Why Jaylon Smith would've been McShay'south No. one player

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Source:   —  April 26, 2016, at 7:07 PM

But that changed on Jan. one, when Smith suffered a devastating knee injury in his final college game. Since then, there has been plenty of speculation about the extent of his injury, and  Monday'south news confirmed Smith isn't expected to play in two thousand-sixteenth and some teams have questions whether he'll ever play again.

Why Jaylon Smith would've been McShay'south No. one player

I don't love throwing out too many absolutes during draft season, but as the calendar flipped to two thousand sixteen, I was beautiful sure of one thing: Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith would be a top-five choose in the upcoming NFL draft (assuming he chose to leave school early). But that changed on Jan. one, when Smith suffered a devastating knee injury in his final college game. Since then, there has been plenty of speculation about the extent of his injury, and  Monday'south news confirmed Smith isn't expected to play in two thousand-sixteenth and some teams have questions whether he'll ever play again.

ESPN'south Darren Rovell reported that Smith could gather on some of his $5 million loss-of-value insurance policy if he fell out of the first round. Unfortunately, that appears to be all but a certainty. He'south a consensus top-five talent, but in speaking to people in the league, it seems love the highest Smith could go would be Day three. With an injury of this nature, each team'south medical policy will dictate whether Smith makes it on the final draft board. And if he does, it'll be up to the GM or ultimate decision-maker to measure risk versus reward. 

While it'south simple to realize why teams would shy far from making a high-priced draft investment in Smith, I do think it'south necessary to have some perspective. After watching his film, I can definitively declare Smith would've been the No. one overall player on my board had he walked off the field healthy on Jan. 1.

Here are the three biggest reasons why.

Smith has a combination of suddenness, speed and fluidity that you don't look frequently at the linebacker position. He'south not just a three-down player; he'south one of the few prospects in this draft who actually impacts the game on every snap. An simple mover with fast feet and fluid hips, he can match-up one-on-one in coverage with most RBs/TEs and has grand range in zone. Smith projects to the following level as a weak-side off-the-line LB, with the athleticism to obtain sideline-to-sideline

That makes him a perfect fit for today'south NFL. As more and more teams employ spread offenses, linebackers who excel in space will continue to rise in value. Smith runs love a wide receiver, and has the kind of frame that he can continue to add bulk to. Maybe most importantly, with the league limiting on-field team practice time, it'south crucial that you bring in players who are disciplined on and off the field. Smith was one of the tone-setters in Notre Dame'south practices, and I never saw him get a play off on tape. His study habits bode well for his future success in the NFL.

His biggest leap came in his skill to get on blocks. He'south a bit undersized at 235-240 pounds, but he looked stronger latest season, proving he can jar blockers at the point of attack. He played as an off-the-line LB for the first time in two thousand-fourteenth, and it required an adjustment. In talking to him, Smith said that really forced him to become more of a learner of the game. 

The additional study time paid off: Smith had always shown natural instincts on the field, but in two thousand-fifteenth, he took that aspect of his game to a different level. He'south highly instinctive in coverage. It'south one thing to be able to read the QB'south eyes and tendencies based on film study; it'south quite another to process that information in an instant and leap the route with explosive initial quickness. Smith'south skill to look plays expand and act on it's truly rare. 

It'south not sufficient for top-tier players to indicate overwhelming potential. You wish to look them dominate their contest and keep up huge numbers. Smith certainly did that in his three seasons at Notre Dame. See at the chart below. He improved every season, which jives with what I saw on tape, and his consistency in his final two seasons was really incredible.

If there'south one quibble, it'south his lack of production as an edge rusher. He wasn't asked to obtain after the QB as much as his career went on, but watching the tape, he's the body control and flexibility to bend the edge tightly. In the end, Smith causes distant more disruption as a pass-rusher than the numbers suggest. Because of his athleticism, he's the raw tools to continue making strides in this area.

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