One day after going offense to help the defense, the Dallas Cowboys focused on helping the defense with two picks on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.
One will be helped deferred as the Cowboys took a chance on injured Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round with the 34th overall pick.
The Cowboys then bolstered the depth on the defensive line by taking Nebraska tackle Maliek Collins in the third round, 67th overall.
The choice of Smith, who will not play this season, was a curious one at best.
The Cowboys took a chance on Smith because of his elite talent and the opportunity to have him for a long-term, according to a source. It was not a one or two-year decision.
“We had him at the top of the board with the medical tag. We had a good feel for him,” Cowboys vice-president Stephen Jones said. “We think he is going to be a great football player. He may not play football this year. We accept that.
“What he is ultimately going to be he is definitely worth our second-round pick.”
There is no question about Smith’s talent when healthy — he was a consensus top-10 prospect before suffering a major knee injury at the Fiesta Bowl in January.
But did a defense-needy team such as the Cowboys, who have been all-in on winning this season as evidenced by the pick of impact running back Ezekiel Elliott in the fist round Thursday, have the luxury of taking a red-shirt guy over a potential impact defender at the top of the second round?
It came down to that because two likely pass-rush options in the second round, Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd, went to the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans, respectively, with picks 32 and 33.
The Cowboys fielded calls for a trade down, but ended up staying and taking Smith, who will be an impact player in 2017, arguably one year later than they need him.
But the Cowboys believe in Smith’s talent and are happy to get him in the building and on the team.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said it will be tough to wait on Smith, but his talent could be looked at next year as one of the best players in this draft.
“He just leaps off the screen,” Marinelli said. “He is really good. He is really athletic in space, great hands, great tackler, great blitzer. He is just a real ball player. He fits anybody, but in our system with the way we will use him, he will be pretty special.
“You look at a guy like this, and you look a year form now, and we’ve got one of the best players in the draft. Obviously, there is patience and all those things that go with that, but he is well worth it.”
Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament in his left knee as well as suffering nerve damage in Fiesta Bowl game when Notre Dame played Ohio State. He is expected to miss the upcoming season following reconstructive surgery.
There is no guarantee that Smith will be ready even in 2017 because of the uncertainty regarding the nerve damage, according to a source. The Cowboys are hopeful that Smith will recover from the nerve damage.
The Cowboys stopped what was a long and frustrating slide in the draft for Smith.
“Just a great opportunity for me. I just wanted to hear my name called and for it to be called early, it’s just a blessing,” Smith said. “I’m thankful right now.
“I’ve been running for three and a half weeks now. It’s just a progress and time is definitely a place where you have to be patient.”
Smith was ranked by many as possibly the best player in the draft before the injury. So the Cowboys are gambling on the future and possibly cashing in on a potential star defender.
The Cowboys made the pick with the confidence of having some inside information on Smith’s injury and rehab as it was team doctor Dan Cooper who performed the operation on Smith in January.
The Cowboys know more about his situation than any other team.
Smith had 39 career starts and made 293 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks while breaking up 11 passes and forcing three fumbles for the Irish.
His brother, Rod Smith, plays running back for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys have taken chances on injured players in the second round before as Sean Lee was considered a bargain in 2010 because of questions about his knee. Bruce Carter dropped to the second round in 2011 because of a college knee injury.
Both, however, played as a rookie. While Lee has become one of the team’s cornerstone defenders, Carter proved to be a disappointment and was allowed to walk in free agency after the 2014 season.
The Cowboys will look to Collins to help bolster the pass rush this season while giving them help on the interior defensive line. He is an under-tackle in the Cowboys scheme and will be asked to back up starter Tyrone Crawford.
Collins was a powerful run stopper with the athleticism to get after the quarterback during a three-year career at Nebraska. He had eight sacks and 23 tackles for losses in college.
It marked the second consecutive year the Cowboys took a defensive lineman out of Nebraska, joining last year’s second-round pick, Randy Gregory.
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Rounds 4-7: 11 a.m. today.
TV: ESPN and NFL Network