Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith has been an elite playmaker for a while now. In both high school and college, he was given Butkus Awards as the nation’s top linebacker. In fact, he was such an outstanding player in college, that there was little doubt he would be a top-five pick in this year’s draft.
But then, during this year’s Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State and the last game of his illustrious college career, everything got turned upside down. After proving his durability by appearing in 39 consecutive games, he suffered a torn ACL and LCL injury at the worst time possible.
The good news: Smith’s expected to make a full recovery. The bad news: he will still miss at least a part of his rookie season, and some teams won’t draft a player who doesn’t immediately produce results.
Luckily, he is taking it all in stride and has the right support system to help him get through it. His brother, Rod Smith, plays for the Cowboys and helped him prepare for the whole combine experience.
“He told me to just enjoy the process,” he said. “You need to just take whatever comes your way, full throttle, and learn from it.”
For a linebacker, Smith is extremely fluid in coverage, and that’s no accident. He points to two keys that have helped him lock down whoever he’s matched up against: technique and fundamentals.
“Growing up, I worked and trained a lot as a defensive back,” he said. “Being able to have defensive-back hips and being able to move like one is something that I value even at the linebacker position.”
But make no mistake about it, in a passing league, he knows what matters most.
“One thing to note is I look at myself as a pass rusher,” Smith said. “That’s what I want to be known for.”
So, if your favorite NFL team calls his name, what type of player are you getting?
“I’d say I’m a mixture of Von Miller and Lavonte David,” he said. “I always want to be the best. I’m never complacent. There’s no room for that if you want to win. I also am a team player.”
That’s worth the wait.