Earlier this week, Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith assured fans that he would be ready to go for the 2017 season opener against the New York Giants.
Being selected 34th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, Smith was forced to miss the entirety of his rookie campaign due to a severe knee injury which caused nerve damage down to his foot. The injury occurred during his final collegiate game for Notre Dame, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ironically, the Fighting Irish were playing the Ezekiel Elliott-led Ohio State Buckeyes on that day.
As Jaylon Smith missed more and more time, his legend around Cowboys Nation continued to grow. This legend only grew exponentially with the workout videos Smith has posted, as he looks to be in super-human type shape.
But not all Cowboys fans are caught up on why Jaylon Smith’s return is such a big deal. In fact, I had someone ask me if his game was really worth all of the hype which surrounds it. The short answer is yes, but I wanted to re-visit something I wrote on Smith after the Cowboys drafted him last Spring.
During our typical scouting report series on the Cowboys draft picks, I published a rather lengthy film review on what Smith can bring to the Cowboys defense, and these were my findings.
The 6’2″ 225 pound middle linebacker was one of the best defenders in the country during the 2015 collegiate season. Tallying 225 tackles his last two seasons as a starter, Smith rose to the top of draft boards and was considered a sure-fire top ten pick. Instead, he fell to the risk-taking Cowboys in the second round, who will now reap the benefits of this pick for a long time.
First off, Smith’s football IQ is off the charts. He is able to read, recognize, and react so quickly. Here we see Smith quickly read the low-hats and first steps of the offensive linemen to understand that it is a run play. As soon as he reads it, he attacks and blows the offensive lineman into the backfield.
Make or find animated gifs like Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) vs. USC (2015) on gifs.com
A quick and relentless defender, Jaylon Smith played with incredible aggression for the Irish. His closing speed is top-notch, as we see him chase down the running back from the backside on the play below. Avoiding the backside tackle who is supposed to cut him off, Smith quickly closes on the running back and makes a clean tackle.
Make or find animated gifs like Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame LB) vs Michigan 2014 on gifs.com
Jaylon Smith can play all three linebacker positions in the Cowboys 4-3 defense, but will be the day one starter at MIKE if fully healthy. A clear and immediate upgrade over last year’s starting MIKE, Anthony Hitchens, Smith joins Sean Lee to create one of the top linebacker combinations in the entire league.
If needed, Smith came down and played as an EDGE rusher as well. His burst off the ball, athleticism, and overall physicality helped him to be offensive tackles and get after quarterbacks. Maybe, just maybe, Smith can be used as a situational pass rusher and the weakside defensive end the Cowboys still so badly need.
Regardless, Jaylon Smith is clearly a starting MIKE linebacker on this team, and has Pro Bowl potential as well. As long as the nerve is firing and he can play football, Jaylon Smith is going to show everyone why the Cowboys were willing to take such a great risk in round two of last year’s draft.