Jul 28, 2013, 1:33 PM EDT
The crown jewel of the Irish recruiting class, Jaylon Smith begins his Notre Dame career as the school’s highest ranked defensive prospect in the modern recruiting era. The top high school linebacker in the country, Smith is an all-everything recruit, a headliner on every All-American team, and a prospect coveted by schools coast to coast.
After guiding his Bishop Luers high school team to four straight state titles, Smith exits his Indiana high school football career one of the most decorated players the state has ever seen. Starring as both a running back and linebacker, Smith will now focus on playing defense for the Irish, where his elite athletic ability and explosiveness give Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco a defender unlike any they’ve previously had. While it’s a big jump from small-school Indiana football, Smith walks onto campus expected to be one of the future stars of college football, a hype that often times is tough to match.
Let’s take a closer look at Jaylon Smith.
A consensus top-five player in the country, Smith was universally viewed as the top outside linebacker in the country. With offers from just about every elite program in the country, Smith picked Notre Dame over Ohio State, where his brother plays for Urban Meyer.
The Butkus Award winner at the high school level, Smith was a Parade All-American, first team USA Today All-American, and Indiana’s Mr. Football. He was team captain for the West squad at the US Army All-American Bowl. Put simply, there’s no better prospect on paper than Smith.
EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES
Expect to see Smith on the field early and often. Where might be the only real question, with Danny Spond firmly entrenched at the Dog linebacker position and Prince Shembo one of the top Cat linebackers in the country. That said, Smith brings something to the outside linebacker depth chart that nobody else can – an elite athletic profile that isn’t often seen.
On the summer camp circuit, Smith hopped from position to position, dominating drills as a wide receiver, running back, defensive end, linebacker or cover corner. While he’ll need to add bulk and get used to the physicality demanded in Diaco’s defense, he’s the type of athlete that the coaching staff will find a way to get on the field.
With the Irish finally having the personnel to utilize nickel and dime packages, expect Smith to be featured in specialty groupings, either using his speed in coverage or coming off the edge as a pass rusher.
PROJECTING THE FUTURE
The sky is the limit for Smith. Athletically, he has few equals. And as the Irish’s standout ’13 recruiting class was coming together, Smith showed himself to be the type of leader that gets Kelly and his staff more than excited.
“The thing that’s most impressive is the character of this young man and his energy,” Kelly said of Smith on Signing Day. “He just has it. When he walks into a room, the room kind of lightens up, and that’s the kind of personality that he is, and he is one tough football player, as well.”
Smith will grow into that leadership role, with the Irish filled with quality upperclassmen ready to handle those responsibilities. The same can be said for his role on the field. With Spond entering his senior season, there’s no need to force Smith to be the type of every down player you’d expect out of a recruit in a similar stratosphere. But finding where to play Smith will be the biggest challenge for this staff, and will likely be dictated by Smith’s development in the weight room.
Right now, you could make an argument for Smith playing a handful of different positions on both sides of the ball. But after watching Anthony Barr turn into one of the most dangerous edge players in the game, you can expect to see Smith develop in the same way. And that should have Irish fans very excited.