It was, and remains to be, an incredible feat that Jaylon Smith played an entire season for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017.
He’s undoubtedly struggled, but Jaylon Smith is one game shy of playing a full NFL season, a feat many thought impossible less than two years ago. pic.twitter.com/2rKe7LmkRn— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 25, 2017
This is true because Jaylon Smith, as you know, suffered a catastrophic injury during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl while playing at Notre Dame. The injury caused his sure-to-be enormously high-draft stock to plummet, so much so that people wondered if he’d be taken at all.
The thing is though, Jaylon Smith was ultimately drafted. While people thought he’d originally be a top five pick, he only (using this word lightly here) fell approximately 30 spots. The Dallas Cowboys selected him with the 34th overall pick (after taking Zeke at #4).
Smith wasn’t going to play in 2016. Everybody knew that. The Cowboys said what they did about the possibility of him playing and Jaylon followed suit, but it was painfully obvious that his first season was going to be that of a redshirt variety. It was okay though, because this was the team’s middle linebacker of the future.
As noted, Jaylon did his part and got on the field for 2017. He played more than the Cowboys originally would have hoped thanks to injuries suffered by Anthony Hitchens and then Sean Lee. The “godbacker”, as he was labeled in college, struggled, but at least he played.
Well Thursday brought news regarding the team’s “middle linebacker of the future.” Jaylon Smith’s future could be spent more at strongside linebacker than middle linebacker.
Heading into the 2018 season, the Cowboys still don’t know if Smith will ever realize star potential he showed at Notre Dame before suffering a catastrophic knee injury in his final game.
That he was able to get on the field and play in 2017 after missing all of 2016 was a triumph in itself considering that many thought Smith might not ever play again.
The Cowboys remain hopeful about his continued progress but will be looking at him more as a strongside linebacker than a middle linebacker in 2018.
This could throw the plan at linebacker into disarray.
Dallas devoted a draft pick, a top-notch one, to their middle linebacker of the future. It’s worth noting that they did this while having the untrustworthy Rolando McClain as their only MLB option at the time, but that’s a discussion for a different day.
We’ve heard that Jaylon Smith is improving. He’s growing. He’s got a clear eye view. He swipes. Now the team is pivoting away from the literal purpose of originally sacrificing so much to draft him?
What’s more is with the shifting of Jaylon to the strong side, the Cowboys now have a glaring hole at middle linebacker. Anthony Hitchens played well there in 2017 and is an option, but he’s a free agent and will likely command a lot of attention in the next few weeks.
This move feels like a backwards move, and it’s hard to be excited about it. We’re hopeful that the Cowboys know what they’re doing, but on the surface this looks questionable at best.