Twenty seconds into this film review Jaylon Smith made a play that induced an audible reaction and had me reaching for the rewind button.
There’s no question the Notre Dame linebacker is one of the more talented players in this draft class. Ohio State linebacker Joey Bosa is the early consensus No. 1 pick. It’s not hard to imagine a world where Smith would have become locked into the No. 2 spot.
The problem is that world has to be imagined. Smith suffered a knee injury during his final collegiate game and now it’s unclear where he’ll be drafted.
That’s bad news for Smith since he’ll likely miss a big chunk of his rookie season.
It could be good news for anyone lower down the draft board with an eye on him. It sounds harsh, but this is the only way those organizations are going to get a shot at acquiring a player as talented as Smith.
Will the Saints, owners of the No. 12 pick, be one of those teams interested? It’s impossible to know. On one hand, you they could acquire a transformative talent. On the other, Smith is going to miss a big chunk of the season and New Orleans needs impact players now.
The other issue is everyone simply assumes players will recover from knee injuries without a hitch. What if that isn’t the case here? There’s some level of risk with taking Smith and teams are going to have to be comfortable with his medicals to take a chance.
But, man, his tape is really good. It’s easy to forget about his knee when watching plays like this.
Quick scouting report
Smith does everything well. During the three games viewed for this film study the linebacker showed the ability to blitz, cover zones and roam from sideline to sideline.
He even turned and ran stride-for-stride with an X receiver up the sideline at one point. Matching up with tight ends shouldn’t be an issue. He could even cover the slot if forced into that position.
If he gets healthy and returns to form, there’s no question Smith could play weakside linebacker or the middle. He does a good job of crashing down on runs and one of the more impressive aspects of his game is his ability to read quarterbacks and put himself in position to make plays.
It’s easy to watch Smith play and envision him alleviating many of the coverage issues the Saints had last season with their linebackers. His range and instincts are truly impressive.
The above play is an example of his ability to read plays. Instead of continuing the pursue the receiver he was in man coverage on, Smith kept his eyes on the quarterback, recognized the handoff and peeled off his responsibility so he would be in position to make a play.
His game isn’t perfect, though.
This is a future issue since Smith is out of action, but the only knock might be his strength. Long and lean, he’s going to need some bulk to his frame. Too often Smith’s knocked out of a play when an offensive lineman gets his hands on him.
And while he’s a good tackler, he also misses enough for it to stand out. This issue is magnified since Smith covers so much ground and puts himself in position to make more plays than most. But if he’s there, he needs to wrap the guy up and bring him to the ground.
Smith is the kind of player who can make a major impact on a defense. It comes down to whether a team needs to win in Week 1 or is willing to roll the dice on Smith.
It’s not an easy decision to make.
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