Linebacker ranks among the top needs for the Dallas Cowboys going into this year’s NFL Draft.
They lost Anthony Hitchens in free agency. They can’t bank on Sean Lee’s health. And it’s hard to tell if Jaylon Smith will ever reach his full potential.
Well, unless you ask Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. Asked about this year’s draft class, Jones immediately turned the conversation to Smith.
"At the end of the day, one of the things I’m really optimistic about is I think Jaylon is going to take another step,"Jones said during the team’s pre-draft news conference on Tuesday.
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"He had to focus on playing the game last year. Put the rehab aside for the moment as he should and he went to work, tried to help us win football games and did an unbelievable job.
"He’s going to take a big step this year. He already is, and I think he’s going to improve tremendously. I think he’s going to do an outstanding job for us."
The Cowboys used a 2016 second-round pick on Smith, knowing he’d have essentially a redshirt rookie season after sustaining a severe knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame.
Smith rehabbed his entire rookie season before returning to game action last season. He finished with the second-most tackles on the team, 99, along with four tackles for loss, four QB pressures, one sack and two forced fumbles.
With that being said, the Cowboys could still use linebacker depth. But Jones made it clear that they feel good about their current corps going into the season with Smith, Lee, Damien Wilson and newly signed Joe Thomas.
"As far as lining up Day 1 and feeling good, who’s going to be manning those positions at our linebacking corps, we feel good about it,” Jones said. "We’re excited about getting Damien in there, having him in the mix. At the same time, we also know we could add a couple of players here in the draft. We have 10 draft picks and certainly look to do something there if the right guy is sitting there.
"We made moves we feel good about. We feel like we could go to work and put the right guys out there and get the job done. But the great news is we do have 10 draft picks and I do think obviously as we work our way through the draft, I don’t know what level will be taken, but there are some really good linebackers out there throughout the draft that I think could step in and contribute quickly whether that’s in a backup role, a special teams, but would be linebackers you’d love to have on your football team."