Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
We were all amazed when Jaylon Smith made his debut this season, considering he’s been sidelined for over a year due to a devastating knee injury that nearly ended the young linebacker’s professional football career before it even started. The fact Smith could even move his toes made headlines.
So, naturally, when the former second round selection actually played in a real game, every fan was ecstatic. But with that enthusiasm, and Smith’s overwhelming positivity, I think we might have all gotten our expectations a bit too high. I’m including the Cowboys themselves in that statement.
Dallas was forced to play Smith way too early and too often due to the knee injury suffered by starter Anthony Hitchens prior to the start of the regular season. When Hitchens finally returned a couple weeks ago, Smith snaps got reduced. Which was a good thing! Essentially a rookie, Jaylon seemed to play better in spot duty, coming off the bench as a role player.
On Sunday, when Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee injured his hamstring early in the matchup with the Falcons, once again Smith was pressed into duty. And one thing is glaringly clear. Jaylon is not ready to be a starter in the NFL.
Still struggling with drop foot, the 22-year old over-pursues one play and seems to be behind the action the next. Physically, it appears Smith is capable of making the plays. Mentally, he seems to struggle and often finds himself out of position.
The fact is Jaylon Smith isn’t ready to be anything other than a role player on this defense right now. And if Lee is forced to miss any more games, Dallas needs to find a better alternative than Smith as their starter.