Brian Kelly: Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith 'is not a gamble'


Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

As the NFL Draft approaches, former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith's stock grows ever murkier.

On Monday, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted that Smith — the reigning Butkus Award winner who tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee in the first quarter of Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State on New Year's Day — "is not expected to play in 2016 and teams are unsure when he'll play again, per sources."

That report came days after NFL doctors and coaches received little clarity on Smith's outlook during his medical re-check last weekend, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted that there was little change to the nerve damage in Smith's left leg since it was initially evaluated at the NFL Combine.

On Tuesday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked how he responds to the doubt surrounding Smith's future during the ACC Coaches Teleconference.

“First, I would be careful to not jump to any kind of conclusions based upon the information that you’re getting right now," Kelly said. "Jaylon will play in the NFL. It’s just a matter of time. He’s going to come back from this injury, and when he does he’s going to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL. He has that kind of ability.

"This is an injury that we’ve seen before. We’ve had them on our team. They take time, but Jaylon is somebody that had an incredible positive attitude.

"Look, he’s not a gamble. He’s a smart business decision when you’re thinking about Jaylon Smith, because he’s going to get back on the field just because of his ability to heal. He’s an incredible athlete and a positive guy. We’re not in that mindset of disappointment or concern that he’s not going to play again.”

A 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker, Smith finished with a team-high 114 tackles and nine tackles for loss in 2015, en route to being named a consensus All-American. He opted to bypass his senior season in favor of an NFL future.

But when will that future begin? And how long will it last? The questions are many, though Kelly's doubts are few.

Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith (9) on crutches following the 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN