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Should We Temper Expectations For Cowboys Linebacker Jaylon Smith?

The Cowboys took a risk on Jaylon Smith in 2016 because of his high talent level, but after his injury is it likely that he will have an immediate impact?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys like to roll the dice in the second round; their track record shows that. Sean Lee immediately comes to mind as a recent success story. On the other hand, Bruce Carter and Randy Gregory are recent second round gambles that did not turn out as well as the Lee selection. That brings us to the question of how will the Jaylon Smith gamble pay off.

Before the Fiesta Bowl injury that brought his collegiate career to a close, Smith was a lock to go very high in the first round of the 2016 draft. Tearing both his ACL and MCL brought to a close his dream of being selected in the first round. Nerve damage suffered in the same injury brought into play doubts about his ever making a play on a professional gridiron.

Much ink has been spilled detailing Jaylon's long road back and the many positive steps along the way. Fans would be hard-pressed to recall a single negative report regarding Smith's progress. That is good news but it can also be bad news for fans.

Expectations can easily be set to high for a man of Jaylon Smith's talents when he makes his professional debut this fall. Everyone knows the work product he consistently delivered for Notre Dame, and there is little doubt that if he recovers the way we are being led to believe, he will deliver the same impact in the National Football League.

It will not happen overnight.

He is still a rookie in almost all aspects. Rookies make mistakes, even the best of them are subject to being mere mortals on occasion. Add in the fact that regardless of what we are hearing, Jaylon is not getting an abundance of work on the field.

Dallas is playing it safe, just as they did in bringing Sean Lee back from missing a whole season. Team sources, including Jason Garrett, are reluctant to discuss their agenda for Smith as they build toward the opening night contest with the New York Giants, but it is to be expected that after being deliberate for so long they will not rush the pace as training camp draws near.

So far it has been one day on and one day off for the redshirt rookie linebacker. The odds are that this will continue at least through training camp. Dallas sees the benefits of caution as outweighing the benefits of a full slate of work. This approach has paid off for the Cowboys in the past, and has become a hallmark of how they like to operate whenever possible.

That alone will have an impact on his development. It will likely have an impact on his season as repetition is where a player develops. Smith will not get the reps he needs during his off days. This will have an impact on his development as a player, no matter how slight.

Smith is still also dealing with the impact of the nerve damage he suffered. He wears a brace and was heavily taped up during workouts due to the drop foot issue from the nerve damage. There is also a limit to the movement of and sensation in his left foot that has not been fully resolved. That is to be expected and may go away with time. Nonetheless, it does limit Jaylon, despite the rosy reports we are hearing.

Finally there is the hype. We as fans always expect the best, and grudgingly tolerate anything less. Jaylon Smith, in perfect health, might find it tough to live up to every prognostication. Having him play next to Sean Lee brings back memories of Dallas defenses long since retired, and that will be a lot to live up to. Expectations are high for Jaylon, but we may be setting the bar too high thanks to past experiences that have only been magnified with the passing of time.

Talent alone will not get him there. Time and hard work is what will allow Smith a shot to earn a place beside a name like Lee Roy Jordan, if it does come to that. For now Smith is a ballplayer looking to make a name for himself in the game, not one ready to have his name etched into the Ring of Honor. Keep that in mind when setting his expectations.

There are few who have seen the progress that has been made who come away with long term doubts, a second round gamble looks ready to pay off in spades for the Cowboys.

"He's the complete package. Physically, mentally, it's a matter of time before he's a dominant player. He's put the work in." - Sean Lee

The thing to remember is that the key words in Lee's statement are 'it's a matter of time'. Don't expect Jaylon Smith to be an All Pro on his first professional snap. At this point in his career the next major goal will be for him to become a contributing member of the Dallas Cowboys defense. Once that happens then he can begin his quest to stardom.

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