Former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith made his debut in the NFL’s Top 100 this year coming in at #61 overall. The list is voted on by the actual players, not the media, and is released by NFL.com every year.
Smith started six games at middle linebacker for the Cowboys in 2017 after he sat out 2016 following the devastating knee injury he suffered in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State in January 2016. In 2018 Smith moved into the starting lineup full time and it has not taken long for him to establish himself as one of the best young linebackers in the NFL.
Smith finished the 2018 season with 121 tackles, 6 TFL, and 4.0 sacks. He also forced two fumbles, recovered another two, and returned one of them for a touchdown.
As Smith enters his fourth season in the NFL, he looks primed to be one of the game’s elite defenders for the next several years. Prior to that Fiesta Bowl injury that would have surprised no one. After the injury and the grueling recovery he faced, Smith’s ascension back to the top of the hill speaks volumes to his skill.
For Notre Dame, having a young linebacker like Smith terrorizing NFL quarterbacks for the next several years is something that they can point to on the recruiting trail – especially with a line of young defenders following in his footsteps at Notre Dame. Never mind that it was borderline criminal that Brian Vangorder basically wasted a generational talent like Smith at Notre Dame by relegating him to clean up duty for his atrocious defenses and his refusal to use a weapon like Smith as a blitzer.
As an Eagles fan, it will not be fun watching Smith in the Philly backfield for the next decade, but as a Notre Dame who’s followed Smith’s career since his high school days, it’s impossible not to be rooting hard for him after that injury.
Zack Martin Moves up to 59th
Smith isn’t the only former Notre Dame player on the NFL’s countdown. Guard Zack Martin checked in at #59 this year after being ranked 71st overall last year. Martin quickly became one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen in his rookie season in 2015.
Watch for Quenton Nelson to follow in Martin’s footsteps after a standout rookie season in 2018.
Harrison Smith Falls to 83rd #83 (46)
Former Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith was also ranked within the top 100 at 83rd overall. That ranking is, however, quite a bit lower than his 46th overall ranking from a year ago. Still, Smith has been one of the best safeties in the NFL since entering the league in 2012.
It’s still amazing to think about how many wanted to write off Smith following the mismanagement of his talent by Charlie Weis, Jon Tenuta, and Corwin Brown prior to the arrival of Brian Kelly and then defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. Since then Smith’s become one of the game’s best and continues to be.