“Amazing” and “inspiring” are far from the first words anyone would use to describe the 2017 Dallas Cowboys. In fact, they truthfully shouldn’t be used at all following the Cowboys’ 9-7 season that fell short of the playoffs. Both of these terms — along with just about every other positive one there is — apply to linebacker Jaylon Smith, however.
It took a “redshirt” year to start his career out of Notre Dame, but now Jaylon Smith has declared himself back to normal — just in time for the team to enter an offseason of self-reflection and roster evaluation.
Jaylon Smith: “There are no more tests or anything that’s going on. All of that stuff is out of the picture. It’s just a matter of timing. But for me, I can tell you and my play can tell you from the past weeks that I’m back.”
Jaylon Smith finished his season with 81 tackles and one sack, good for fourth on the team.
For over a year, the Cowboys tried to sell their fans on nothing but optimism for Smith through his terrific approach at working to see the field. Perhaps unfairly, they put Smith in a position where he had to produce as much as he did in 2017 once returning to ever vindicate his draft selection.
Week by week, following a win or loss, Jaylon Smith made progress this season. There were outstanding highs mixed with lows that made even the loudest Smith supporters swallow their pride just a bit — myself included when I called for the team to protect their developing defensive leader by placing him on IR.
The most important stats for Smith to take away from this season still shouldn’t be that incredible total of tackles. The number of games played (16) and number of regular trips he’ll have to make to trainers, doctors, and surgeons (a happily decreasing total) moving forward are much more important.
A player that never doubted himself, the team chose him as their nominee for the Ed Block Courage Award this season. This nomination was a tip of the cap to not only Smith, but all of his teammates and the medical staff members who made his return possible.
Does this look like the Jaylon Smith we saw in college? pic.twitter.com/MfcRK9ZgUh
Having Jaylon Smith himself say that he feels ready to put a difficult past behind him and focus on being this team’s middle linebacker of the future is as exciting of an offseason development as you’ll find though.
All of the Dallas Cowboys plans on defense for 2018 will include Jaylon Smith continuing to find ways to defy the odds and make big plays. A deeply talented player with the traits to line up at multiple positions across any front seven, a lot could (and should) be asked of Smith moving forward.
After all, moving forward isn’t anything new to #54.