After spending the 34th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft on stud linebacker Jaylon Smith, the Dallas Cowboys may be back in the linebacker market in 2017.
Smith, who suffered nerve damage is in his knee during his final collegiate football game with Notre Dame, missed the entirety of his rookie season with a condition known as “drop foot.” Lately, we have seen videos of Smith working out, running, cutting, and looking like an absolute beast.
The video clips got Cowboys Nation amped to see Smith’s return, but recent reports have put a damper on that excitement.
With #Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith’s nerve not firing, he’ll have to play in a game with a brace for drop foot. Would likely be the 1st to do it
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted Wednesday morning that Jaylon Smith is still suffering drop foot, as the nerve in his knee has not regenerated. The Cowboys are still hopeful that he can play wearing a brace in 2017, but if he can, it will be one of the only times it’s ever been done.
While Dallas can hope for the best with Jaylon Smith, it may be time to prepare for the worst. This means, they need to start looking at both the free agent market and the 2017 NFL Draft class to see if there are any worthy linebackers that can contribute this season.
The biggest name on the free agent linebacker list is New England Patriots’ Dont’a Hightower. The former Alabama blue-chip, Hightower finished the 2016 season with 65 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and a Super Bowl ring.
He is the golden boy of this free agent class, and while Dallas would be ecstatic to have him, there is virtually no chance of this happening.
A more realistic option for the Cowboys may be someone like Perry Riley. Riley has been a solid player in the NFL for awhile, and at 29 years old he could be a cheaper signing and a productive addition to the Cowboys defense.
Then again, we know how the Cowboys go about free agency in the Stephen Jones era.
Here is where things get interesting.
This year’s inside linebacker class isn’t great, but if Dallas decides to draft one in the first round, they will ultimately find good value.
LSU’s Duke Riley has flown under the radar for much of the draft process, but has begun to rise with my fellow Twitter scouts. Riley is a fast and physical linebacker who could make his home in the Cowboys 4-3 defense from day one.
Some other names to look out for during this draft process are Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan, and Flordia’s Jarrad Davis.
While I still believe the Cowboys number one focus this offseason should be adding a dynamic pass rusher, a replacement for Jaylon Smith might need to be made number two on that to-do list.
Hopefully, Jaylon Smith can return and play at a high level while wearing a brace. But the Cowboys must prepare as if he will not be able to, and cover their bases for next season.