An update to Jaylon Smith’s knee recently came out and it was reported that no significant improvement has been seen to this point. This news has created quite of bit of reaction among Cowboys fans as some have chosen to write him off as a wasted pick. This type of reaction is a little premature at this point as nothing has really changed with Smith. The only thing that can be taken out of this update is that Smith likely won’t be playing in 2016. If you were holding your breath for that, then yes – this is disappointing news. But a lot of fans had come to that conclusion already and are willing to be patient for what they hope to be a promising 2017 season for the team’s new linebacker.
There are many angles with the Jaylon Smith situation. First off, there is the high-risk, high-reward gamble that the organization took by selecting him with the 34th overall pick. His upside is that he is one of the top linebackers to come out of college since Luke Kuechly and that the Cowboys may have landed one of the best players coming out of college, period. The pre-injury Jaylon Smith is a pure beast. If the Cowboys get that player back, or even something close to that player, the decision to select him will be seen as a good one. The downside however, is really bad. If the peroneal nerve in Smith’s knee doesn’t cooperate, he may never play a down in the NFL.
So the first thing that I always look at in this scenario is based on those two outcomes alone – was it the right move? If it is as simple as a 50/50 chance that he’s a star or never plays, is it the right move to spend an early second round pick on him? My answer is – absolutely. If you can get a top-three-overall player in the second round of the draft every other year, you are going to be drafting like a boss. And if you have your own team doctor expressing confidence in a full recovery, then that is going to make you feel a little more optimistic than just flipping a coin.
Some people may be averse to this type of gamble. In fact, they would point to some other second round picks to validate how rolling the dice has backfired for the team in recent years. Sometimes this risk involves a pre-existing injury. Or sometimes it’s some red-flag character issues that has caused the player to slip. The front office has dabbled in both of these situations in recent years. Here is what the Cowboys have gotten in the second round over the last seven drafts:
2016 – Jaylon Smith (injury risk, knee)
2015 – Randy Gregory (character risk, drug issues)
2014 – DeMarcus Lawrence (character risk, suspended for violating team rules)
2013 – Gavin Escobar
2012 – No pick (traded away to select Morris Claiborne)
2011 – Bruce Carter (injury risk, knee)
2010 – Sean Lee (injury risk, knee)
The thing that stands out about this group of players is that the Cowboys are taking a gamble whether we like it or not. Gavin Escobar is the lone exception as the team didn’t try to do anything fancy in 2013 and just took what they believed was the best player left on their board. And we all know how well that pick was received. So, if you were looking to the second round of the 2016 draft and expecting the team to nail some type of sure-thing player to their roster, it would have bucked the trend of what they’ve been doing over the last seven years. In short, any second-round pick the Cowboys would have made is going to come with some risk.
The funny thing is (it’s more sad than funny) the Cowboys best second-round pick is the pick they never got to make. In 2012, the team would have selected Bobby Wagner had they not traded for Morris Claiborne. Wagner’s an All-Pro stud.
The last part of this ordeal that is causing consternation is the fact that even if Jaylon Smith comes back strong, the team has him on layaway since he won’t be ready until 2017. This goes against the idea that the Cowboys are in "win-now" mode. The Cowboys have been real clear that they are doing things their way way versus the "win-now" way. The business decisions to let good players like DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray walk has helped the team’s salary cap situation. This will help the team remain competitive for years to come. While it would be great to have a player who can make an immediate impact, the team is not going to settle just because he can play right now. You can build a championship team by being patient and taking great players.
If you wanted Noah Spence real bad, you’d be taking another big risk in the shadows of learning that the last two second-round character risk DEs have been suspended. In fact, based on history, any DE you take isn’t likely going to make much of an impact their rookie season. Linebackers, however, are more of a hit-the-ground-running type of position and can be an impact immediately.
You can feel good about the Jaylon Smith pick or you can take more of a somber approach. Regardless of where each of us are at now, we will eventually all meet at the same place. However it turns out, I’m at peace with the pick. It’s not often a team gets a chance to have a super-talented player with gold-star character available to them in the second round.
Has anything changed for you regarding the Cowboys decision to select Smith?