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Jaylon Smith’s Injury Raises Questions at Combine

The NFL Draft is all about risk and reward. Teams selecting early in the first round often pin their franchise’s future to one player, whether that’s a highly-rated quarterback or can’t-miss offensive tackle. The risk isn’t always worth the reward, but prospects like Andrew Luck make the gamble a worthwhile endeavor.

But when the gamble involves injuries, the pitfalls can be disastrous. The San Francisco 49ers took a flier on Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and the running back was never able to recover from a gruesome knee injury suffered at South Carolina. He never played a down with the 49ers, retired before the 2015 regular season, and disappeared into obscurity. And this year, another top prospect — Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith — may face a similar fate.

According to reports from Ian Rapoport, Smith’s medical exam revealed “ankle and knee nerve issues” that potentially put his 2016 season in jeopardy. At the Fiesta Bowl in January, Smith landed awkwardly and tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee. Though he underwent successful surgery seven weeks ago, Smith’s knee may be more damaged than originally thought; damage severe enough to send his draft stock plummeting in April.

When Smith arrived at the NFL Combine late last week, teams knew he’d need time to return to full strength. A sever knee injury requires months of rehab and additional work on the practice field. For many rookies, that’s the equivalent of a redshirt year in college football, or a season on the roster without actually playing.

But the nerve damage found in Smith’s leg is doing more than raising questions; it’s scaring teams away. Reports from ESPN indicate that multiple teams have made the decision to fail Smith on the physical,” and  that “sources with three teams at the combine said they do not intend to draft Smith.” RealGM’s Jeff Risdon spoke to one anonymous defensive coordinator at the Combine, and the verdict wasn’t encouraging:

[quote_center]”Can’t take that risk … At all. Poor kid.”[/quote_center]

It’s quite the fall for Smith, who was a legitimate candidate for the first-overall selection while healthy at Notre Dame. He recorded 113 tackles last season and was widely considered college football’s best defensive player. But one injury has derailed Smith’s chances of a top-10 pick, and even a first round selection.

At only 20 years-old, Smith certainly projects as an investment for the future, but again, how much is a team willing to invest for a player who may not ever return to full strength? The Vikings have the luxury of selecting late in the first round (No. 23), though that pick may be better used to address issues at wide receiver and offensive line. Wherever Smith is drafted, the road to recovery appears long and full of obstacles.

As of now, my first mock draft was completely wrong. Please feel free to say “I told you so” in the comments section. 

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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  1. Though he underwent successful surgery seven months ago, Smith’s knee may be more damaged than originally thought; damage severe enough to send his draft stock plummeting in April.

    7 weeks?

    Also, I am still down on drafting Jaylon and giving him the full redshirt year.

    1. Me too! And it was 7 weeks typo in the article. Your still getting a top 5 talent for nothing if he can get healthy. Still worth a 3rd or 4th round pick.

  2. If he’s available at #23 and the Vikings decide to draft him, then I would be happy with that as I have full confidence in the team’s medical staff…

    1. Me too! If he’s there in round 3 pull the trigger! He’s a top 5 talent and if he’s healthy one of the best linebackers to come out in the last 10 years.

  3. Depends on the kind of nerve injury. Quite a bit of significant speculation based on seeing him in an AFO. Some nerves regrow but take months. Eventually you’ll get all function back. Some other injuries, tho, not so good luck. Depends on the kind of nerve injured.

    To be honest – this strikes me as one of those things where some teams are really going to try and figure out the nerve problems and get this guy later on day 3, wait a year, then have essentially a free first round player. He’s going to get drafted, that’s for sure. It’s just who can get the most value out of this injury by getting him to drop, you know?

  4. I really hope that’s just the media trying to create headlines. It really sucks when that happens to young players in their draft year

  5. While I feel sorry for Smith that the injury happened,no way I want the Vikings going anywhere near this guy.
    His nerve damage is being reported as similar to that suffered by Marcus Lattimore,and one of the doctors who examined Smith gives him only a 10% chance of recovery.
    We are building something good in Minnesota,and we need guys who can compete and contribute.

    1. Honestly I think it’s mostly the media playing it up since they need headlines this time of the year before FA. And who knows that’s just one doctor’s opinion. Smith probably knew about the injury all along but I believe he will recover and its not that bad. If you spend a day 3 pick on him then it doesn’t matter. If he doesnt pan out well ok how many late rounders do? But if he does your getting the steal of the ENTIRE draft. I watched this kid for three years and he is a special talent.

  6. First round? No way. Second round? Way. There’s an exact historical precedent: Matt Blair, 1974, dropped to the second round because of injury concerns. Jim Finks and Bud Grant gambled on him. Blair became the foundation of the Vike defense for 10 years.

    And now for my ironic kicker. It might be best for Jaylon Smith if he never plays in the NFL. It might be best for his personal growth if he walks away from football, gets a job in the athletic department at his alma mater, and becomes athletic director in 10 years. There’s a whole lot to be said for having a normal 9 to 5 job.

    1. The writer of the main piece, Austin Belisle, says that the Viking team colors are purple and yellow. This will be news to the Vikings; the team colors are purple, gold, and white – and yes, there is a difference between yellow and gold.

  7. Rd 2 please Rick. Operation home town SB. No doubt this kid makes it back with a year off. Him with Kendricks and Barr woukd be Godly. Worth a 2nd even with a red shirt season.

    Watching interviews with him, he’s a good kid character wise with a mission. Think I want this pick player more than any in the draft. We have a great medical staff, and with the nerves expected to regrow. He has a great chance to succeed here. Bet in 3-4 years people will grade Jaylon as one of the best to come out this year.

    All pro potential please Rick. I think he is off the board by our 3rd. Greenway and the Lemur can hold it down this year and then next year we are Kings.