Notre Dame consensus All-American linebacker Jaylon Smith announced Monday he'll forgo his senior year and enter the 2016 NFL Draft despite suffering a significant knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 1 against Ohio State.
Smith made his announcement in a short YouTube video:
"I'm deciding to head to the NFL Draft," Smith said, "and it's really just perseverance from here. With the adversity I'm going through right now, dealing with the knee injury, I have the same vision. It's just a different path. Really just looking forward to this opportunity, and I just want to thank everyone for really having my back and trusting my decision."
Smith led Notre Dame with 114 tackles and won the Butkus Award in 2015, joining ex-Irish linebacker Manti Te'o as the only players to win both the high school and college versions of the honor. He reportedly underwent successful surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL last Thursday.
“He’s the best athlete we’ll face all year,” Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, himself a likely first-round pick, said before the Fiesta Bowl. “He runs from sideline to sideline making plays. Combine his athletic ability with his size and he’s very impressive.”
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Despite his injury against Ohio State, Smith’s elite athleticism and high football I.Q. should make him a sought-after player in the 2016 NFL Draft. Still, he'll drop from where he was projected to go before his injury — most had him being selected somewhere between picks No. 5-15. Neither of CBS Sports' mock drafts have Smith as a first-round pick.
Smith said before the Fiesta Bowl he heard he received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.
The Fort Wayne, Ind. native was arguably the most important recruit landed in coach Brian Kelly's six-year tenure in South Bend. A 2013 graduate of Bishop Luers High School, Smith was rated by Rivals as a five-star recruit, and was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 prep linebacker, No. 1 player in Indianad and No. 3 overall recruit.
In his three years at Notre Dame, Smith totaled 292 tackles, 24 1/2 tackles for a loss, four and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, 10 pass break-ups and one interception.