Undrafted After Round 1, How Far Could Injured LBs Myles Jack, Jaylon Smith Fall

Eric Galko@OptimumScoutingFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2016

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Linebacker Myles Jack #30 of the UCLA Bruins celebrates after a play against the Virginia Cavaliers during the first quarter at the Rose Bowl on September 5, 2015 in Pasadena, California. The UCLA Bruins defeated the Virginia Cavaliers 34-16. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

While uncertainty dominated the storylines as to how the 2016 NFL draft would unfold, no one could have projected that Myles Jack of the UCLA Bruins would have fallen out of the first round entirely. But his substantial knee injuries have apparently become so worrisome that NFL teams have moved him way down their draft boards.

On the other had, Notre Dame Fighting Irish's Jaylon Smith had to watch the draft’s first round in frustration and disappointment. Once considered a likely top-10 pick, Smith saw a devastating knee injury wipe out any hope of being a first-round pick, relegating him to focus on rehab and, hopefully, aim for a 2017 regular-season debut.

But where will these two special linebacker talents end up on draft day? Will they be selected on Day 2 of the draft or fall later? And which teams may be targeting the injured and now awesomely valued Jack and Smith? While trying to handicap who may be interested, with elite talents on the board like these two, any team running any scheme could make a case to add Jack or Smith throughout Day 2 of the 2016 NFL draft.

Myles Jack, UCLA

Widely perceived as one of the top-five players in the NFL draft throughout the process, concerns over Jack’s draft stock started once reports surfaced that NFL teams were worried about his future during NFL Scouting Combine medical rechecks. After leaks—such as Yahoo reporter Charles Robinson indicating that the Dallas Cowboys had removed Jack from their primary board—began to discuss Jack’s value to NFL teams, there became a real fear that he could slip to the teens on draft day.

The elite talent fell much further than that, and the fact that no NFL team wanted to draft him in Round 1 is a major indictment that teams may feel he won't make it to the end of a five-year first-round rookie deal.

As to where he fits next? It’s anyone’s guess as we approach the second round. The San Francisco 49ers may be the odds-on favorite, as they have a track record of giving injured prospects an extra chance, and their interest was indicated by ESPN’s Bob Holtzman (via Rotoworld's Evan Silva) in the buildup to the first round.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders have been the teams most often linked to Jack throughout the process and for good reason. All three teams have capable linebacking units, but all could use a versatile pass-defending option, and all three could use another impact player at linebacker to help solidify their defense.

If Jack’s knee issue is substantial enough to push him out of Round 1, it could be enough to push him out of Round 2 as well. If I had to guess, I’d say the Dolphins will select Jack. They have running back Jay Ajayi on the roster, who was drafted a year ago from the Boise State Broncos despite having his meniscus removed during his college career.

For a prospect like Jack whose draft stock has fallen to no direct fault of his own, he should have a nationwide cheering section for Day 2.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

Unlike Jack, Smith not being a first-round pick shouldn’t be all that surprising. After a devastating knee injury that tore all three of his major knee ligaments during the season, Smith’s first-round dreams were dashed almost immediately.

That said, the onetime top-10 prospect should still have some suitors during the the second or, at worst, third day of the draft. Even if he’s able to return to 75 percent of what he was before the injury, Smith is the best inside linebacker in the 2016 class over Alabama Crimson Tide's Reggie Ragland.

However, his eventual draft position will be the most intriguing indicator of how teams feel about his long-term recovery prognosis.

Should he last until the fourth round, where fellow injury-red-flagged prospects like Marcus Lattimore and Michael Bush landed, that could be the writing on the wall that NFL teams don’t have confidence in his eventual rehab.

As for which teams Smith can hope to hear his name called by, the Denver Broncos are atop that list. Even after moving back up into the first round, dealing a third-rounder to the Seattle Seahawks to do it, Denver still has eight picks remaining in the 2016 NFL draft, including a compensatory pick in the back end of Round 3 that could be perfect for a prospect like Smith.

If not the Broncos, the Buffalo Bills with head coach Rex Ryan (who would love to add a top-tier talent), the Chicago Bears (who have invested heavily in free agency to fill their defensive needs but need to start adding long-term options) and the New England Patriots (who are known for being savvy defensive drafters and have four top-100 picks remaining) would all be great fits for Smith’s development.

Pessimistic or Optimistic?

Even as sports science continues to improve across the league, NFL teams still remain baffled by prospects with substantial knee concerns that could inhibit the player's long-term upside. But in today’s NFL, with presidents and ownerships more anxious than ever, general managers and other decision-makers need to begin shrinking their desired focus on how long they need to plan ahead.

Jack can offer immediate value despite his injury, and while there’s a chance his knee issues may fester into much more in a few years, he’ll be able to provide elite impact play, rare coverage range for a linebacker and confidence.

And while Smith will likely need a full 2016 redshirt season, his ability to be a high-impact player once he returns could make him an awesome one-year wait for smart NFL teams.

For Jack, he’s a physical specimen that can offer rare coverage upside, even if it is only for four years. For Smith, his ability to return in 2017 at a remarkably high level merits a top-100 pick.  At the end of the day, both prospects’ eventual draft grades won’t rest on their game film, but rather on the shoulders of each team's doctors.

With so many smart football minds throughout the NFL potentially advocating for Jack and Smith as a worthwhile risk, decision-makers constantly let top talents slip due to injury issues. It only takes one decision-maker to overrule their medical personnel and draft Jack or Smith.

While we may not see the rewards of either pick until 2017, there’s a great chance we’ll be laughing in a few years when we look back at Jack falling out of the second round and Smith hoping to just be a top-100 pick.


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