Jaylon Smith’s career has been a rollercoaster.
Originally thought of as a top ten pick in the 2016 draft, a potentially career ending knee injury sent Smith crashing down draft boards. No one knew where Smith would land on draft day, and no one knew what version of Smith they’d be getting for the future if they were to draft him.
The Cowboys took that chance.
Early in the second round Dallas shocked the world by adding Jaylon Smith, a linebacker that would be forced to take a redshirt rookie season due to injury. It seemed crazy at the time, and looked even crazier when Smith actually returned to the field early on in 2017.
He was a shell of himself – playing just as you’d expect someone to play after missing out on football for an entire year with a traumatic leg injury. Would he ever be the same? Would he ever regain his sideline to sideline athleticism? Would he ever even result in a productive linebacker at the NFL level?
In his third season, Jaylon Smith answered each and every critic. He and then-rookie Leighton Vander Esch combined to take the league by storm, creating one of the best linebacker duos in all of football. Their play and energy helped lead Dallas to a second half of the season surge, finishing 10-6 and winning the NFC East.
The hype was sky high entering 2019, but things fell flat quickly for that version of the Cowboys. And for Jaylon Smith.
Despite his Pro Bowl appearance, the fanbase seemed to turn on Smith last season. Mostly due to his poorly-timed celebrations, though his play certainly added fuel to the fire at times. Smith also signed a lucrative contract prior to the 2019 season which locked him up with the Cowboys through 2025, only giving fans more ammo when looking to throw their frustrations about the season toward someone.
He’s far from a bum or a lost cause, of course. Smith is a highly talented and naturally gifted player, with the ability to play traditional MIKE linebacker, be used effectively as a blitzer, and drop into Tampa 2 coverage like few linebackers ever have. He’s immensely gifted, and when it all comes together it looks special.
But how does he get more consistently special? Well, hopefully new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will have something to say about that. Nolan, who has 25 years of defensive coaching experience under his belt, will play a large role in taking Jaylon Smith from a good player to a great one.
In a world where both he and Vander Esch are healthy together once again, there’s still plenty of reason to feel good about the Cowboys linebacker group.
They are young, they are talented, and they should be hungry to improve on a lackluster 2019 campaign.
As should the entirety of this Dallas Cowboys roster.