After a stellar career at Notre Dame, Jaylon Smith was selected 34th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Smith had to sit out his rookie season after suffering an injury in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, but played in all 16 games last season.
Plain and simple, Jaylon Smith was one of Notre Dame’s most dominant defensive players. It is hard to even find a comparison for Smith, whose physical tools were second-to-none at the linebacker position. Smith was stout against the run, was a speedy pass rusher, and was excellent in pass coverage. In his time at Notre Dame, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to running stride for stride with a slot receiver. Smith’s athleticism helped him stand out from the pack.
In his last game at Notre Dame, his fortunes took a turn. Smith suffered a gruesome injury, knocking him out of the Fiesta Bowl. Prior to the injury, Smith was sure-fire top-10 pick. After the injury, there were questions of whether Smith would even be able to run again. Eventually, the Cowboys took a chance on Smith, who was forced to miss his entire rookie season in the NFL.
After a year of rehab, Smith’s health improved. After seeing the field in all 16 games last year, Smith is looking for more production in 2017. Recently, there has been an encouraging development that would suggest Smith can regain his full range of athleticism.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Smith no longer has to wear a brace designed to combat the drop foot he experienced as a result of his surgery. Smith stopped wearing the brace during workouts in February. Without the brace, Smith will once again have free range of motion and will be able to run without restriction of the brace. According to the article:
"A source said Smith is looking Notre Dame-fast again and primed for a big year after just being happy to get in the field in 2017. He missed all of 2016 recovering from injuries to his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee and overcoming damage to the peroneal nerve in his final game at Notre Dame."
Smith’s health will crucial to Dallas’ game plan. Dallas has a thin group of middle linebackers, especially with Sean Lee’s durability in question. Smith will have plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills next season.
What happened to Smith in his final game at Notre Dame was unfortunate, to say the least. At least for now, however, Smith is perhaps the NFL’s premier feel-good story. If Smith can return to his old form, he’ll be more than just a feel good story next season.