The moment the draft ended three months ago, Cowboys fans have been on the edge of their seat waiting to see their team’s rookies take the field. With that being said, I want to give each fan my opinion on what they can expect from each of these rookies not only in 2016, but also for the long haul with this new series I am doing for Cowboys Blitz.
Latest Report: RB Ezekiel Elliott
2nd Round Pick (34th Overall): Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
The biggest surprise in the entire 2016 NFL draft came when Michael Irvin walked up to the podium to announce the 34th pick, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. Don’t believe me? Here was the reaction of some of our staff members here:
The unanimous All-American was well on his way to being a top five selection before suffering a gruesome knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, the last game of his collegiate career. Reports leading up to the draft had Smith mocked anywhere from the third to the seventh round, as teams were unsure if the nerve in his knee would ever regenerate.
What made the move so surprising to Cowboys analysts and fans was that the team drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick in the draft, making it look like this team was drafting in a “win now” approach. However, the team had an advantage in terms of medical information on Smith as his surgery was done by Cowboys team physician, Dr. Dan Cooper. The main obstacle in getting Smith on the field is to get his nerve to fire again, but that is not something that is guaranteed, making the risk even greater. With that being said, it is hard to picture him playing in 2016. If that nerve does re-fire and is healthy, there is no doubt in my mind that he is an impact linebacker in the NFL. In this defense, he would play the Mike linebacker, giving the Cowboys a much needed boost of athleticism and instincts to the position.
At Notre Dame, he showed the ability to play all three linebacker positions, even as a pass rusher at times, so the position flex that this team likes is definitely there with him. The difference between Smith and other linebackers coming out of college in past drafts is that he does not need to rely on his physical gifts to give production at the position. It is such a shame that he went down with the knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl because he was truly a generational prospect at the linebacker position.
In fact, I bet that he would have been the fourth overall pick instead of Elliott if healthy, and could have even been in consideration for the first pick if the Titans did not trade out of it. That is how good this guy is when healthy, but that is the main question: “When will he be healthy?” I can’t necessarily answer that question, but if that nerve does re-fire and he is able to get back to speed, watch out.
2016 Prediction: Redshirt Year
Long-Term Prediction: Depends on nerve growth, but could be All-Pro linebacker if healthy.