Jaylon Smith: NFL Decision ’16

Jaylon Smith NFL Decision
Photo: Charles LeClaire // USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame still has one very important game left in the 2015 season with their Fiesta Bowl showdown with Ohio State, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation on the NFL futures of a number of Notre Dame players – specifically the five who applied for a NFL evaluation last week.  Over the next few days we’ll be examining each player’s individual situation and what impact it could have on the 2016 season.

We are going to start off with the most pivotal of players who could leave Notre Dame early after the 2015 season – star linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Jaylon Smith’s Current Draft Stock

Sky high.  Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both have Jaylon Smith firmly in their top 10 overall prospects – Kiper all the way up at #2.  They aren’t the only one ones.  You will be hard pressed to find any analyst actually that has Smith ranked outside the top 10 overall draft picks right now.  So in terms of draft stock, Smith’s most likely will never be higher than it is right now – especially in a draft class void of elite quarterbacks to go in the top 10.  Add all of that up and it certainly would appear that, from a draft standpoint, Smith would have much to lose, and not much to gain from a senior season.

What He Gains by Returning

Honestly, the only reason for Smith to return at this point would be play for a national title and earn his degree.  One of those things, the degree, will always be there for him to return to when his football days are done while the other can never be replaced and on the surface, it would appear that that could be the only thing that possibly gets Smith back for another season in South Bend.

From a football standpoint though, Smith is already a 1st-team All-American from most sources and is well on his way to becoming Notre Dame’s first consensus All-American since Manti Te’o.  He has also already been awarded the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker – an award he also won as a high school senior as the best prep linebacker in the country.  His trophy room won’t be quite as stocked as Manti Te’o’s but he will not be hurting for any hardware by any means.

What His Loss Would Mean

Should Smith leave as many expect, Notre Dame will have to replace two starting linebackers and three total members of the starting front seven from this year’s defense.  While Notre Dame, or any team for that matter, simply has another Jaylon Smith waiting in the wings, Notre Dame does have quite a bit of young talent at the linebacker position.  Tevon Coney, an early enrollee last year would appear to have the inside track for Smith’s starting spot, but yesterday’s 5-star commitment from Daelin Hayes, another early enrollee would throw another name in the ring to replace Smith.

Notre Dame’s defense, a unit that already suffered through breakdowns and inconsistent play with an elite linebacker like Smith, will need more than one player to replace Smith though.  They will need improve play from the defensive line and the linebacker unit as a whole to replace what would be lost if Smith is using his freakish ability on Sundays instead of Saturdays next fall.

What His Return Would Mean

Should Smith shock the world and return for a senior season, it would be about as big as the senior year return of Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Ronnie Stanley, and Sheldon Day all rolled into one.  It would be that big.  If he were to return to anchor the Notre Dame defense next year, Smith would be a consensus All-American to start the season and when combined with some of the young rising talent, he could lead a potentially elite defense.  That is, if the scheme of Brian VanGorder finally materializes in his third season like we all thought it would this year.  And for those who might snicker at that, remember it wasn’t until year three under Bob Diaco that the Notre Dame defense, fueled by Te’o’s return, played at an elite level.  Up until that point, the jury on Diaco’s defense was just as much out as it is on VanGorder’s at this point.



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  1. JDH

    The advantage in bad weather between a receiver and defender goes to the receiver. That weather excuse doesn’t hold water.


    Wes Welker was not even drafted in the NFL, he was a walk on free agent..He’s 5′ 9″ btw
    Antonio Brown was drafted in the 6th round
    T Y Hilton third round
    Emanuel Sanders 3rd round
    Desean Jackson 2nd Round
    Edleman – 7th round
    Golden Tate – second round
    Steve Smith – 3rd round

    I didn’t mean to imply that Fuller’s size would determine his success in the NFL but NFL teams don’t waste first round picks on short wide receivers because for every one of these you’ve mentioned there are many others the same size that were very good in college and don’t make it.
    The point is, if you’re not going in the first round which Fuller will not ,because of his size, which limits his use in the NFL then why leave school to be a second round or third round draft choice when that degree from ND sets you up for success(if you excel)if football doesn’t pan out.
    Speed alone is a moot point there are plenty of defensive backs in the NFL that can match Fuller’s speed.
    He’ll make a bigger impact in football if he stays at ND and graduates and puts up great numbers for another season. Even at that I doubt he ever goes in the first round because of his size, he just doesn’t fit the mold. Teams may be willing to gamble a second or third round pick on him but not a first.

  2. It would be a hell of a re-recruiting job if Kelly managed to get both Fuller and Smith to return. Lets hope it happens. That being said, I think Smith is gone and probably Fuller, although Fuller lines up in the slot on an NFL team. The number of balls he dropped could be a factor though…I don’t see him going first round.

  3. Pretty sure Toulmin is the only one qualified enough to speak on the speed and quickness of an athlete like Fuller.

  4. Antonio Brown with the Steelers is a small receiver who thrives. However, he is reputed to be extremely strong. That said, Fuller has hand issues, catches the ball with his body and has to get stronger. He will not grade out well and should return.

  5. Don’t watch NFL anymore. SOME of those guys also played defensive ST also.. Some very physical players. Have great hands, speed with quickness. . Aggressive to the ball. Fuller blocks well. Brown too. Most NFL players by and large have very aggressive/physical attitude (on field). Even going as far to label “Mean & Nasty”. Fuller is at very least, determined. Hope he returns. He will decide what’s best. We all wish him success. Thanks.

  6. @Mike T: Playing in a hurricane on grass is not a reliable indicator of a WR’s ability and performance. Neither teams’ receivers fared very well. Clemson had 84 yards receiving in total.

    This is a guy who made USC’s “elite” look stupid. He got behind people all year, many times easily. It’s been a long time since ND could say that.

  7. His size hurts him in the NFL?

    Then how do you explain Wes Welker, Antonio Brown, T.Y.Hilton, Emanuel Sanders, DeSean Jackson, Julian Edelman, Golden Tate, & Steve Smith?

    All are 5’10” or less and all are at, or near the top in receiving in the NFL, or on their respective teams.

  8. When Fuller was pitted against a DB with elite speed (Clemson) he didn’t fair well. I still say his size hurts him in the NFL where many DBs will be the same size. If he goes he goes, but there will be several WR picked before him. I wish him luck no matter what he chooses.

  9. Hey Jaylon — go talk to your buddy Ronnie Stanley about giving up the opportunity to be a Top 10 pick in order to come back:

    “It’s been a long journey,” Stanley said. “But I’m happy with the decision I made. I’d make the same decision again, no regrets.”

  10. Listen, Tate was awesome. I think Fuller is going to be close to the fastest combine time. Tate was not. The combine has the only electronic timer that people paying millions of dollars rely on. I’ll hang my hat on that. I just don’t agree that Tate has Fuller’s speed. As the great Anchorman once said, “we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

  11. Sure. But not everyone clocks under 4.4. Nor consistently (with the exception of Darryl Green ). Those were this year times. I remember Tate running 4.36 at the same compound. Like I said any flaw at their elite level can make a large differance.. I would not hang my hat on just two time trials at the combine. I guess those two things is what I am trying to point out. Also that Tate was comprable with speed. Did Tate ever get caught from behind?

  12. everyone with a stopwatch clocks 40s; they’re not all reliable. Never seen Fuller be caught from behind and his speed definitely improved in college. let’s see what the electronic one at the combine shows. Then we’ll have something to compare

  13. Yes I know what he ran (officially) at combine. He had also ran faster 40’s. 4.35 range (officially) consistently. Fuller has been clocked at fastest 4.32, official 4.42, slowest 4.52. http://www.nfldraftscout.com/ratings/dsprofile.php?pyid=127110&draftyear=2017&genpos=WR. Knowing the slightest flaw can effect their times drastically. Suspect their speed is comparable. Would be nice if Fuller returned. Guess he’ll decide what’s best.

  14. Tate had elite speed. Plus quickness and hands. Many times clocked in the 4.35 range. I would think every bit as fast as Fuller.

  15. Tate left junior year at under 6 feet and I think he was drafted second round and has been doing OK at the next level to say the least. He had better hands but not the same speed. It’s up to Will. Hope he comes back. Go Irish!

  16. South, they actually have Fuller listed as 6′ even. I think most teams that might draft him will do so intending to use him in the slot. Right now I’d think most scout reports will say his size is a big factor in being able to take the punishment an NFL receiver is subjected to over a season.

    Treadwell and Thomas will probably be the first two WR taken in the draft. They fit the mold.

  17. I gotta agree with above posters.—Especially Mike T. Fuller is only 6’1″–and even with his speed—there are NFL wideouts at 6’3 or bigger with elite speed–on their roster already. Fuller . with his outstanding stats at ND college level—doesn’t mean he’s NFL caliber. We’ll see , if Fuller decides to enter draft. I don’t think he’s 2nd round draft — probably later rounds. It all depends on NFL teams needs at various positions. I think he should come back for senior year at ND –get degree.

  18. I can’t see why Jaylon would return, unless getting a degree and graduating with his class is a goal he set for himself that he’s not willing to modify. He can make the big money right now..why risk an injury coming back another year that jeopardizes future earnings.

    While Fuller has elite speed, he has some issues with his hands, sometimes dropping easy passes. I think his size might also be a factor in where he is chosen. On the average most but not all of the most successful wide receivers in the NFL are 6’2″ and taller. Some teams may be willing to take a chance on him but I doubt they’d burn a first round pick.

    My personal opinion is that it’s very important for these guys to get a degree for their future, professional sports can be a fleeting career for many and that degree from ND will help secure their future should their football career go bust for a number of reasons. One need only look at some players who were touted to make it big in the NFL because of a great college career and never enjoyed the success people thought they would have.

  19. Blue and Gold is reporting that Fuller is gone. Thats what their source told them and unless he is a lock for a first rd pick I don’t see Fuller leaving. Jaylon is gone. If you are a top 10 pick you leave. Prosise is a mystery. He should come back just to learn the RB position better. Russell needs to come back as well.

    Really hope Fuller doesn’t change his mind. We don’t have anyone with his elite speed.

  20. Good for Jaylon,but the NFL becomes a job and I would love to be able to go back to my senior season in college. Never played anything beyond college but it was fun.

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