Here’s a case of my personal philosophy taking hold, because Jaylon Smith could very well wind up being a perennial Pro Bowl linebacker. The Notre Dame stud displayed freakish athletic prowess. He has the speed and fluidity to turn and run with any tight end in coverage but also the power to drop big running backs in their tracks. I believe he has the scheme versatility to play rush OLB in a 3-4 or MLB in a 4-3. Two different NFL team sources advised me Smith was the No. 1 defensive player on their rankings.
“Was” is the key word. Smith suffered a nasty knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. He tore his ACL and LCL on New Year’s Day. Even though reports have circulated Smith will be available for play when September kicks off, that would represent a miraculous, unprecedentedly rapid recovery from such an injury and subsequent surgery. Even if he does make it, Smith won’t be at 100% and is at real risk for a subsequent or corollary injury.
Tyrann Mathieu, aka the Honey Badger, suffered the same injury late in his rookie season of 2013. He missed the following season opener (and two other later games) and wasn’t nearly as effective in his return. As a rookie defensive back, Mathieu was an impact talent. In his second season, he was the very definition of average. Of course he exploded into a star in 2015, fully healthy and recovered once again. But that season ended with a non-contact ACL tear on his opposite knee, casting his 2016 in doubt.
Let’s say Smith, who could have the same equivalent star power, follows that career arc. He misses 2-3 games as a rookie and isn’t as rangy or dynamic as he was for the Irish. In 2017 he becomes a versatile defensive terror, earning an All Pro nod before tearing up his other knee in Week 15. Then he misses the first half of 2018 and is never quite the same athlete again.
Bob Quinn has some experience here. The Patriots took Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the first round of the 2014 draft even though he had suffered two separate torn ACLs in college. He’s had some real positive impact, but it’s been limited. And his future now is very much in doubt; he’s finished both his NFL seasons on IR, the last one with a thigh injury related to his prior knee issues.
"This marks the second straight season he’s been placed on IR in early December. Easley, who tore both ACLs while in college at Florida, had been placed on IR last year because of a knee injury."
Is getting 15 great games out of the 16th overall pick really a good return on investment? Nothing against Smith, but that just doesn’t seem prudent to me. As noted earlier, availability matters. Believe in his fantastic recovery only when you see it. I’m not willing to take that risk and I really hope the Lions feel the same way.
Next: Emmanuel Ogbah