When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Jaylon Smith in the 2016 NFL Draft, they knew there would need to be patience. Coming off a devastating knee injury, Smith faced questions as to whether he would even play football again. After “redshirt”ing his rookie season, Smith is primed to return to the field. Now 19 months removed from his injury, let’s examine what expectations should be placed on Smith’s shoulders.
Dallas Cowboys’ Realistic Expectations:
The first expectation for Jaylon Smith in 2017 is that he stays healthy. After an extensive injury rehab, the team is sure to bring Smith along slowly. They will allow him time to test his surgically-repaired knee. Jaylon Smith will also need time to adjust to the NFL level.
The team will continue to slot Anthony Hitchens in as the starting middle linebacker. However, Smith can begin making progress towards overtaking Hitchens with a consistent showing during training camp. As a redshirt rookie recovering from a knee injury, the realistic expectations for Jaylon Smith should be focused around his health and his development towards becoming a three-down linebacker.
Shoot for the Moon:
The potential is there for Jaylon Smith to be a difference maker on a young Cowboys’ team with title aspirations. Smith was billed as a blue-chip draft prospect prior to his injury. The youngster drew comparisons to stud linebackers such as Luke Kuechly or Patrick Willis. If Smith’s knee permits, he would be an impact addition to the middle of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defense.
If Smith shows that he can handle playing linebacker on a three-down basis, the team could see number 54 starting at middle linebacker when the New York Giants travel to AT&T Stadium in week 1. With his sideline-to-sideline quickness, pass rush prowess, and coverage ability, Jaylon Smith has a versatile skillset. Smith can even bring a leadership aspect to the organization, as his recovery from injury is truly inspirational. His presence on the team can further usher in a new era of Cowboys’ football. While this scenario is being pegged as anywhere from impossible to probable, we’ll side with it being a slight possibility. After all, the guy is still a rookie coming off of an injury.
While Cowboys fans should hope for Jaylon Smith to fulfill his pre-injury promise, it would be wise to temper expectations for the Notre Dame alum until he can test his knee in game action. Smith playing in all 16 games is a good goal for Dallas Cowboys fans to have in 2017. Finally, Smith pushing Anthony Hitchens for playing time would be an excellent development for the team.
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