Notre Dame star linebacker Jaylon Smith received the ultimate honor for a linebacker on Tuesday when he was named the 2015 Butkus Award winner. In process Smith joined a select and elite group of linebackers to win the award at both the high school and college level – a group that is now comprised of just two players, Smith and former Notre Dame great Manti Te’o.
Jaylon Smith arrived to Notre Dame with much hype three years ago as the High School Butkus Award winner and the pedigree of a 5-star recruit. Of all of the “can’t miss” prospects Notre Dame has ever landed, Smith might have been the “can’t miss”-iest of them all and he has backed it up on the field over the last three years.
As a junior this season, Smith paced Notre Dame with 113 tackles including 9.0 for loss and 1 sack. Smith also recovered two fumbles and forced another. Stats do not do justice to what Smith has meant for the Notre Dame defense in 2015, however. Smith was all over the field for Notre Dame this season and his athleticism and freakish ability allow Smith to make play after play that no other linebacker could have made.
Unlike Te’o three years ago who racked up ridiculous stats despite some underwhelming “measureables” that were on display at the NFL Combine, Smith’s stats might not look that eye popping, but if you watched any Notre Dame game this year, there were multiple “wow” plays a game from #9. Plays that you look at and wonder how Smith made the play and then look on in amazement with the ease at which it appeared he made the play.
Smith wasn’t used much in the pass rush this season until the end of the season, but once he was, he showed just how much of a pass rushing terror he could be. Smith only ended up with one sack on the season, but was a consistent force in the backfield over the final few games of the season.
Earlier this week Smith submitted paperwork for a NFL evaluation along with four other Notre Dame players and it is very possible – in fact almost certain – that the Fiesta Bowl will be his final game in a Notre Dame uniform as Smith is considered a lock to be a Top 10 pick if he declares for the NFL Draft. If he does indeed leave a year early, he will be the second 5-star linebacker in a row to leave Notre Dame fully living up to the hype. Will Smith now pass that torch to Daelin Hayes like Te’o did to him three years ago? Only time will tell with the 5-star LB/DE announcing his college decision on December 10.