Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith has announced he will leave Notre Dame in 2016 and declare for the NFL Draft. Not even a severe knee injury or two was going to stop the consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner from taking the next step.
“I’m deciding to head to the NFL Draft,” Smith said in a brief video share don his Twitter account Monday. “It’s really just about perseverance from here with the adversity I’m going through right now dealing with the knee injury. I have the same vision, it’s just a different path. I’m really just looking forward to this opportunity.”
Smith underwent surgery on his torn ACL and MCL in his left knee last week. The injury occurred during Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss against Ohio State, and he is expected to have a full recovery. It was expected Smith would have been entering the NFL Draft well before the injury in the bowl game, which may have put a temporary pause on the decision. With Smith and doctors feeling optimistic about his rehab prognosis, the decision to turn pro may have actually been made easier by the injury, because why come back and risk aggravating the injury in college when you can start collecting NFL money while playing?
NFL teams will obviously be keeping close tabs on the rehab process. Rotoworld says Smith likely would have been a first-round draft pick before the injury, but the injury concern could end up sliding him down at least a little bit once the draft comes around. If he makes good progress on his rehab though, it would not be a shock to see the talented linebacker hear his name called on the first night of the NFL Draft.