After being regarded as a potential top 5 pick in the 2016 NFL draft for most of his final collegiate season, Smith tore both the ACL and LCL in his knee during the Fiesta Bowl last New Years Day.
It was a heartbreaking scene. One that could have brought even the most sworn hater of the Fighting Irish to sadness.
But while tearing those ligaments presented Smith with a long enough recovery, it is the nerve damage in that same leg which is creating the biggest obstacle.
Most saw Smith's “drop foot” condition as possibly career ending, and while it still may be, both the Cowboys and Smith are remaining very optimistic.
The Cowboys team physician, Dr. Daniel Cooper, performed the surgery on Jaylon Smith, bringing many around the league to wonder if the Cowboys know more than most about his condition.
Whether Dallas has this increased insight or not is to be determined, but after seeing Smith begin his workouts and rehab with the team over the last month, many around the organization believe Smith is set to return as early as this season.
I think Jalen Smith may end up playing this year. See how it works out but leaning towards him playing
Most expected the Cowboys 2nd round pick to miss at least the entirely of the 2016 season, if not even more time than that. But Jaylon's work ethic and constant rehab efforts are forcing everyone to re-evaluate those projections.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith was doing resistance-chord work with athletic trainer Britt Brown during today's rookie minicamp
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones had originally suggested that Smith would not be placed on the season ending injured reserve list to prepare for the possibility that he is ready to play in December, or during a playoff run.
I would much rather have the truth told to me than be strung along with lies in order to keep my optimism about the team up during a rough stretch.
But the more and more information that comes out about Jaylon Smith, the more I believe that his return in 2016 may be imminent.
If he is placed on the PUP list he will have a five week window after week six to begin practicing again. If Smith does start practicing by what will then be week 11, the team will then have a 21 day window to decide if they will activate him on the 53-man roster.
Whether they place him on the PUP or NFI list, the Cowboys will be forced to make what could be a tough decision about Smith's 2016 season.
Personally, I don't think he should be rushed back.
Rolando McClain is under contract for this season, and if he and Sean Lee can remain even relatively healthy, the Cowboys should get solid play out of their middle linebackers without Smith having to play a down.
Of course, Jaylon Smith can be a game-changing type of player and if he progresses as quickly as many around the organization believe he will, then he should be given the chance to play.
I would just hate to see the long term health of a potentially great player be jeopardized in favor of immediate impact.
Luckily, the Cowboys are smarter than that, and we should all have faith that if Jaylon Smith does see the field in 2016, it is because he is fully healthy and ready to go.