Indianapolis Star

Freshman Focus: Jaylon Smith

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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.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

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.

 

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”