As the NFL Draft approaches rumors continue to swirl about the health of Jaylon Smith‘s knee. Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker and Butkus Award winner tore his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl, ending his college career in nightmarish fashion.
The recovery process on the injury has been slow going, pushing Smith out of the first round in many mock drafts. The concern about nerve damage has some believing Smith might never look like the player many thought could in consideration as the draft’s top pick.
Don’t count Brian Kelly among those doubters.
Notre Dame’s head coach caught up with Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman, and talked about his unflinching belief that it’s not a matter of if with Smith, it’s when:
“First, I would be careful to not jump to any kind of conclusions based upon the information that you’re getting right now,” Kelly said. “Jaylon will play in the NFL. It’s just a matter of time. He’s going to come back from this injury, and when he does he’s going to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL. He has that kind of ability.
“This is an injury that we’ve seen before. We’ve had them on our team. They take time, but Jaylon is somebody that has had an incredible positive attitude.”
Kelly’s belief comes from both knowing Smith’s work ethic and unflinching focus, but also having the knowledge that while structural timelines after surgery have accelerated with technology, there’s only so much you can do to speed up the nerve’s process.
With Smith covered with an insurance policy that will pay him handsomely every pick he falls after the end of the first round, Smith also gets the added benefit of having one-less year guaranteed on his rookie contract if he’s taken in round one.
“He’s a smart business decision when you’re thinking about Jaylon Smith, because he’s going to get back on the field just because of his ability to heal,” Kelly told Feldman. “He’s an incredible athlete and a positive guy. We’re not in that mindset of disappointment or concern that he’s not going to play again.”