Jaylon Smith Uncertainty Keeps Linebacker as Cowboys Draft Need ✭
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Jaylon Smith Uncertainty Keeps Linebacker as Cowboys Draft Need

Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys

Jaylon Smith Uncertainty Keeps Linebacker as Cowboys Draft Need

Jaylon Smith Uncertainty Keeps Linebacker as Cowboys Draft Need

No matter who the Cowboys draft in 2017, none of those rookies may bring the same level of intrigue to next season as linebacker Jaylon Smith. A second-round pick last year, Smith has elite potential but an ongoing knee issue that hurt his draft stock and is still a cause for worry.

Jaylon’s talent, which most feel would’ve put him in the top five of the 2016 draft class, has Cowboys fans salivating. However, they are also rightly concerned about just how many eggs Dallas are going to put into his basket.

For example, check out this question I received on Twitter recently:

Evaluate on Twitter

@CowboysAddicts Jaylon Smith, do the cowboys feel comfortable enough with him to not spend a draft pick on another LB? Or would they regardless

The Cowboys already used a second-round pick, the 34th pick overall, to acquire Jaylon Smith. That is a big egg on its own. What’s more, not signing or drafting other linebacker prospects because of your hope in Smith’s progress is its own form of investment. The more trust that the Cowboys put in Jaylon, the worse they might get burned.

The team expects for Jaylon to a contributor in 2017. Stephen Jones said the following a few weeks ago:

“I think the sky’s the limit. I think he’s got a great opportunity — if he keeps on his current path — to be a dominant player for us. Now to say I expect that when he’s not there yet? That’s tough to have that expectation. But I think we do expect him to contribute and be a big part of our defense this year.”

There’s a fine line between expectation and hope. Relying on Jaylon Smith to step into a starting role, presumably as the middle linebacker, is not without danger. Even if his body holds up, Smith would still be a redshirt rookie two years removed from playing. For all his potential, he may not be ready to start just yet.

Jaylon Smith

LB Jaylon Smith has yet to be seen in full Cowboys uniform.

The good news is that Dallas still has Anthony Hitchens, who has started 26 games for them over the last three years. While not spectacular, Hitchens has been solid and is a decent insurance policy for 2017.

However, 2017 is also the final year of Hitchens’ rookie contract. If Jaylon Smith doesn’t pan out then Dallas will be facing having to overpay to keep Hitchens out of necessity. Barring a major surge by Mark Nzeocha as a linebacker prospect, they would have a bare cupboard and no leverage.

This is where the draft comes into play. Dallas has several reasons to be motivated to add talent at linebacker, and perhaps even as high as another second-round pick.

  • Insurance against Jaylon Smith’s career never taking off
  • Additional depth replacing departures of Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar
  • Replacement for Anthony Hitchens in 2018
  • Additional competition for Hitchens and Damien Wilson for 2017 starting role at SAM

This is a little further down the road, but also consider that Sean Lee only has so much longer to play. Lee is currently signed through 2019 and will turn 34 after that season. Assuming he plays out that contract, Dallas may be ready for a young player. Plus, given Sean’s injury history, there’s reason to think they may need a new player even sooner.

Clearly, Dallas has plenty of reason to look at linebackers in the 2017 NFL Draft.  The uncertainty around Jaylon Smith is a big factor, but there are several others we’ve outlined that should motivate the Cowboys.

As if we didn’t have enough defensive needs, right?

Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

  • Randy Martin

    Why you gotta bring me down Jess? Nah I think you are spot on here. This is an understated need that we have. Hitchens is serviceable but so far he is just a piece. Nzeocha hadn’t been able to stay healthy and Smith is a giant question mark. And of course Lee could begin to show his age along the way and lose a step. Although his injury history has probably preserved his body. Lots of questions…answers to be revealed in about a month.

    • David

      Reality is that if the cowboys took the best linebacker at 28 you would have two quality linebackers on the field and should halon smith get his game back the cowboys would have the best linebackers in the NFL and running would be near impossible creating third and long over and over again

      • Randy Martin

        Well, in theory you might be able to say that but it’s predicated on two big “ifs.” One is IF Jaylon Smith can play and play at the level he is capable of and IF the LB they select pans out. But I don’t see any way they go LB at #28 anyway. If they took somebody in the 2nd round I would hope that Raekwon McMillan is still around. Bring on the draft!

  • Kevin Black

    I completely disagree. Dallas has enough for game day and will only get one in the draft is the value is there. They don’t NEED one in the draft. I compare it to an offensive position in the draft: it would have to be someone of extraordinary value to pick.

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