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Report: Knee won’t push Jaylon Smith out of Top 20

Georgia Tech v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish returns a fumble against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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As Jaylon Smith begins his rehabilitation process after surgery to repair two torn knee ligaments, the “where will he fall to?” conversation seems to be quieting down. Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker, who opted into the NFL Draft even after suffering a major knee injury, seems to have made the decision knowing teams won’t take the multi-talented linebacker off of their board.

Sure, Smith’s days as a potential top-five pick might be over. But a recent report by NFL Network’s Albert Breer has one AFC scouting director believing Smith is a lock to still go in the top 20, with the in-state Colts at No. 18 seemingly the floor.

“He’s fast, athletic, instinctive and versatile,” the scouting director said. “He can close quickly against the run and shows very good athletic ability and speed in coverage.” When asked for a weakness, the scouting director sarcastically texted, “Knee injury.”

While Smith won’t be working out at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine, the late-February cattle call will be an opportunity for teams to meet with Smith and take a look at the progress he’s made in his recovery.

“A lot will really depend on how the docs see the repair and recovery,” the scouting director told Breer.

After rumors of nerve damage were quickly shot down, Smith’s medical team made their confidence in a complete recovery well known. While that conclusion will certainly need to be shared by team doctors around the league, it’s worth pointing to Todd Gurley’s draft-day ascent into the Top 10 last season as a good reason to believe that Smith’s slide won’t be too precipitous.

While an insurance policy protects Smith if he slides out of the first round all together, the game tape he supplied over the past three years will likely do more to make sure he’s one of the first linebackers off the board.