Could the New Orleans Saints be willing to take the gamble on injured linebacker Jaylon Smith? We profile the Notre Dame star and suggest how he may fit if the Saints do decide to pull the trigger.
The New Orleans Saints have made some moves to fill out their linebacking corp, but to be honest, they could still use a few more players, and they could certainly use a difference maker. Up until his injury late last year, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was a consensus top-5 player in this year’s draft. Even though he is hurt now, the talent is hard to pass up on, so let’s take a look at what he was.
Weight: 223 LBS
Arm length: 33 inches
Hands: 9 1/2 inches
None…he’s broken. Reports vary on how well his recovery is going, but it’s unlikely he will be anywhere near 100% this season.
Timing is everything in life, and the NFL is certainly no exception. A few months ago I might have been here telling you that Jaylon Smith had a chance to be the best player taken in this year’s draft. However, that was before he suffered a catastrophic knee injury that, depending on which reports you listen to, may have even caused him some nerve-damage. In that one instant, Smith went from a can’t-miss prospect, to a gamble. Still, the talent level that he possessed before the injury is top-two in this year’s class, and the only player at his position who might be more talented than him is Myles Jack out of UCLA.
Jaylon Smith is a true do-it-all linebacker who is able to cover, blitz, and play the run. He’s an athletic marvel who possesses good power for his frame, despite his lanky build, and he also has the instincts to take advantage of those gifts. Smith plays with great tenacity, drive, and a real ‘force’ to his game that few players at the college level possess. It’s not a stretch to say that his mental makeup is as big a part of his appeal as his jaw dropping athleticism.
Smith is a true 3-down linebacker, a relative rarity in today’s NFL where substitutions and specialists are so common. His ability to do it all is second only to Jack, and his instincts might actually be a bit better than the former UCLA Bruin. Smith could legitimately play all three linebacker positions in a 4-3 defense and all 4 in a 3-4. He is an underrated pass rusher who has a solid feel for how to get around linemen and get to the quarterback.
Smith isn’t without flaws though. Sometimes he is too aggresive and he tends to be more of a tremendous athlete than a tremendous football player. Smith relies on the fact that he’s simply physically better than his opponents, and while the fact that he CAN do that is great, it’s also a warning sign to me. Smith has the instincts and the intelligence to allow him to improve and become a truly great player, but the question for me is if he can balance having to play smart and sound with still letting the animal take control when he needs to. It’s a delicate balance that only the best linebackers can achieve, and Smith has that potential…or at least he did.
He should be able to bulk his frame up a bit in an NFL weight room so his lack of functional strength isn’t that concerning. What is concerning is the elephant in the room — will Jaylon Smith ever return to being the player he once was? If the answer is yes, then I agree with Nick Underhill of the Advocate — you take the player and figure it out later. The team needs to build for the next five years as well as this year, and if Smith can return to being who he once was, he’s a home-run pick in any round.
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How he fits with the New Orleans Saints:
The Saints have one linebacker who’s a for sure keeper in Stephone Anthony, and due to the way this year’s offseason has gone, the injury to Jaylon Smith could be a blessing in disguise for the team. Stephone Anthony will likely be playing the strong side position this year with the addition of James Laurinaits. Because I find it very unlikely that Smith will play this season, the plan could be to try and get one more year out of Ellerbe (ok…half a year, let’s be realistic here) and then have Anthony and Smith playing the outside linebacker positions starting next year.
Smith’s ability to be both a rusher and a true linebacker would give the Saints a great deal of flexibility with their lineups, while also not sacrificing production. One of the areas the team has consistently struggled with is quick passes to backs and receivers in the flats, and Smith would likely instantly improve that area significantly. The only question for the Saints here is whether Smith can return to who he was, and when to take the gamble.
In my opinion, the Saints could begin looking at him in the second round if they are able to acquire more picks, and the third round depending on if they are able to fill bigger needs in the previous two rounds. I don’t think Jalyon Smith will drop to the third round, but while I love him as a prospect, this team simply can’t afford to be taking risks on a “what if” at this point, not with so many needs on the defensive side of the ball.