2016 NFL Draft: Five High-Risk, High-Reward Prospects for 49ers
By Jerod Brown
Jaylon Smith-Linebacker-Notre Dame
Prior to a season-ending knee injury, Jaylon Smith was one of the best players in this draft. If he had stayed healthy, he would be a top-5 pick and teams would be itching to have a shot at him. Unfortunately, in Notre Dame’s bowl game, Smith tore his ACL and may have lingering issues surrounding his knee following surgery.
While Smith was once considered a can’t-miss prospect, he is now known primarily as a question mark.
Smith can answer many of those questions when he has his post-Combine medical evaluations this week. Teams had a chance to see Smith at the Notre Dame Pro Day and, although he was able to post 24 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press, he still hasn’t been able to demonstrate the on-field performance needed.
As of now, the only major red flag with Smith is his knee. Team doctors may give the green light and suggest that he is recovering well and could play sooner than expected. He might play in 2016 and, if previous ACL timelines are any indication, he’ll most likely be ready for 2017.
The 49ers have experience with players coming off of ACL injuries. If anything, the assumption that general manager Trent Baalke loves injured players has become the most prevalent factor in determining whether he’ll pursue someone. The 49ers are, quite simply, a team that is willing to bet on science and medicine when searching for players.
When healthy, Smith is top-notch. He excels in both run defense and pass coverage. Notre Dame would move Smith all over the field in an attempt to exploit what he does well and get him close to the ball to make plays. He even began practicing and developing moves as a pass-rusher.
Off of the field, he is widely considered one of the best people in the 2016 NFL Draft. If you need any convincing on just how impressive this young man is, well, I’ll let him tell you.
Smith may never regain the level of play that he once expected of himself. If his knee is reason for any positive news, teams will place him high on their boards.
He may not be in the first round but he’ll be worth a pick in the second or third round. At that value, it’s impossible for him not to make this list.
Next: Very Poor Judgement