clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cowboys 2016 Draft: 5 Questions With One Foot Down About Second Round Pick Jaylon Smith

New, comments

The good folks at One Foot Down help us get to know our new linebacker a little better.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

During round two of the 2016 NFL Draft last Friday the Dallas Cowboys gave us perhaps the most surprising pick of the weekend. When the Cowboy selected Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith with the 34th overall pick they took a chance on a player who is an exceptional football talent. A talent who just happens to be recovering from a very scary knee injury he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1.

Smith is clearly the most intriguing prospect in the 2016 Cowboy's draft class. We have many questions about our new linebacker, and who better to answer them than Eric Murtaugh of OneFootDown.com, SB Nation's own Notre Dame blog. Five questions for Mr. Murtaugh to help Cowboys fans get better acquainted with our team's second round pick

Blogging The Boys: For those Cowboys fans who are not familiar with Jaylon, what type of player can they expect to see once he is healthy?

One Foot Down: If he gets 100% healthy you're getting a phenomenal talent, one of the best athletes to ever play at Notre Dame. He's a true sideline to sideline linebacker with elite speed at the position. One of the small disappointments from his injury was that we didn't get to see him run the 40-yard dash at the Combine. Well, in general everyone was robbed of watching him workout at the Combine. I believe it would have been truly special.

I could probably keep going for 2,000 more words. He's just so, so good at football.

BTB: The word on Smith is that he is able to play middle linebacker and the weak-side. In your opinion, is he better suited at one spot or is he truly interchangeable?

OFD: This is a difficult decision and one Notre Dame fans have been arguing about since he was recruited out of Fort Wayne. During his freshman season he came and started right away in Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme as the "Dog" outside linebacker. Basically, he covered slot receivers, and played a lot on the edge and sometimes up close near the line of scrimmage. He was probably 210-ish in high school and maybe a little over 220 as a true freshman. It worked out well because Notre Dame could utilize his speed and athleticism right away without being overloaded with too many responsibilities.

His last two seasons Jaylon has played in Brian VanGorder's 4-3 system, primarily as the weak-side linebacker. Sometimes they'd move him around to strong-side or just a general rover type of playmaker. But I'd say 80% or more he stayed at the weak-side.

His position in the NFL depends on what a team is looking for out of his skill set and how it fits their scheme. A lot of Irish fans were frustrated that he didn't blitz enough or have super high TFL/sack numbers for someone so skilled. Also, others always saw him as an outside linebacker and couldn't let it go.

I would imagine if Sean Lee is playing strong-side then Jaylon won't go there, right? Some people think Jaylon could grow into a defensive end but I think that's unlikely. He's not developed enough as a pass rusher and I think a move there would rob a team of his speed on the field. The only way I see that happening is if his knee takes away his sideline to sideline speed and he gets even bigger.

I personally think he's best suited at weak-side. He's grown big enough (probably going to settle around 240 to 245 in the pros) where you could put him at middle linebacker and he'll still be great. However, you've got to keep blockers off him and let Jaylon pursue the ball and in general let him play as free as possible. I've always compared him to a super version of Lavonte David. At his best, Jaylon will do everything at a high level--stop the run, chase ball carriers on the edge, defend passes in the seams, and attack into the backfield.

BTB: The spotlight is bright in Dallas. How do you think Smith's experience at a high profile program like Notre Dame will help him in his transition to life with the Cowboys?

OFD:  He's completely ready to step into the spotlight in the NFL. He was protected from the media like most Notre Dame freshmen but he was the face of the defense pretty much from the moment he stepped on campus. Jaylon was enormously comfortable and humble in front of the media going back to his days in high school.

BTB: One of the things that make coach Garrett and company feel better about his ability to come back from this injury is the type of person Jaylon is. Not just his incredible work ethic, but he's also perceived as having great character. Can you give us Cowboys fans an idea of what this kid is about and why the coaching staff views him as such an outstanding person?

OFD: I can't remember a nicer kid at Notre Dame, especially in terms of his high-profile 5-star status. I've never heard a bad word about the kid. The closest to criticism he ever received was that he was too quiet of a leader and even then he grew into that role as a junior. I've never sensed anything fake about Jaylon. He's just a really down to earth, humble kid.

BTB:. Not to put you on the spot, but given the severity of his injury, what do you think the chances are of Smith returning to his pre-injury level of play?

OFD: Up until a couple weeks ago I was really, really worried. I felt better after hearing the doctor who performed his surgery (the Cowboys surgeon!) say that his nerve wasn't severed and just stretched. Still, it's scary to think that there might be long-term issues and that he might never get back to his former self.

I can't really put a percentage on the chances that he returns to complete health. He'd better because if not it'll be a super sad story. He doesn't deserve that fate and I hope the Cowboys can benefit from taking a chance on him when they did.

Jaylon Smith is truly a special talent. Whenever it is that he finally takes the field as a Dallas Cowboy, the team will be getting an outstanding player who is also a true RKG. Smith had an exceptional career with the Fighting Irish, and here's hoping his Cowboys story has many chapters remaining.

Thanks to my colleagues Tom Ryle and Danny Phantom for contributing to this interview, and a very special thanks  to Eric Murtaugh and all our peers at One Foot Down.