NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that during medical evaluations at the NFL Scouting Combine, it was discovered that Smith has nerve issues with his ankle and knee, and "teams believe he's out for 2016—at least."
Even after the injury, Smith was a bona fide first-round talent after receiving All-American honors and the Butkus Award.
Smith was an athletic linebacker at Notre Dame who could cover a ton of ground and track down even the quickest players. He combined that athleticism with the strength to get off blocks and the physicality to be a decisive tackler.
Less than three months since suffering the injury, Smith tweeted out an update Wednesday:
Amazing walking without the knee brace six days after being restricted for six weeks and feels fantastic! pic.twitter.com/dAW8OW09Ke— Jaylon Smith (@thejaylonsmith) February 24, 2016
However, on Thursday, former NFL physician David J. Chao was quick to point out that things weren't as good as they seemed:
The combine medicals confirmed Chao's belief, and it could cost Smith dearly.
In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected he would land with the Chicago Bears at No. 11. But the fact he might have to sit out an entire season might scare Chicago and other teams away from Smith in the first round.
He'll have to prove down the road not only that his leg is healthy but also that he'll be able to perform in the NFL. That sounds like a big leap of faith for a team considering using a first-round selection on him.
Smith could still be paid handsomely if he sinks out of the first round, per ESPN's Darren Rovell:
Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith, who suffered a knee injury today, has a $5M loss of value policy. Starts to collect $ if he slips out of 1st rd.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 2, 2016
If the draft wasn't deep on defense, Smith may have had a better chance of still going high, but that's not the case. Kiper has four other linebackers going in the first round in April, including UCLA's Myles Jack and Alabama's Reggie Ragland.
The draft should be the least of Smith's worries, though. Priority No. 1 should be getting back to 100 percent and showing he can still be the same athletic defender he was at Notre Dame. If that happens, then he'll get his shot at NFL success.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.