Jaylon Smith isn’t ready to rule himself out for 2016, although it seems far-fetched he’ll be cleared to play.
But that didn’t stop the Dallas Cowboys from taking the Notre Dame product with the third pick of the second round (34th overall) in the NFL Draft Friday night. The Cowboys felt Smith has simply too much upside that outweighed the injury concerns and possible red-shirt season next year.
“He just leaps off the screen,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He is really good. He is really athletic in space, great hands, great tackler, great blitzer. He’s just a real ball player.
“In our system with the way we will use him, he will be pretty special.”
Smith had been considered a top-10 talent before injuring his knee during the Fiesta Bowl. He tore his ACL and MCL and suffered nerve damage, something that could cause him to miss his rookie season and possibly beyond as the nerve regenerates.
The Cowboys, though, do have arguably the best knowledge on Smith’s knee as team physician Dan Cooper performed the surgery.
The Cowboys felt good enough about the medicals and made Smith’s day. He got emotional with family – including his brother, Cowboys reserve running back Rod Smith – and friends as he celebrated at a bowling alley in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Asked about his emotions, Smith said: “Just everything I’ve been through thus far. It’s been the most challenging time of my life, but at the same time it’s been the best time of my life where my dream has just come true. I’ve been wanting to play in the NFL since I was 7-years-old. It’s just a blessing.”
Smith said he has been progressing well since his surgery. He has been running for the past three-and-a-half weeks and is holding out hope to play in 2016.
“Absolutely. Never doubt God,” Smith said.
There had been plenty of mixed reactions about the Cowboys drafting Smith, particularly since they are in win-now mode. But the Cowboys are banking on Smith being worth the wait.
As his college coach, Brian Kelly said, the Cowboys got “a once-in-a-generation talent in Jaylon.”