2020 was a nightmare for Cowboys’ linebacker Jaylon Smith. The 26-year-old had by far his worst pro season to date. Smith’s PFF defensive grade of 54.2 was 16 points lower than his mark of 70.2 in 2019.
Smith was heavily scrutinized for his play on the field, and for good reason. Time and time again he seemed to be in a position to make plays but was simply just unable to execute.
#Cowboys Jaylon Smith is overpursuing or playing himself out of position a bit so far. Three that stuck out: pic.twitter.com/IR4PHHQl4n— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 14, 2020
I don’t understand what #Cowboys Jaylon Smith was doing late in this play. I guess he thought Beckham was going out of bounds or hemmed up? If he runs to the sideline, he probably gets the angle, no? Maybe he was tired? pic.twitter.com/DKHPoB9qoX— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) October 4, 2020
To make matters worse, Smith’s effort on the field was brought into question with plays like the one below showing up on film.
Jaylon Smith when asked about his pursuit of DeAndre Hopkins on this play: “You know, no excuses. We all got to get to the ball. Myself included.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 22, 2020
(Video: @SportsSturm) pic.twitter.com/1Kp28NCKDR
With a new number on his back and a new defensive scheme in town, Smith is looking to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and be a different player this upcoming season. However, some believe the linebackers’ performance in 2020 was indicative of the player he is now. Bleacher Report seems to be of this belief, as they labeled Smith as the Cowboys' “biggest bust” of the 2021 season in their Predicting Every NFL Team’s Biggest Bust piece on Friday.
Here’s what they had to say about the polarizing linebacker.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith hasn’t been the same player since he signed a five-year, $64 million contract extension before the start of the 2019 campaign. His overall level of play has decreased in each of the last two seasons. A downward trend in performance coupled with the acquisition of first-round linebacker Micah Parsons appears to signal change in Dallas.
Smith will likely move from middle to weak-side linebacker, thus allowing Parsons to roam as the unit’s “Mike.” The transition could further hamper Smith’s effectiveness since he already struggles to change directions, whereas fourth-round rookie linebacker Jabril Cox excels in coverage. Smith’s role could be further diminished as an early-down option who gives way to a pair of rookies in sub-packages. The Cowboys shouldn’t expect to get much of a return on Smith’s $9.8 million salary-cap charge.
All are fair points, and it’s hard to be positive about what Smith can do in the upcoming season after seeing what he’s put on tape in the past two years.
2021 is a big year for many players on the Cowboys’ roster. It may be the biggest for Jaylon Smith. We’ll see if the linebacker can prove the doubters wrong and bounce back to his Pro-Bowl form in 2021.