Jaylon Smith, the star Notre Dame linebacker who was a lock to be drafted in the Top 10, suffered an ACL/LCL tear against Ohio State in an exhibition bowl game, and it is unclear if he’ll be able to play in the 2016 NFL season.
Clearly, this will impact Smith’s draft stock. Do you draft a player in the 1st round knowing he won’t suit up as a rookie? Before you answer, remember: Coaches are increasingly on the hot seat in the NFL, with more and more getting fired after two and three seasons. Only a handful of coaches can feel confident about job security.
So where does that leave Smith? As a point of reference, Tyran Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL on Dec. 9, 2013, and was back on the field for the Cardinals by mid-September, 2014. But it’s clear he wasn’t at full strength – his 2014 season paled in comparison to how dominant he was in 2015.
Smith is bigger and heavier than Mathieu. What will his recovery be like? Will he have to sit out the entire season?
This of course leads to a future bowl game question: If people are willing to talk about Leonard Fournette sitting out his junior season ahead of the draft, why aren’t people talking about Top 10 picks sitting out a meaningless bowl game on New Year’s Day?
The “should Fournette sit out” discussion is a fun, silly one – though not all that practical. Smith’s situation seems like a more realistic question. Consider this:
- Notre Dame was out of the National Championship race. The game meant nothing. Talk to any scout or NFL front office person and it was clear he was going high in the 1st round.
- Yes, Smith would be letting his teammates down by sitting out. He would be viewed as selfish. He’s a competitor, of course he wants to play. But if he knew that he could cost himself millions (see below) by going from the 10th pick to the 2nd round, would he have reconsidered?
- The Playoff vs Regular Bowl game distinction is important. Nobody would advocate sitting out a playoff game when the goal is a National Championship. Nobody’s going to remember an exhibition bowl game in a couple years – except Smith, who lost significant money by playing and getting injured.
- Does this discussion only apply to anyone projected as a Top 10 pick? One could ask, ‘how do we know for sure any of these guys are a Top 10 pick?’ Hell, in early December, Ole Miss DL Robert Nkemdiche was viewed as a likely Top 10 pick. A drug incident – once teams do their homework – definitely drops him out of the Top 10, and maybe to the 2nd round.
The 10th pick in the 2015 draft, Todd Gurley – who himself was injured, but during Georgia’s regular season – got a 4-year, $13.8 million contract. It’s all guaranteed and included an $8.3 million signing bonus.
The 33rd pick of the 2015 draft, Landon Collins, was the first pick of the 2nd round. The Giants signed him to a 4-year, $6 million deal with a signing bonus “in the 2.5 million range.”
Injuries happen. They’re unpredictable. They could happen in practice. But if you’ve got a bright future and are on the cusp of millions, why risk it in a meaningless bowl game?