Is Jaylon Smith Worth The Risk for Green Bay?

The Green Bay Packers met with former Notre Dame and consensus All-American linebacker Jaylon Smith at this past weekend's NFL Combine and from the sounds of it, it went well.  That is, if you're asking Smith.  Smith gushed about his time with Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.  Smith projects as an inside linebacker at the NFL level and that just happens to be an area where the Packers are sorely in need of an upgrade.  Not since Desmond Bishop roamed the middle of the Green Bay defense have they had an impact player in this key spot.  That was four seasons ago.

Coming in as a freshman, Smith was one of the top recruits in the country and he immediately made an impact on the Irish defense.  He was set to be one of the top players in this year's draft and some had Smith listed as the best overall player on the board.  That suddenly changed when Smith suffered a torn ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.  Despite the timing of the injury and Smith's only being a true junior at Notre Dame, he still decided to bet on himself and declare for the draft.

Part of the process at the Combine is a medical exam that teams are permitted to put the athletes through.  The reports on Smith were not very positive.  Several sources reported that more than one team failed Smith on his physical because of the injury and reported that there is some nerve damage in addition to the ligament tears.  As we have seen many times before, an ACL usually takes the better part of a year to recover from.  This means that Smith is almost certain to miss the 2016 season, at the very least.  It's an unfortunate injury at any time and in Smith's case, it's likely to cost him quite a sum of money as his draft stock will certainly fall.

Smith is only 20 years old and still sees himself as the best player in this draft.  The question now is whether any NFL teams agree with him.  The Packers still met with Smith, which could be nothing more than doing their due diligence on the standout linebacker.  Prior to the injury, it's unlikely that Green Bay would have been in a reasonable position to draft Smith due to his sky-high stock.  Do the Packers see a possible opportunity in Smith now that his immediate value and prospects are in question?  

That was one of the questions that we pondered on the latest Pulse of the Pack podcast.  Little is known about the extent of Smith's injury but it's obvious that any team that would draft him would be assuming risk.  Just how much is the true unknown.  Every player is different and thus, so is the healing process.  It's not impossible that Smith may return to action in a year.  It may take longer.  My guess is that at least one, and likely a few, are willing to bet that he will be back and able to help their team sooner than later.  We've seen teams take chances on players who were injured at the time or had just recovered from a major injury.  Could the Packers be one of those teams when it comes to Smith?

The argument against it is that it's not typical of Packers general manager Ted Thompson to spend the type of early pick that, right now, it would likely take to add Smith.  He's projected to fall into the second or third round at this point and there is still time for him to potentially fall even further.  If that is the case, he could become an intriguing option for Green Bay in the middle rounds.  Yes, the Packers need more from the inside linebacker position and there are other healthy players that they can spend a pick on.  Teams typically want to see some type of immediate contribution from their first few picks and with Smith, they know they'd have to wait for that.  But if he recovers well, the payoff could be well worth it.  

McCarthy has said that they want to move Clay Matthews back outside but with Matthews having spent more than half of his snaps inside over the past two seasons, they have a really good insurance policy.  The Packers know that they can move Matthews inside when needed and that the tandem of Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan can at least keep the proverbial roof from caving in.  In other words, they're not in any type of dire straits at inside linebacker, despite a lack of play making from that area of the defense for the past several seasons.  The Green Bay defense still improved from 2014 to 2015 and was good enough to help the Packers come within inches of another NFC conference championship game.  They could be in a position to wait a year for Smith, if that's the most that they'd have to sacrifice.  Any longer and the discussion is likely over and Smith isn't a viable option.

Taking Smith would be a very uncharacteristic move for Thompson and the Packers but if the value is right and they have a good indication that he'll be productive for the cost, we may all be surprised.  It's impossible to know what a team is getting with Smith until he is further healed and has a chance to work out and do more football activities.  For now, here's a highlight reel of Smith's time at Notre Dame and the hope that he can return to most of what we see here.

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Comments (64)

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NickPerry's picture

February 29, 2016 at 05:56 am

Thomspon should have 6 picks before the start of the 5th round. If he was able to pick up a DL, OLB, ILB, TE, and OL with the first 5 picks or better yet, added a TE, D-Lineman, and/or TE in Free Agency and still draft a player for most or all of the 5 postions I mentioned, then hell yes take a flyer on Smith.

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slit's picture

February 29, 2016 at 06:52 am

This guy may have been the #1 overall pick, had he not gotten hurt. It really depends on the Packers med exam. If they feel he'll be ready to go in 2017, then I'd be more than happy to draft Jaylon.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 07:07 am

That's a lot for him to overcome. Sorry but no way. Can not afford to wait any longer to fill the hole at ILB. Nor waste a pick . Need to take care of it this year.

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WinUSA's picture

February 29, 2016 at 01:56 pm

The Rams took a flyer on a guy named Todd Gurley..... paid off big time didn't it...... Outside of the box mentality can be beneficial....

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 06:48 pm

True, but wasn't his injury less severe and not as recent. I forget..

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Evan's picture

February 29, 2016 at 07:07 pm

Yes and yes.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:24 pm

Thanks. I also think the Rams were in a better position to gamble. If they were wrong it wasn't like they would have lost much ground and Gurley alone wasn't going to put them over the top right away. Hats off to them because they are set at RB and are in a position to build further. Just think our picks this year are more important than usual.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:25 pm

Deleted. Bad connection today.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 29, 2016 at 07:14 am

If the medical suggest to GB that Smith will miss all of 2016, then 3rd round might be plausible, if the team thinks he will return to something resembling his pre-injury level of play.

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croatpackfan's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:07 am

Agree!

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Evan's picture

February 29, 2016 at 07:18 am

If he's there in the 3rd round...sure. Assuming they've already addressed ILB earlier in the draft or, gasp, free agency.

That said, the Packers unfortunately aren't in a position to take a flier on him any earlier. They need guys for 2016.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 01:52 pm

Thats what I was saying. Need players who can make an impact in 2016. Although after 4th round, I suppose maybe it is worth a gamble.

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NickPerry's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:25 pm

That's what I'm thinking TB. With 3 picks (Hopefully) in the 4th round that would be where I'd like to see him drafted. I think the 3rd is too big of gamble.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 01:54 pm

Deleted

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carusotrap's picture

February 29, 2016 at 07:41 am

OK, either TT spends a third round pick on a guy who won't play until 2017, or TT trades his third round pick for 3 7th round picks and signs a guy working the lumber yard at Menards. Which do YOU think is more likely?

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RVAborn's picture

March 01, 2016 at 12:47 am

He's previously augmented the roster with a car salesman and a sub-shop associate (the long snapper ) so who knows. Lol.

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Wiscokid's picture

March 02, 2016 at 12:33 pm

I think you can save big money at Menards

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dobber's picture

February 29, 2016 at 07:52 am

The first key point here is that team doctors need to be convinced that Smith's injury--though significant--is recoverable and that he's likely to regain his pre-injury form. Smith is an incredible athlete and relies heavily on that athleticism in making plays. Any meaningful decline in that trait and it leaves one to wonder how effective he can be.

That said, if team doctors feel he's gonna make it back, I value him more highly than many others here. The guy is a freak and represents the kind of playmaking ability the Packers don't have anywhere on the defense, CMIII included. The Packers are a team that likes to nurse their rookies along, anyway. They build for the future, not necessarily for the now. If you're drafting expecting these guys to carry your team, you must not have very good personnel to begin with.

I think it's a feel-of-the-draft kind of thing. If his medicals aren't overly scary, I don't think I would want to burn a #1 on him, but I don't know how you pass on him late in round 2...of course, if his medicals check out, someone else will snag him before the end of round 2.

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Tarynfor12's picture

February 29, 2016 at 08:48 am

If we take or think of taking Smith in either the 2nd or 3rd rnds, than outside needs to be addressed in the 1st so Matthews can stay inside in 2016 while we get experience with outside in case Smith doesn't or
cannot come to play level as hoped when drafting him.
I do however believe the guy to take in the 1st at outside linebacker, and some may be correct calling it a reach somewhat, but it's the kind of reach that is more reasonable than has been...Kyler Fackrell.
Defensive line is deep this draft so that can be done in 3rd or perhaps Thompson makes a trade to get another 2nd to get a guy.
With the trade ability with comp picks, no reason we can't get needs and best player available early.

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NickPerry's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:27 pm

You can't trade Comp picks.

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Tarynfor12's picture

March 01, 2016 at 08:11 am

I believe you can starting this year.

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RCPackerFan's picture

March 01, 2016 at 09:02 am

next year. 2017 comp picks can be traded.

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Tarynfor12's picture

March 01, 2016 at 11:23 am

I stand corrected. ...thank you. : )

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NickPerry's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:36 pm

You can't trade Comp picks.

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zoellner25's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:26 am

I tried to watch the entire LB workouts yesterday. I was really hoping Scooby Wright would look better, but he didnt' look good to me at all. Joe Schobert looked really good and I'd love him in GB. Deion Jones from LSU looked awesome. He'd be a good one. Ragland obviously too. Vigil from Utah State I think is a sleeper pick, saw him play a game last fall and he was all over the field.

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dobber's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:45 am

I like Schobert, too. I think he projects inside, but gives you the flexibility to play ILB or OLB and still be productive. Try-hard type could have a long NFL career.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 29, 2016 at 10:19 am

Jones could be the Packers first round pick. He is a guy to watch.

Schobert I think could be an ILB for the Packers. My only concern for him would be having to develop the instincts at the position. He might not be ready to start at ILB right away.
The one thing I do like about him is that if he could create some flexibility. If they wanted Mathews to go to ILB they could move him down to OLB.

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EdsLaces's picture

February 29, 2016 at 10:25 am

4.7 40 ...gotta go with Lee dude. I was also disappointed with Scooby too. Having said that if he fell to the 4th we would be stupid not to take him.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 29, 2016 at 11:07 am

Packers need a sideline to sideline ILB. Jones rand a 4.59. Could definitely be that guy. Lee could possibly be that guy. I'm guessing after watching him run a 4.47 40, he will go higher then 27.

Schobert would likely be a 3rd-4th round pick.

Scooby has the instincts, so keep that in mind. In a way like Borland. Wright is more of a football player then athlete.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:31 pm

A sideline to sideline ILB would be great. Takes care of middle, pass coverage etc and then Clay can add to the pass rush especially with Daniels and the improved D line play.

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NickPerry's picture

March 01, 2016 at 05:54 am

Schobert had great feet for those drills at least. I thought he did so well he moved himself up to the 3rd round, depending how much the combime figures into your rankings. He had a pretty good season last year too. I think WAY to much is made of these numbers. Borland ran a 4.83 at the combine and 4.81 at his Pro Day, but man could the man play LB.

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RCPackerFan's picture

March 01, 2016 at 06:53 am

Completely agree... I don't put a lot of stock in the combine. For me as a viewer who isn't there, I just look at the numbers and see if they match the game tape. Or see if someone jumps out in a good way or bad way.

For example. TE's. Jerell Adams ran what I thought he would. His speed shows up on the field. But I have some questions about Bryce Williams now. Running a 4.94 is a bit alarming.

Borland is a great example of a football player. His instincts were amazing. He is one of the more instinctual ILB's I had seen come into the NFL.

Myself I put more stock into what I see at the Senior Bowl and whatnot then at the Combine. These athletes all train for the combine. Senior Bowls they are their competing in what they actually are going to be doing.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:47 am

I would draft Smith. The real question is when. Do you draft him in the 2nd round, 3rd, 4th...

If they fill needs in Free Agency (TE, ILB) then they can really draft the best player available throughout the draft. If Jaylon Smith projects to be the best player available, then I take him.

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Packer_Pete's picture

February 29, 2016 at 09:55 am

The problem is the nerve damage. ACL injuries nowadays don't necessarily take a full year anymore, but he has a much more severe injury. He may never play in the NFL. It's a tricky question. I wouldn't draft him at all. But anyone who thinks Ted should take him also cannot later say 'what a wasted pick on an injured player'...

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sonomaca's picture

February 29, 2016 at 10:43 am

Apparently, when he showed up for the medical, the leg was so mangled that at least one of the doctors was so sad for the kid, that he actually cried.

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zoellner25's picture

February 29, 2016 at 11:33 am

If that's true, it's sad for the kid. If I'm the Packers, I take him off the board. They are an ultra-conservative team when it comes to injuries and clearing players because of series injuries (Nick Collins, Jermichael, etc). They won't pick him.

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Since'61's picture

February 29, 2016 at 10:06 am

This situation points out why the Packers should utilize Free Agency. Sign an ILB who can play on day one and we can take a chance on Smith with ILB covered with a veteran ILB for the next season or two. Same with TE, sign Bennett if available or Antonio Gates until a better crop of TEs are available. This is how you build for the future and simultaneously give your team the best shot at the SB every season. If TT plays this correctly we can go all in for the next 2 seasons while we rebuild OL, WR and solidify ILB. Thanks, Since '61

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 29, 2016 at 01:52 pm

I think snagging a veteran TE is definitely the way to go this year for the reasons you stated. Add in MM's little "surprise" comment from last week, yeah, I can definitely see it happening.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 02:04 pm

Yes from day one. That means a FA at ILB so Matthews can go back outside as they have indicated and at TE because we need another one.

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idgafkurt's picture

February 29, 2016 at 10:44 am

Drafting any player is risky enough, but taking a guy with his injury, that won't even play in 2016, seems completely foolish outside of the last day of the draft. There are plenty other healthy ILB options they can target in the first 3 or 4 rounds that could help immediately.

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lou's picture

February 29, 2016 at 11:26 am

Agreed, that is a common sense approach, it is hard enough to hit on a #1 as it as much less gamble on a SERIOUS injury to boot. As you can tell by both Thompson and McCarthy's combine pressers "they are feeling the heat about Rodgers time clock", that was really evident, picking this guy just does not fit.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 29, 2016 at 07:05 pm

Well said. Hard to win two gambles in one pick and not the year to try. I'm not one to say we have to win this year, but we can't keep assuming and therefore gambling that Rodgers,Matthews, and others have X years left. I mean what are the odds of us having 3 great QBs in a row. No better time than the present to add more talent around him and them, talent that can make an impact this and next year. Sign a couple of FAs and then use draft for BPAs.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 01, 2016 at 12:30 am

I don't think we are advocating drafting Smith come hell or high water: it all depends on the medicals. Smith gets re-checked medically in early April. I won't be upset if GB takes Smith completely off of its board, nor will I be upset if they draft him in the 3rd or 4th. I also think most of us on this site know that a 3rd, a top hundred pick, is valuable, and that a player with a good chance to be a fine player can be found with that pick, and indeed good players can be found with our 4th round and other round picks.

Our defense needs at least one more difference maker (really 2 after Peppers retires). It is a decent group, but it really has no difference makers. Closest would be Daniels, followed by Shields, Peppers, and then CM3 - but only if he is at OLB because at ILB he is a roughly average player. Smith could be a difference maker, or he might not be able to play at all. Knowing that he won't play in 2016 means to me that GB should use at most a 3rd rd pick, and I'd be far more comfortable with a 4th rd. comp or even lower. I also don't see how the "flow of the draft" is going to be useful for a guy who can't play, but IDK, maybe.

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Rossonero's picture

February 29, 2016 at 11:40 am

I'm no doctor, but Smith is an incredibly gifted player. We all thought Willis McGahee's knee turned to mush, but he overcame it and had a good career. Same for AP. I know its nerve damage, but given the advances of modern medicine, if hes there at #27, you gotta take him unless rhee is medical evidence that says otherwise.

I say do what Since '61 said -- draft Smith, let him heal, and sign an ILB in free agency as a short term solution. In reality, the Packers are so risk averse that they will not gamble on Smith. He could fall to the 2nd round though.

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lou's picture

February 29, 2016 at 05:10 pm

I am not a doctor either but look back a couple years and Nick Perry's combine numbers where off the charts, he came to the team healthy and look at where he and the team are now. He has yet to play a full season and he has stretches where he actually plays up to his draft billing and now it will be interesting to see what kind of offers he gets as an unrestricted free agent. McGahee was an aberation, he was really tough and solid for a 10 year stretch at a position where impact is on every possesion, hard to believe there are any or many more like him, but it was a good reference to say it has happened in the past.

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Lphill's picture

February 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

I would be happy if TT picks players that actually play a position rather then the ones that are switching coming into the NFL , no more experiments or developing, just pick the right players who can transition easier.if Smith is still available after needs are met then ok.

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4thand1's picture

February 29, 2016 at 03:52 pm

If the Packers pick up an ILB in FA, again a big IF, then TT takes Smith in the 2nd if he's there. Even at 80% Smith will be better than anyone since Bishop. I would not pass on a guy with super star potential. The Packers rarely get a chance at top 5 or better so jump on it. WTF, we're waiting for Neal, Jones , and Perry, it's been years. This kid comes in , learns the playbook and its off to the races. 2 1st round picks with not much production. F-it, I changed my mind, take him in the 1st!!!!

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dobber's picture

March 01, 2016 at 07:50 am

" I would not pass on a guy with super star potential. "

I think that's the key right there: he's got that look. It's a matter of how the medical professionals feel he can recover from his injury, but you're gambling on greatness and--depending on the flow of the draft--a 3rd or even a 2nd might be a solid investment.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 02, 2016 at 01:34 am

So I guess drafting Jaylon Smith would be like investing in a junk bond with a really high interest rate?, But in the NFL there is no tax write-off. JK -

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dobber's picture

March 02, 2016 at 06:06 am

Pretty much... ;)

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AgrippaLII's picture

February 29, 2016 at 05:17 pm

For all of you clamoring for Ted to pick this guy with a first or second round pick...you got to be trolls because you can't possibly be that stupid! Ted will probably have a couple of comp picks to play around with in the fourth or fifth round. If he's considering this kid at all that's as early as it will happen. The Packers are pretty conservative when it comes to injuries so I doubt Smith is even on the board now.

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holmesmd's picture

March 01, 2016 at 03:22 am

Well Smith was one of only a few official meetings GB held with a handful of players at the Combine so there is that....

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dobber's picture

March 01, 2016 at 07:51 am

...well, some of us have proven time and again to be pretty stupid...

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J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

March 04, 2016 at 01:17 am

There's pretty much no way the Packers can get this guy in the second round unless they move up. He"s a freak.

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D Ernesto's picture

February 29, 2016 at 06:22 pm

I agree with all of you

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marpag1's picture

March 01, 2016 at 05:44 am

I remember when the Packers took a medical risk on Justin Harrell. That worked out well.

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RCPackerFan's picture

March 01, 2016 at 06:56 am

Yeah, that was a bad move.

From what I read on Harrell at the time was that most didn't have him as a first round talent before the injury. So not only did they take a guy who was injured they took a guy who most didn't feel should have been drafted that high.

At least with Smith, he was considered a top 10 pick until he got hurt.

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dobber's picture

March 02, 2016 at 06:09 am

And it depends on who you're reading: some say his knee is an absolute mess. Others say that he's progressing nicely and could be ready to play by Thanksgiving. Is it some teams trying to cloud his picture so he slides? Is it his agent trying to drum up interest?

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RCPackerFan's picture

March 02, 2016 at 06:25 am

Exactly. Those are the real questions. What its going to come down to for him is each teams doctors. And how well they feel about his injury.

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sonomaca's picture

March 01, 2016 at 10:16 am

I wouldn't spend a #1 on Smith unless there was a 90% of complete recovery by 2017.

I think the Pack may have some really good choices at #27.

Spriggs (LT)
Darron Lee (LB)
Hooper (TE)
Jackson (CB)
Fuller (WR)
Ogbah (DE)

I absolutely love Fuller. He would make the Packers passing attack unstoppable. If you want a Superbowl this year, he's the player most likely to help you get it.

Spriggs would solve all the Packers' problem as a backup tackle. In two years, he'll be a top flight starter.

Hooper can catch the ball. However, I'd rather have the deep threat with Fuller.

However, of all the players, the one that TT must covet most is Lee. If the Packers want him, I'm guessing they'll have to trade up to about 15.

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sonomaca's picture

March 01, 2016 at 10:30 am

If the Packers feel there is a reasonable chance that Smith can be made whole again at some point, and if he's still there after about 40 picks, I'd probably trade up to get him mid-2nd round.

I think it's just too risky to spend a #1 on him, especially when you're this close to the Superbowl.

People are counting on Jordy to be Jordy in 2016, but I'm not so sure. The first year back from ACL is always a bit sketchy, and he's getting older. I think the Packers are actually thin at WR. There's no way they're winning the Superbowl without help at WR.

Fuller!

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Tundraboy's picture

March 03, 2016 at 03:33 pm

Totally agree with you on WR depth. We have needed another, ideally a fast and or big WR, since 2014. Even though Jordy and Cobb had great years, teams began adjusting and we're much more physical with them both. , That is why I agree we need another WR. Unfortunately seeing that they most likely will not pick one this year high enough to make an impact right away, they have to make a big upgrade at TE. Hoping that Jordy comes back as good as ever and that Montgomery is in fact healthy as well is is too big a gamble.

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sonomaca's picture

March 03, 2016 at 04:11 pm

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if they don't find a tight end AND a receiver in the draft and/or free agency, they have no chance at the brass ring this year.

Even if Jordy is Jordy, that's just not enough. You can't count on Adams, Abby, or Janis at this point. Neither Cobb nor Adams is a deep threat, and that was the problem all year. We saw what a deep threat can do when Janis went nuts in Arizona. The Packers need that in the worst way.

There are really slim pickings in FA. Marvin Jones, perhaps, but he's going to have a hefty price tag.

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LeagueObsrvr's picture

March 01, 2016 at 04:13 pm

I'd be ecstatic if he fell to the Packers, and with his recent injury, it is now a possibility. I've had my eye on this kid since his freshman year at Notre Dame and he has come along very well.

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