The Cowboys ignored the upcoming season's biggest needs and selected a player they feel is the best player on the board in the second round. The trick is that the player they picked won't see the field in 2016. The team selected injured linebacker Jaylon Smith from Notre Dame. Smith would be one of the top players taken in the draft had it not been for the knee injury he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl in January. His injury was expected to make his draft stock take a significant hit, but his college coach, Brian Kelly thinks otherwise:
"I think he's going to be picked higher than people think," Kelly told the Free Press while walking the red carpet at the draft Thursday night. "Structurally, his knee is in great shape. It's a matter now of a regrowth situation, and that nerve is going to regrow. It's just a matter of time."
Well, the Cowboys showed the ultimate display of patience as they were willing to wait it out to get one of the best players in college.
The Cowboys have Rolando McClain signed for another "show-me" year so the team has a good bridge player there to hold down the fort until Smith gets healthy. Once Jaylon is ready to go, it's going to be fantastic.
Smith is a dynamic linebacker. He does it all. He's got elite speed to handle coverage assignments. He explodes to the ball carrier, making it real difficult for the blockers to cut him off. And he is great at chasing down running backs from behind.
This is a risky move by the Cowboys, but it's a move that could bring a superstar talent that would fit remarkably well in this defense. Sean Lee has found his niche as the team's weakside LB, so having another talented linebacker on the field will give Lee some serious help. Other players like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson will be allowed to find other roles that won't be so demanding.
For those wondering if Smith will ever return, the Cowboys feel very confident about it.
#Cowboys source on Jaylon Smith's knee-nerve injury: "He's going to have a 10-year NFL career. We just don't know when it starts."— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 29, 2016
Doubt anybody expected Jaylon Smith to be drafted before Myles Jack. But earlier source: one knee should improve; other deteriorate— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 30, 2016
A couple of scouting reports.
Lance Zierlein (NFL.com)
Let's see look at some of the reports on Smith:
Angular, sinewy build with a body fat number you could count on one hand. Checks every size, weight, speed and athleticism box there is. Can sink hips and change direction with suddenness in space. Has length and quickness for extended playmaking radius. Racked up 225 tackles over his last two seasons as a starter. Lightning quick lateral scrapes from gap to gap following track of the ball. Able to transition from scrape to spring seamlessly. Has a turbo boost to race running backs to the corner. Tries to meet oncoming blocks with physical punch and desired arm extension to stay clean. Adequate speed to diagnose and respond. Play speed is elite for the position. Very talented in man coverage. Asked to take on challenging man coverage responsibilities and responded. Has tools to become an excellent blitzer.
Tackles for loss production doesn't match up with his traits. Too passive in his approach preferring to wait on plays rather than racing downhill to own them. Not strong enough at point of attack to maintain balance and positioning when blockers get into his frame. Understands angles to the ball, but still learning shortcuts through the gaps. Flies after the ball with reckless abandon failing to come to balance as a tackler. Has habit of lunging into arm tackles rather than using feet to work into better tackling position. Missed 11 tackles this year. Tore ACL and MCL in his bowl game and his rookie season is in doubt.
Dane Bugler (CBS.com)
STRENGTHS: He is a greased up athlete with natural twitch and flexibility, showing balance, burst and excellent speed in pursuit. Scouts are enthralled with Smith's explosiveness and it isn't difficult to understand why.
He reads plays quickly and keeps his eyes glued on the ball to collect himself in space and burst toward the ballcarrier with excellent closing speed. Shows tremendous secondary quickness to unhook himself from blocks and make up ground in a flash.
He might be the nation's most forceful tackler, generating incredible power to knock ballcarriers back. Smith is every bit as fast and fluid as he is powerful, however, slipping by (or leaping over) would-be blockers in the running game and dropping effectively in coverage.
It is the ability to play back in coverage and rush the passer that makes Smith such an exciting prospect, as proponents of the 4-3 and 3-4, alike, will see him as a true three down defender.
WEAKNESSES: Smith lacks elite take-on strength for the position and can be late to stack-and-shed. Will take some false steps and needs to add a dash of discipline to his playing recipe. Needs to tweak his strike zone and tackling mechanics, preferring to hug-and-slam instead of spearing and driving.
Needs to do a better job finding the ball in coverage once his back is turned to the quarterback. Suffered a devastating left knee injury in his final collegiate contest that required surgery (Jan. 2016) to repair a torn ACL and LCL.