The Cowboys plucked a Four-Leaf Clover in the 2nd Round of the 2016 Draft
The Dallas Cowboys are hoping the former Fighting Irish Linebacker will make their Jerry Jones and the front office look like Albert Einstein – in a football sense, of course – by selecting the injured Jaylon Smith with the 34th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Smith – who did not play a single snap last season – is generating a lot of buzz leading into training camp. After his freakish – nearly career threatening – injury against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, Smith is aiming to prove he truly was the best player in the draft. Injured or not.
News of nerve damage sent shock-waves throughout the collegiate and NFL scout circles. At the time, many felt his draft stock would plummet severely. Some even believed he could go undrafted. One of the top prospects felt himself free-falling down the draft boards.
I remember watching this game with my wife. She’s not much a college football buff, but I let her know this game was going to be special. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m a Titans fan and they had the number 1 overall pick heading into the draft. I told her this game was huge as I was focused on Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith – both players that I felt comfortable with Tennessee taking with the first pick. What would happen midway through the opening quarter would leave me jaw-dropped.
With 8:18 left in the first quarter, the play would take place that would alter the trajectory of Smith’s career playing football – possibly forever. The Buckeyes were in the redzone and looking to add to their 7 point lead. QB J.T. Barrett would fumble the ball – but the Buckeyes would recover.
Smith – however – would not.
A Taylor Decker shove after the whistle would lead to agonizing screams from Smith as he laid on his back wondering what just happened. The thought may have crossed his mind if this is how his football story would end. But if that thought did arise, I’m confident it didn’t last long. That’s just not in Smith’s character.
Some felt Smith – who in my opinion was worthy of a top 3 pick in 2016 – would be drafted in the 5th round or later, if at all. Well, those who thought that were left dumbfounded when America’s team chose Smith a few picks into the second round.
However, Dallas had an edge over most of the teams considering risking a high pick on Smith. Dr. Daniel Cooper was the surgeon for Smith’s surgery. His eyes witnessed the damage closer than any other. He could let the Cowboys know if Smith’s career was in jeopardy as much as it was being advertised. Despite the nerve damage he observed, Cooper would inform the Cowboys that if they can demonstrate some patience, Smith could eventually play football again. The ‘Boys would have a lot to think about, but Cooper’s advice made the decision a little easier.
Drafting running back Ezekiel Elliott – who bulldozed through Jaylon Smith at the goal line for first points of the Fiesta Bowl – with the 4th overall was a home run. They also picked up QB Dak Prescott – whose rookie of the year campaign also signaled a home run. The Cowboys are not looking to prove they didn’t just hit a pair of home-runs with their 2016 draft class.
They want to show the world they hit a Grand Slam.
Smith’s production following rehabilitation and recovery will answer that. If Smith can return close to 80%, their linebacker corps just got a whole lot better. Anything above 80% means the Cowboys left the 2016 draft with potentially three 1st round talents.
Outside of the injury, there was nothing to dislike about Jaylon Smith. His resume prior to the severely damaging leg injury speaks for itself. Smith is only the 2nd player to ever win the prestigious Dick Butkus award recognizing the top linebacker in the nation. He earned this award in High School and College. The other player to accomplish this is fellow Notre Dame Alum – Manti Te’o. I think if Smith can overcome health concerns, he’ll be a lot better than Te’o.
What made Smith such an intriguing prospect was the amount of athleticism he brought to the linebacker position. Some scouts likened him to Chiefs’ LB Derrick Johnson. Others compared him to ex-49ers’ LB Patrick Willis. I’m not sure I agree with either. There are some slight similarities, but nothing syncs up to pin him to either.
He doesn’t have Willis physicality at the point of the tackle as – through the games I watched, he seemed hesitant. He would rely on his speed and instincts to stop plays – usually slowing plays down or stopping them before they develop. Smith had some big hits here and there, but most of his tackling was arm-tackling.
Where Smith does remind me of Willis is the sideline to sideline speed. Smith – prior to the injury – was so quick in addressing sideline plays. He would often feel out the play and simply outrun the pulling linemen/tight ends to make the play. Where he is superior to Willis is in his coverage ability. He can line up with some of the speedier tight ends and go stride for stride. The same is observed in watching him cover backs in coverage. This contributed to him being such an elite prospect headed into the 2016 draft.
How Smith passed the eye test – was in the athleticism and ball awareness he displayed in coverage. It was like if everything around him slowed down. His football IQ and instincts would kick into overdrive and he would find a way to get involved in the play.
The Cowboys have stated they plan to take it easy with Smith. They have to if they want the most return from their 2016 investment. Smith has still managed to create a buzz from what has been seen from him thus far. In the little work he’s done, he’s shown flashes of what he can bring to the Dallas defense.
Reports have stated Smith must wear a customized brace to help the stability/flexibility of his right foot. If wearing it helps him perform at the elite level, I’m sure the Cowboys wouldn’t care. In fact, they’d probably order him another customized one with a star on it.
Smith is looking the part, so far. But he hasn’t put on a pair of pads since the Fiesta Bowl. There will be some rust, there will be some growing pains, and there will be moments where his self-confidence is put to the test. Anyone – even players that don’t make the practice squad – can make plays in shorts. How will Smith do when he suits up for the first time?
The question is how much of the fluidity and natural smoothness – along with of the athleticism – can Smith regain? This will be an interesting story to follow throughout training camp. He won’t be given a heavy workload – which is smart – but the limited workload he does get will be heavier (natural) with all the gear on.
Do they feel lucky? From what the Cowboys have witnesses first hand, they feel extremely lucky.
Follow me on Twitter @bmo54bmo54
Reports referenced :
Archer, Todd. “Test Shows Nerve Continues to Improve for Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 20 July 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.
Phillips, Rob. “Practice Plan For Jaylon Smith; Injury Updates Leading Into First Camp Day.”Dallas Cowboys. Dallas Cowboys Official Website, 23 July 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.