Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack Present Huge Risks, but Major Potential Rewards

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 30, 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

CHICAGO — They took risks. Huge risks. Maybe the biggest risks of the draft. Maybe the biggest risks of the draft in the past five years. Maybe longer. 

The Cowboys and Jaguars didn't just roll the dice with their selections. They picked up the dice, grabbed a rabbit's foot, smothered the dice in a bushel of four-leaf clovers and had the Pope bless them.

The Cowboys took Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who had his ACL and LCL surgically repaired and possibly won't play during the 2016 season. Look up risk in the dictionary and there's Smith, patiently waiting for those damn nerves to regenerate.

"Really dumb, silly, absurd pick," said one AFC scout.

I disagree with this. Smith is potentially so uber-talented, he's worth the risk, even in the second round, even if he can't play for a season. But, yeah, I get it.

The Jaguars took a similar risk. In some ways, actually, a bigger one. They took UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, whose knee may or may not explode in 10 days or 10 years. There hasn't been a body joint this fretted about since Bo Jackson's hip.

"Biggest non-character risk pick in recent draft history," said an NFC front office executive.

Meaning: We often think of risks as a team taking a player who had off-field troubles in college. These risks are different. They are about knees and ligaments and joints, and while they are more palpable—it is easier to measure the mending of an ACL, compared to predicting if a player will rob a bank—they can still be just as career-threatening.

When speaking to people around the sport on Friday night, there was a theme among the responses: The Cowboys and Jaguars are two desperate franchises willing to take risks to turn their fortunes around. This is an old story in football. It's been done over and over. And here we go again.

What might be different in these cases is the risk and reward are among the most extreme I've ever seen. It's incredibly rare, in fact, for a team to take a player in the second round who the franchise knows for nearly certain, as the Cowboys do, won't play the following season. Fifth round? Sixth round? Sure. Second round? Highly unusual.

Desperation causes franchises to do things they normally might not. The Jaguars are on the rise, and they are desperate to keep the helium in the balloon. In fact, I think the Jaguars get 11 wins next year, and Jack can help them do it...if his knee doesn't launch into low orbit. The Jaguars are 27-69 the past six seasons.

They have an explosive offense and need the equivalent on defense. They see Jack as worth the risk. They're right.

"We want to be great. We've got to take chances," Dave Caldwell, the team's general manager, said according to a team transcript. "We've been pretty conservative in our time here and in our philosophy in drafting and in some of our free-agent acquisitions. There comes a point in time where we've got to close the talent gap, and you're not going to do that without taking risks. This is one that we just felt (was a) calculated risk. He's going to play out this contract, and hopefully he's here for 10, 12 years, and we'll look back at it as a good thing for the Jaguars."

The Cowboys are desperate because Jerry Jones tasted Super Bowl wins and hasn't in some time. The Cowboys are 46-50 the past six seasons.

One thing that's impossible not to notice, especially with the Cowboys, is the team has gotten more intelligent with its drafting. They are still risk takers, but to me, Ezekiel Elliott is the best pick in the draft this year.

Just remember where the Cowboys once were. Jones once wanted to draft Johnny Manziel. On Friday, as the second round began, Manziel was engaging in Twitter fights and calling a journalist a "p---y." As Manziel was again demonstrating excellent judgment, the Cowboys, almost simultaneously, drafted Smith, a ferocious, brilliant player with a sound work ethic. In other words, the anti-Manziel. (Warning: NSFW language.)

Johnny Manziel @JManziel2

@WillBurge should have just said it to my face instead of sitting across from us tweeting away. Pussy

The Jaguars once drafted quarterback Matt Jones and then turned him into a wide receiver. He was a magnificent bust, especially since, three picks later, the Packers selected Aaron Rodgers.

The Cowboys have taken chances like this in the past, and it's worked. Sean Lee was taken in the second round six years ago. He had a partially torn ACL. Bruce Carter had a fully torn ACL and he, too, was picked in the second round.

But remember, Smith has a torn ACL and LCL, and there's been concern that the nerves aren't refiring. Smith and the Cowboys are certain the nerves will be fine, but no one can say for sure.

"I get different sensations every day with the nerve, but it's just timing," Smith told the media."I'm only three-and-a-half months out so time will definitely tell, but the knee is fine. That was cleared at the medical recheck, that the knee won't have any issues. It's just a timing issue for the nerve. It's too early in the process to tell."

This may be it. This may be the draft where one day, in the near future, the Jaguars are raising the Lombardi Trophy and pointing to this draft as the reason why. The season after that, or before, the Cowboys do the same.

Or both teams look back at these picks and curse. Loudly.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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