Notre Dame junior linebacker and 2015 Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith officially announced on Monday that he will forego his senior season and enter the 2016 NFL Draft.
Smith started all 39 games during his three year career in South Bend, earning a reputation as a tackling machine with 284 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-2, 235 pound team captain has been viewed as one of the most gifted athletes and a no-brainer top 10 pick in the draft.
However, after his major setback in the Fiesta Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 1, there is no telling where he might be selected now. On the Buckeye’s second offensive series in the first quarter, Smith landed awkwardly after being shoved and suffered what coach Brian Kelley called a ‘significant’ knee injury. It was later revealed that Smith tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee.
It was devastating news for Smith and the entire Irish community, but after his reconstructive surgery last week it was reported that there was no nerve damage in his knee, and he is expected to make a full recovery.
Smith made the announcement through a YouTube video posted to his Twitter account, in which he thanked his support group and talked about the long journey ahead of him.
I want to thank everyone for all your prayers and support. Same vision, different path ! https://t.co/qyMF8ITKrK
— Jaylon Smith (@JaeeSmiff9ENT) January 11, 2016
While his injury will certainly cause many NFL teams to think twice about drafting him, Smith is still believed to be a first round pick. Former Chicago Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel told the Chicago Tribune that we’ll have to wait and see which team takes a chance on him.
“Somebody’s gonna draft him, sign him, he’s gonna be on non football injury. He’s gonna get paid, go through rehab and learn the system.”
Smith’s progress will be evaluated at the NFL Combine in February where teams can get a better idea of what to expect. Irish fans can only hope that he is one day able to return to form and remain healthy throughout his NFL career.