Jaylon Smith 2016 NFL Draft Profile

Overview
Position: Outside Linebacker
Height: 6’3’’
Weight: 240
School: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Jaylon Smith 2016 NFL Draft Profile

Few highly touted recruits live up to the hype coming out of high school as well as Jaylon Smith did. He became only the second player to win both the high school and college Butkus Awards this past December, joining former Notre Dame star and close friend Manti Te’o in elite company. Besides this and being named the best player Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has ever coached by Kelly himself, Smith was a consensus All-American in 2015 after he lead the Fighting Irish defense in tackles for the second straight season. The Fort Wayne, IN native started all three seasons while he was in South Bend, totaling 284 tackles, 23.5 of which were for a loss. To cap off his resume, Smith has remained a projected first-round pick in the upcoming draft despite speculation that he may not be ready to play in 2016 following his ACL and LCL tears in Notre Dame’s loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith could have stayed at Notre Dame for another year, but he felt that he had done enough at the college level, as do the dozens of NFL general managers currently drooling over his tape.

Strengths

When asked what stands out about Smith on tape, Stanford head coach David Shaw replied, “What doesn’t?” This may be true, but it probably isn’t enough to convince an NFL team to draft him. Here are some specific things that might:

  • He has the brain to lead a defense – was granted control of defensive play calling as a true sophomore.
  • Excellent ability to diagnose offensive plays pre-snap and fill the correct gap.
  • Aggressively takes on blockers with power and extended arms.
  • Has the speed to force a running back to the edge, plus the instincts and strength to make the tackle.
  • His speed allows him to stick closely to receivers in man coverage.
  • Explosiveness off the ball gives him the potential to become an elite pass rusher at the next level.
  • Played all three linebacker positions during his time at Notre Dame, has the ability to fit into any type of defense as a three-down defender.
  • No personality problems off the field.

Weaknesses

  • Has a tendency to sell out on a play and sometimes hits the wrong gap.
  • Lacks elite strength to stay balanced when blockers initially stand him up; his ability to shed offensive lineman could use some work.

NFL Comparison: As one former AFC defensive coach said, Smith looks a lot like Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson.

Teams with Need at Position: Chicago Bears (11th pick), New York Jets (20), Jacksonville Jaguars (5), Baltimore Ravens (6), New Orleans Saints (12), Kansas City Chiefs (28), Arizona Cardinals (29)

Projection: Second or early third round pick.

Bottom Line: If Smith had not injured his knee in his final college game, he undoubtedly would have been a top ten pick. His injury lowered his draft stock in the eyes of some scouts, but most still felt that the rarity of his skill set was worth spending a first round pick on, even if it meant waiting until 2017 to see it in person. This seemed to be the case until this past Friday when a tweet from former San Diego Chargers physician David Chao surfaced, claiming that the brace Smith was wearing in a video of him walking indicates nerve damage. The former physician has quite a controversial past, but that hasn’t stopped his judgment from scaring a number of NFL general managers – NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that multiple teams believe Smith will miss the 2016 season and potentially even 2017.

It is important to remember that Chao has not personally inspected Smith’s knee, and is only going off of what he has seen in a video. Smith made it clear that his own doctors did not find any nerve damage when he spoke to the media at the NFL combine this past weekend, but there is no telling whether Smith was actually telling the truth or merely trying to preserve his draft stock. Regardless of his intentions, the status of Smith’s knee will likely remain uncertain until it has more time to heal, as will his position on draft boards. Until then, it is safe to assume that Smith could slip out of the first round of the draft, as few teams will be willing to spend that high of a pick on a player that may not be available until 2018.

Smith’s combination of speed and athleticism truly is a rarity among NFL draft prospects, let alone those who spend just three seasons in college. The definition of a hybrid linebacker, any defensive coordinator in the NFL would love to acquire his services. He is ideal as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense but has shown that he can fit any scheme. If Smith manages to gain some weight following his rehab, moving him to an inside position in order to utilize his aggressiveness is not out of the question. Teams may be hesitant to draft Smith considering his injury, but don’t expect him to fall too far on many draft boards. Smith is perhaps the most coveted linebacker in this class, and his talents are worth risking a pick on. Count on Smith to make a name for himself at the next level, whenever that may be.

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