Roquan Smith's impact on the Ravens has been obvious, but the praise keeps growing.
On Wednesday, Lamar Jackson unabashedly paid Smith one of the ultimate compliments for a Raven, or really any player.
"He's like a Ray Lewis for us," Jackson said.
The Ravens have been one of the best defenses in the league since Smith arrived midway through last season, but his impact has been larger than that.
It's his attention to detail, his work ethic, his intensity day in and day out (and especially on Sundays). Smith's brash talk and fearlessness to send a message, even in the face of his opponents as he did last week before Sunday's game in Cleveland, motivates his teammates. They chanted his name in the locker room after Sunday's 28-3 win.
Less than a year since becoming a Raven, Smith has arguably become the Ravens' leader. While Jackson and Odell Beckham Jr. are the Ravens' biggest stars, Smith may be their heart and soul.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the trade, the Chicago Bears haven't won a game (0-13) since dealing Smith to the Ravens for second- and fifth-round picks. While the Bears have been in the news a lot recently for unflattering reasons, Smith has enhanced Baltimore's already strong culture.
Ravens outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who is playing for his fifth team, said after Sunday's game in Cleveland that Smith is the best linebacker he's ever played with, including a lot of friends.
"Roquan is his own man. I have not played with anyone like Roquan. In 10 years, no linebacker I've ever played with has been better than him," Clowney said. "They don't have the attitude or intensity they play with like Roquan Smith since I've played in the League. He'll be a big reason why our defense goes the way it goes. He's bringing the best out of a lot of guys around him. When you have a leader like that that's going to put it all out there not just on Sundays, but on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, the whole week, and you come to the game, and it just rolls over. It rubs off on people. It's contagious. We just stick together, and 'Go Ro.'"
"He's such a special player. You don't see guys like that many times," said tight end Mark Andrews, another big-time leader and intense competitor for the Ravens. "The way he sees the game – he's very smart, he studies a lot of film. He looks at a formation, and he knows exactly what's coming. You talk about a [former Carolina Panthers All-Pro linebacker] Luke Kuechly-type of deal – guys that are super vocal, able to lead. He has that fire that I haven't seen from very many people. He has that elite focus. He's able to do it at such a high level. He's been a blessing for this team – for this defense – and a catalyst for what we can be."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said it's Smith's attention to the simplest things that makes him unique.
"He's relentlessly chasing every detail of his craft, and he does with an enthusiasm and a demeanor and a confidence that you pretty much … You respect it when you see it, that's for sure," Harbaugh said.
There's been much said about Smith's "force multiplying" effect. He's had it on fellow inside linebacker Patrick Queen and the entire Ravens defense. Beyond the high level Queen is playing at, even Queen has a different moxie about him this season. Like Smith, he's not afraid to puff his chest out and tell it like he sees it.
On the field, Smith has been a monster. His 89.4 grade from Pro Football Focus is the best of any starting linebacker in the NFL and on the cusp of their "elite" status.
In addition to his 43 tackles, which is tied for the sixth-most in the league, Smith also has 1.5 sacks and three passes defense. He has the second-highest PFF coverage grade of any inside linebacker, which was a specific focus of his this offseason.
As Smith gets ready to face the Steelers this Sunday in Pittsburgh, he's carrying on a Ravens tradition dating back to Lewis' days. Smith already beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year, thanks in part to his interception. But he wants to do it every year.
"I remember [from] last year; you're not a Raven until you beat the Steelers. I carry that over into this year, as well," Smith said. "I feel like this season is a totally new season, so I'm not a Raven this season until I beat the Steelers. That's my mindset, [and] that's me going through my preparation week in and week out. I take great pride in being a Raven, so I want to make sure I earn that right, as well."
Smith and Lewis watched tape together this offseason and Smith grew up looking up to the inside linebacker. But he doesn't feel responsibility to be like Lewis.
"I have a great deal of respect for Ray and obviously the stellar career, Hall of Fame career, he had," Smith said a couple weeks ago. "But I'm myself at the end of the day. I just go out and focus on being the best version of myself and I feel like if I do that to the best of my ability, I'll be in good standing."