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.

Notre Dame CB Troy Pride's Stock Skyrocketing at Senior Bowl

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. MikeT 4 years ago


    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.

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  2. SCIrish 4 years ago

    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.

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  3. 45yearfaithful 4 years ago

    Funny. I defer. Pins & needles. Thanks.

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  4. Ron Burgundy 4 years ago

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

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  5. FXM 4 years ago

    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.

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  6. 45yearfaithful 4 years ago

    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.

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  7. JDH 4 years ago

    @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.

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  8. Ron 4 years ago

    Fuller also did pretty well against Adoree Jackson of USC. j/s

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  9. Shazamrock 4 years ago

    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.

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  10. MikeT 4 years ago

    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.

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