If Jaylon Smith falls to the fourth round, the Green Bay Packers should take the gamble.
Jaylon Smith’s devastating knee injury is one of the saddest stories of the offseason. Once a surefire top-ten draft pick is unsure when his name will be called or even when he’ll next take to the football field.
Whichever team lands the Notre Dame product will be rolling the dice, but the Green Bay Packers should absolutely take the risk if he’s there on day three.
Falling to the final day of the 2016 NFL Draft is now a very realistic possibility, according to NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline during the scouting combine last month:
"“Those in attendance when Jaylon Smith weighed in yesterday tell me his injured leg looked terrible when he stepped on the scale. Smith struggled moving the leg as well as controlling the leg. I was told it was a glum mood and there was a lot of sadness for Smith from the scouts and coaches on hand. From one source I heard, “I felt like crying for the kid.” There are a number of teams who think Smith could fall into the draft’s last day.”"
After landing awkwardly on his left knee in January’s Fiesta Bowl, the initial diagnosis was a torn ACL and LCL. This alone wouldn’t hold him out of the first round — Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley was selected with the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft despite recovering from a torn ACL. Gurley returned to win the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games.
Smith’s injury is far more severe. He is believed to have nerve damage which would put his long-term future in serious doubt. His next medical checks with NFL teams will be huge.
The difficulty for teams is that there’s no guarantee he will ever reach the sky-high potential he once had, and currently the timetable for his return is cloudy. There’s a slim chance Smith suits up as a rookie, and there’s uncertainty if he’ll even be ready for 2017.
Can the Browns — a team with holes across their roster — risk taking a player who might not play until 2017 and beyond? Judging by the way that franchise has been run over the years, the coaching staff might not even be in town when Smith returns to health. Can the Titans or Jaguars effectively redshirt a player when they have so many needs? The answer is almost certainly no.
The Packers can.
Sure, Green Bay has plenty of needs of its own — inside linebacker and tight end are firmly atop the list of offseason priorities. Adding depth along the offensive line and landing another pass rusher has to be on the agenda too. But in the fourth round the Packers own three picks; they were awarded two compensatory selections due to the loss of Tramon Williams and Davon House via free agency last year.
If Smith is still on the board when it’s time to use one of the compensatory picks, should the Packers take a flier on him? Assuming the medical staff believe there’s a chance he makes a full recovery — absolutely.
Smith has the potential to become an elite linebacker in the NFL. He’s an outstanding athlete, has great speed and physicality and can play anywhere as a linebacker. When healthy, Smith could wreak havoc in opposing backfields alongside Clay Matthews. The biggest obstacle for him is returning to the same level he had in college. It may not even be possible.
Taking Smith would undoubtedly be a risk, but by using one of the Packers’ three fourth round picks, the potential reward is worth taking the gamble. At worst, he would join a list of regrettable draft picks featuring Khyri Thornton (third rounder in 2014) and Carl Bradford (fourth rounder in 2014). Thornton currently sits on the Lions’ practice squad after being cut by the Packers and Patriots. Bradford is yet to make the mark Green Bay hoped at linebacker.
As for his ceiling, Smith has the potential to become an All-Pro talent. Whether his health will ever allow this to happen is yet to be seen, but the Packers could be happy with somewhere between the two extremes.
If Smith reaches the Packers’ compensatory selections in the fourth round, they shouldn’t be afraid to roll the dice.
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