Detroit Lions: 5 Undersized Linebackers to Consider in 2016 NFL Draft

Photograph: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Photograph: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /
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Photograph: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Photograph: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

Jaylon Smith

When healthy, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith – all 6’2″, 223 lbs. of him – is arguably the best defensive player in this draft. What’s more, the argument could be made that, when healthy, Smith is the best player in this draft period. He capped a stellar career with 115 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and a sack this year, while also winning the Butkus award for the best linebacker in college football.

Unfortunately, after suffering a horrific knee injury in Notre Dame’s bowl game, Smith is not currently healthy. And there’s some concern in NFL circles that Smith may never be fully healthy again. Even if he makes a recovery, will he be the same player and prospect he once was?

As a result, Smith’s draft stock is currently a wildcard. If he can show at medical rechecks that he is on the road to a full recovery, he could be selected in the first or second round. However if there is still concern over ligament and alleged nerve damage, then Smith may fall to the middle rounds of the draft. At that point, there’s no telling how far Smith might slide.

It’s a shame, because Smith was, and may still be, an incredibly gifted linebacker prospect. By all accounts, he is also a terrific young man, who attended the combine, cheered on his colleagues, answered repeated questions about his injury, and did it all with a smile on his face and a positive attitude.

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If the Lions think Smith can one day become a great player again, they should seriously consider spending a a draft pick on him. Wherever he may fall in the draft.