The pick at 34 will be the determining factor in how the Cowboys' 2016 draft is judged from here until eternity. Jaylon Smith, the multi-talented sure-fire top five prospect is everything you dream about in a linebacker, if he can play. By now, we are all familiar that in addition to tearing his ACL and LCL (both repaired), Smith also stretched his peroneal nerve. By doing so, he gave himself a nasty case of drop foot, meaning the ability to lift his left foot is impaired.
The Cowboys are no stranger to this particular medical case, as former Pro Bowl punter Mat McBriar suffered drop foot in his final season with Dallas. It carried on into 2012 in his stint with the Eagles. He answered some questions about it after it healed and signed with the Steelers in 2013:
"I had a drop foot, a situation with my left (plant) leg," McBriar said. "I had a cyst that was inside the nerve and basically blocked it, which paralyzed the leg. But it's better now. They don't totally remove it. They sparse it, and then it dissolves naturally. It just keeps getting better all the time. The nerve keeps regenerating, and it's good now. It's really strong now.
"But it was a little scary because you basically wake up and can't move your foot. (So), it was a strange thing that happened to me, and you realize that things can change pretty quickly. (But) I kept at it, and my name was still somewhat out there. And my agent was pretty good at keeping it circulating, so I feel great. My problem is gone, and I'm just looking to contribute."
Circling back to Jaylon Smith, the doctor that performed the surgery just so happens to be the team doctor for the Dallas Cowboys. Smith will have to wait to play for his nerve to regenerate. A slow process that all but guarantees him a red-shirt season. My colleague, Danny Phantom, has a more detailed view available here of Smith's condition as well as some encouragement. What we're here to do is dissect this situation and determine if the Cowboys gambled on the right linebacker. There was another star linebacker that hurt his knee too all the way to the west in sunny California.
Myles Jack, the All-Star linebacker out of UCLA, is as highly-touted as Smith in some rights, though many pundits would favor Smith's linebacking abilities. Jack was selected just two picks after the Cowboys pulled the trigger on Smith. Jack also had ACL surgery but is going to be able to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. The bigger issue is Jack admitted to reporters the day before the draft that he may need microfracture surgery at some point. That caused enough stir to keep him off the boards in the first round.
However, the very next day the talented Dr. James Andrews told the media that Jack's own prognosis was wrong and that microfracture surgery is not needed. From what has been reported, there are potential concerns with Jack's longevity as he suffers from a similar degenerative knee issue that kept Ronald Leary from being drafted. Jack is going to be a great player, but for how long that will be will have to be determined later.
At some point, Jack will likely experience some issues or scopes that we've seen with Anthony Spencer. If that leads to microfracture surgery then I would be very worried. You can recover from that procedure, but it takes something with you; a tick of speed and reaction time. As a linebacker, Jack's strength is in his speed and reaction, taking a little of that away can do a lot of damage to his performance.
For Cowboys' fans opposed to the Jaylon Smith pick, it's understandable because Dallas need lots of defensive help. Jaylon will likely be of no help to the Cowboys for the 2016 season. Yet, as Danny pointed out, this is about creating a dynamic player for the future, a future that Dr. Dan Cooper believes is very bright as he talked to USA Today:
"I'm optimistic that his knee itself will be stable and a good knee and he’ll get all his strength back. And I also think he has a very good chance of getting his nerve recovery back."
"That’s because the lateral damage stretched Smith’s nerve enough to make it go to sleep, but it wasn’t stretched enough to be structurally elongated or visually very damaged" like more severe injuries, Cooper said.
When it comes to reaching a verdict on this debate, the Cowboys made the right decision. The risk is certainly there but they wouldn't have made it without careful consideration and a whole lot more information than we currently have from Dr. Cooper. There are folks out there including the Cowboys' award-winning surgeon, Cooper, and the entire medical staff that believe that Smith will make a full recovery. You can't say the same currently with Myles Jack, as much as you hope he does succeed. It was also a little troubling that Jack, who says he can run, hasn't run a forty for any football team yet. The Cowboys are certainly gambling but wouldn't you want the better prospect before the injury?
From every scouting report I have read or just by watching the film at DraftBreakdown.com, Smith is the better linebacker. Myles Jack is a versatile player and one of my favorites in the class, but you don't have teams wondering about Smith's best position. He's a linebacker alright and a very dynamic one to boot. It's the ultimate now or later argument. Of course, if you wanted more impact right this second, Jack would have been your guy. The Cowboys seemingly wanted one of those "cornerstone" players that Jerry Jones talks about. The better prospect has been Jaylon Smith and apparently he's worth the wait for the Cowboys.