Injuries could mean Jaylon Smith will take a serious tumble in the draft, turning him from a can’t-miss prospect into a potential steal. A lot of teams are showing interest in the former Notre Dame linebacker, especially the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Smith tore his ACL and MCL in the Fiesta Bowl game against Ohio State. He failed a number of medicals two months ago, with teams discovering nerve damage in both his knee and ankle, which is an enormous red flag. Some have taken him off their board completely, and from a potential top 5 pick and maybe the best linebacker in the draft, Smith could end up being taken in the third day, which is obviously a huge hit to his financial gain from making the NFL, but also turning him into a coveted late draft pick, if that is indeed the situation.
Without the injuries, Smith is one of those rare players who seems like the perfect fit for the 3-4 and the 4-3 as an outside linebacker, be it as a pass rushing force or in a more inhibited role. He’s fantastic in coverage, but also has the length and burst to be great when rushing the passer. He sometimes seems a bit too calculated, waiting for a play to develop instead of rushing downhill to meet danger head on, but usually rookies are criticized for being just the opposite.
Where does Smith end up? The Falcons have been the team mentioned the most in connection to him. They have only five picks going into the draft right now, with some thinking they’ll try and turn their 17th overall pick into something a bit more helpful. Either way, they’re looking at Smith to tumble down on draft day until the point when he becomes a value pick. Right now, no one is willing to take a risk on someone with such a difficult injury to recover from.
Smith played as an inside linebacker for the Fighting Irish during his three seasons in South Bend, finishing last season with 9 tackles for a loss, one sack and 115 tackles overall. His numbers in terms of TFL and sacks should improve if he is made into an outside linebacker in the NFL, but there’s a long road of recovery for him until he gets to that point.