Our countdown of Notre Dame’s top 25 players on the 2013 roster roars on today with the inclusion of another true freshman on the defensive side of the ball – local product and 5-star linebacker Jaylon Smith.
While everyone fretted over the departure of 5-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes over the summer, people tended to forget that Notre Dame will still have two 5-star recruits on the defensive side of the ball alone in this year’s freshman class with our #24 ranked player Max Redfield and now our #22 ranked player Jaylon Smith.
Smith was an early commitment for Notre Dame last year and served as the centerpiece of the 2013 recruiting class that Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame coaching staff hauled in back in February. As one of the elite prospects in the country, Smith was frequently referenced by other elite talent as one of the reasons they were interested in Notre Dame.
Elite players like playing with other elite players and when it comes to being elite, you will be hard pressed to find a better freshman linebacker in the country this year than Jaylon Smith. Watch the Army All-American Bowl from last January again and you’ll see a dynamic playmaker who stands out among his peers.
Why Jaylon Smith could be ranked higher
Smith is the kind of elite recruit that is just tough to predict in that he could come in and set the world on fire in camp and end up with a prominent role in the Irish defense even though there are starters entrenched at both outside linebacker positions and the fact that Smith lacks ideal size to play inside as a true frosh and no one would be surprised. Make no mistake about it though, Smith has the skillet set and ability to play any of the linebacker spots in the Notre Dame defense at some point in his career.
Like our #23 ranked player, Ishaq Williams, Smith didn’t play against the strongest level of competition in high school, but that was not evident in the least when he turned heads with an impressive performance in San Antonio for the Army All-American Bowl.
Based on pure talent alone, you will be hard pressed to find a linebacker on the Notre Dame roster with more raw talent than Smith and it is possible that that talent will come shining through in some capacity this season.
Why Jaylon Smith could be ranked lower
While Smith is supremely talented, the staff still needs to find a role for him this year. Since he can potentially play every linebacker position, the staff is likely to try him out all over the field in fall camp which could prevent him from mastering a position enough to seriously challenge for a starting role for the 2013 season.
Smith definitely looked up to the task in the All-American Bowl, but it is also still possible that he will experience a learning curve similar to what Williams went through as a true frosh in 2011.
It is also very hard for most true freshman linebackers to make a major impact due to the work they need to do in the weight room to be consistent contributors. Had Smith been able to enroll early and spend the entire off-season in the Notre Dame weight room working with Paul Longo, his chances of being a major impact player for the Irish defense in 2013 would have been greatly enhanced.
What would a successful 2013 season be for Jaylon Smith?
Smith is going to play some role in the Notre Dame defense in 2013. He is simply too talent to not see the field. What that role is, however, very much remains to be seen as the Notre Dame staff will likely try Smith out at a number of positions before settling in on what his role will be in 2013.
A successful season for Jaylon Smith this year would resemble what Prince Shembo did as a freshman in 2010. Bob Diaco and the defensive staff found a niche for Shembo in 2010 and he was very successful in that role collecting 4.5 sacks despite recording 15 total tackles as a true freshman.
Diaco and his defensive staff are likely to use Smith in a similar fashion in that they will create a role that suits his strengths and maximizes his effectiveness – not necessarily the exact same edge pass rushing role Shembo filled in 2011. That is, of course, unless Smith comes in next week and just completely lights the world on fire in camp.
Smith has a tremendously bright future ahead of him during his Notre Dame career and his impact will be felt this fall in some capacity. A freshman season similar to Shembo’s should be considered a success for Smith in 2013 since 4.5 sacks would have been good enough for fourth for a pretty stout Irish defense a year ago.
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