The Cowboys shocked everyone when they selected Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith with the 34th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. After suffering a devastating knee injury just a few months earlier, nobody knew exactly what this meant when it comes to whether he’d be able to play football ever again. It was such a risky pick.
Jaylon Smith is not a good pick. It's either a terrible or extraordinary pick.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) April 30, 2016
To the surprise of very few (maybe Jerry Jones), Smith wouldn’t see the field last season. And that’s fine. Everyone knew that this was a waiting game as Smith had to allow time for the nerve to grow in his knee. So, to pass time, the kid spent countless hours preparing - studying his new defense and doing everything on his rehabilitation menu to help his progress move along the best it could. You couldn’t ask for a better equipped person to be able to do what it takes to get over something like this. Smith is special like that.
But here we are, 18 months since the injury and we still don’t know what we have in Jaylon Smith. As fans try to temper their excitement, the expectation appears to be that he will start out in some type of part-time role as he gets acclimated to playing football in the NFL. Cowboys insider, Mike Fisher recently wrote that we could be looking at two possible conceivable truths when it comes to the state of Smith this season.
Truth #1: Jaylon is extraordinary:
Smith is the top-five-level dynamo that he was 18 months ago, he will be better than "part-time," he will be better than present starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens, and he will be a star.
Truth #2: Jaylon is ineffective:
Jaylon Smith, God bless him, is going to start the 2017 season on NFI. The Cowboys continue to report improvement in Jaylon’s ability to lift his foot. But he still wears a brace to assist his functionality there — an “artificial ankle,’’ I’ve taken to calling it — and his presence on the field counts a progress.
Such contrasting options seem a little extreme. After all, we’ve all seen those great video clips with our own two eyes of Smith running around jumping and cutting.
He looks great. His mobility may not be where it can be, but it’s still pretty impressive, right? Fisher has his own opinion about that as well:
I have taken to comparing the videos — so glossy, so shiny, so polished — to when your mom used to go to the mall to get “Glamour Shots.’’ Hey, it’s not that your mom wasn’t attractive. But …
Ouch. Sorry, moms. You’re still beautiful in our eyes.
As harsh as that may seem, that’s a nice ice cold glass of reality. And it’s definitely something that all of us fans should take a sip of. The blue kool-aid is still a delicious refreshing beverage, but everything is best in moderation. As my colleague, RJ Ochoa stated in our weekly debate session regarding Smith:
We would be wise to pump the brakes a bit because in the world of mathematical probabilities the notion of him being an immediate superstar is a low one.
While it’s okay to be excited, we are really in the dark on just what he can do in a real football situation. As Fisher describes, there are some legitimate concerns:
Never during that minicamp did I see him push off his “bad’’ foot to make a play in live action. Sometimes during that training camp I saw him finish off a drill and come up with the slightest of limps. What happens when we get to camp and he must push off that foot to stick with a Jason Witten option route? What happens when he clashes, “bone-on-bone’’ as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes to call it, with 300-pounds of Zack Martin? Does he shed Martin, regain his footing, and tackle Ezekiel Elliott for a loss?
These are real challenging tasks for Smith that is going to require him to reach a certain level of health to achieve. It’s very possible that he might not be there just yet. And if Smith can’t move around as well as he needs to, he could end up being a liability on defense and the Cowboys won’t allow that to happen.
The good news is that we will be getting some of these questions answered real soon with training camp set to open a week from now. The better news is that even if Smith ends up being on the bad side of the coin where he’s not ready yet, it doesn’t mean he won’t get there eventually. If the Cowboys have to rely on Anthony Hitchens at the MIKE position a little longer, that’s fine. Hitch is straight up balling right now.
It might sound cliche, but the best way to handle the Jaylon Smith situation is - prepare for the worst and hope for the best.