Knee surgeries mar prospects for talented linebackers Myles Jack, Jaylon Smith _lowres

Associated Press file photo by ROSS D. FRANKLIN -- Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is injured on the field during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.

INDIANAPOLIS — Jaylon Smith believes he’s the best player in this draft class. And if he hadn’t torn the ACL and MCL during the final game of his collegiate career, few would debate the Notre Dame linebacker over his claim.

Unfortunately, Smith just started walking a few weeks ago, and there’s a chance he could miss a significant portion of the season while he recovers. While he said he’d like to be one of the first 10 players selected in April’s draft, there’s a chance he could fall further down the draft depending on how teams view the health of his knee and his ability to recover.

Smith is confident he can do his part.

“I feel great. There’s no soreness in the knee; there’s no pain.” Smith said. “I’ve been off pain pills for almost a month. It’s just a matter of the recovery process. I don’t know when the nerve and everything will heal. It’s just me taking it day by day and controlling what I can control.”

The nerve is an issue. Depending on who you ask, it could be a major or minor problem. The multiple reports that emerged after he spoke Friday cited anonymous sources who predicted Smith could potentially miss the entire 2016 season.

The NFL Network reported that Smith could be forced to miss “at least” the 2016 season.

The issue over the nerve popped up on Thursday when David Chao, who previously served as the team physician for the San Diego Chargers, spotted a brace around Smith’s ankle typically associated with nerve damage while watching a video the linebacker posted on social media.

Smith, who started out his Friday news conference by claiming he did not have nerve damage, later stated the nerve needed to heal by saying it wasn’t stretched.

When pressed on the difference between and injured nerve and one that’s been stretched, Smith declined to offer a direct answer.

“It means the team doctors have visited with me,” Smith said. “(The doctor) who did my surgery — there’s a report that all the team doctors have. I don’t want to give the wrong information out.”

Smith will undergo a more thorough evaluation at the medical rechecks. If his injury is expected to heal sooner than later, the Saints, who need a coverage linebacker, could be in the market for his services with the 12th pick in the draft.

If there are questions about Smith’s ability to recover, his stock could take a major hit.

Deion Jones on the rise

Deion Jones mostly stuck to the script during his meeting with media Friday at the combine.

He talked about his strengths (speed and ability to get the ball), how his size isn’t an issue (he weighed in at 222 pounds) and playing linebacker for LSU.

When the New Orleans native was asked if he was a fan of the Saints, his face lit up when discussing the possibility of playing for his hometown team.

“It would be crazy. Family is big Saints fans,” Jones said. “They’re kind of rooting for it but I told them they have to be open to other teams now. Said you can’t just be stuck on one team.”

While his favorite player growing up was running back Ricky Williams, if Jones hooks on with the Saints, it will be on the other side of the ball.

The re-signing of weakside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has mitigated the need a bit, but New Orleans could use some depth at the position.

The Saints will have to be quick on the trigger if they’re interested. Jones has shot up draft boards this season and is projected to be selected in the first or second round.

Even he’s surprised how quickly things have happened.

“It’s a blessing. It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “I’m just enjoying this process. Whatever happens, happens.”

He added: “I worked with the mentality that it could. But for it to turn out this big? I wasn’t prepared for it.”

Capping off

Multiple media outlets reported Friday that the NFL salary cap will be set at $155.27 million, which is up from last year’s number of $143.28 million.

The Saints are estimated to currently have more than $7 million in cap space. Once cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Marques Colston are officially released, that figure will jump another $4 million, and possibly more depending on how New Orleans designates its releases. If either is a June 1 cut, then the charge can be split over two seasons.

The team can free up more space by extending the contract of Drew Brees. The quarterback is currently scheduled to count $30 million against the cap.