Front Office Sports recently did a piece on Cowboys’ linebacker Jaylon Smith’s experience with cryotherapy and its impact on his recovery from the injury he suffered to the peroneal nerve in his knee during the Fiesta Bowl back in 2016.
While the article’s focus is largely on Smith’s financial investments with iCRYO– a Houston-based health center focused on the cutting-edge regenerative properties of cryotherapy- Smith largely credits his breakout 2018 season with the Cowboys to the rehabilitation he received from his time at iCRYO. The article is certainly worth a read, however my mind strayed to another place in the middle of reading it.
While there may be credit due to iCRYO for his recovery and future as a professional athlete, we know as fans that the road to his success in last season was much more difficult than just a bit of rehab; Call it a mix of fate, sweat equity, a fair amount of luck, and a complete stroke of genius on the part of the organization that drafted him.
It’s what makes his narrative so great; And as Jaylon slowly continues to show flashes of the dominance he was so well known for at Notre Dame, the greater the story gets.
Nearing the 2016 draft, Smith was widely considered a top-five pick and arguably the best defensive player on the board. His tendency to collapse plays as a result of his freakish speed and ability to read opposing offenses was going to get his name called somewhere in the realm of Ezekiel Elliott- a likewise-talented freak of an athlete whose skills are well known to us. However, Smith ended up suffering a gruesome knee injury after hyperextending his leg in the final game of his college career which cast a large shadow over Smith’s future. A lot of uncertainty hung over Smith’s chances to make it as a professional athlete at all, much less have the on-field impact he had before.
Now, it’s been long established that Jerry didn’t exactly have Jaylon in his sights for the third pick in the second round, considering his affinity for Paxton Lynch as the heir-apparent to an injury-plagued Tony Romo. But fate appeared to side with the Cowboys, as Lynch became Denver’s QB-to-be (dodged that bullet), Smith slipped to the second round, and Dallas was once again on the clock.
With Smith still being available at 34, Dallas had an interesting edge in intel on the linebacker’s potential recovery where interestingly enough, the lead surgeon who had performed the operation to repair the nerve in Smith’s leg the week following the Fiesta Bowl game just happened to be the Cowboys’ head team physician, Dr. Dan Cooper. Cooper suggested that Smith would probably require at least a year to recover but expected with rehab he could return to form. Doubt still lingered, but nobody knew Smith’s injury better than Dr. Cooper, and Smith could literally be in no better hands than the Cowboys’ medical team.
Fast forward to 2018: Smith took half of the defense’s snaps, tallied 82 solo tackles, four sacks, completed a 69-yard fumble recovery (got his speed back), and became a cornerstone in an emerging Dallas defense which would end up being one of the league’s best. He missed the Pro Bowl by a hair and was much the player who was so highly coveted back when he was Fighting Irish.
That’s a far cry from two years before when we were excited Jaylon could move his toes again.
Regardless of how successful the team is in the coming years of Jaylon Smith’s prime as a Cowboy, the story that has become as a result of Smith’s injury, recovery, and subsequent success in the NFL has laid the groundwork for becoming one of the greatest comeback stories the sport has ever experienced.
Now if only the story could end with Dallas bringing home its next title.
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