The most unfortunate storyline from Notre Dame’s disappointing performance in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl was the nasty knee injury suffered by Jaylon Smith in the first quarter – an injury that so far has only been described as “significant”. While the injury certainly impacted Notre Dame’s ability to contain Ohio State’s potent offense, the impact the injury could have on Smith’s draft stock is even more devastating.
Coming into the Fiesta Bowl Smith was widely considered to be a lock for the top 10 and a potential top 5 pick in the spring should he declare for it and forgo his senior year – something that many felt was a formality. Depending on the severity of Smith’s injury though, that draft stock could be severely impacted and some have hinted that it could end up resulting in Smith returning for a senior season.
Scott Wright told the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen that he still considered Smith to be a lock for a first round pick, but that a top 10 selection is unlikely even if the injury is “just an ACL”. Wright also said that its conceivable that Smith could slide from top 5 to 15 or so. Should a drop would result in a huge loss of guaranteed money for Smith. The 5th overall pick in the draft is in line to receive a 4-year, $21.2 MM contract compared to a 4-year, $10.7 MM deal for the 15th overall pick.
Could the potential to move back up to where he was considered to be destined and gain of $10 MM+ in his first contract be enough to lure Smith back to South Bend for a senior season? A lot will likely depend on the severity of the injury and recovery time.
Smith did have a $5MM insurance policy in place this year with a $50,000 premium according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, but that policy only protects Smith if he falls completely out of the first round. Baring the injury being catastrophic, he is still likely a first round pick – especially if he falls past 15th when teams with winning records and less pressing immediate needs start to draft.
A year ago running back Todd Gurley tore his ACL in November for Georgia but was still the #10 overall pick in the draft at a position that is not as valued as linebacker. A key difference is timing though. Gurley got a 2-month head start on his recovery time essentially and still didn’t make his season debut until week three. Along those lines though, if Smith faces a long road to recovery how much could he impact his draft stock by returning if say he misses the entire first month of the season?
Jaylon Smith is a bit of a freak of an athlete though and who’s to say he can’t recover from the injury like Adrian Peterson did a few years back? Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve in 2011. Peterson was back on the field for the season opener in 2012 and led the NFL in rushing with 2,097 yards.. Granted, no one may have ever returned from an ACL injury with quite as much vengeance as Peterson did.
Unfortunately for Smith, he doesn’t have much time to figure everything out. Juniors need to declare for the NFL Draft by January 15th meaning he has less than two weeks to get any additional opinions on his injury and recovery window to determine what the best course of action is for him. If Smith’s recovery will cost him substantial time next season and he is still considered to be a first round pick, it logistically makes the most sense for Smith to still declare for the draft. If Smith’s stock drops significantly and he could potentially be healthy enough to play by week one of next year, then a return to Notre Dame could allow him work his way back up in the first few selections.
Without the injury, it’s likely we may have heard of Smith’s draft plans already as we did CJ Prosise’s earlier on Saturday. Given all of the extenuating circumstances though, it would be a surprise if we heard anything on Smith’s decision any time soon.