades this season, as he was also named a first-team AP All-Pro and is going to his first Pro Bowl. He was named the Ravens' MVP by local media despite playing in just nine regular-season games in Baltimore.

Matt Butkus joked that the Ravens "stole him out of Chicago," where his father played his entire career (1965-1973).

"Your dad wasn't happy about that," Harbaugh joked. "I was happy that your dad felt so highly about Roquan Smith as a linebacker because your dad was the epitome of being a linebacker in the history of the National Football League, and I think this is a throwback linebacker too – a leader.

"The great players make the players around them better. That's what Roquan Smith does. Not only does he play great; he raises the level for everybody else."

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