Talented linebacker and draft prospect Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame suffered an ill-timed injury three months ago during the Fiesta Bowl, just as his draft stock was rising and he seemed at the top of his game. The gruesome ACL/LCL tear has made it unlikely he will be able to play a complete rookie season in the NFL.
Now, however, Smith is eager to share his progress recovering from the injury, sharing that he is able to leg press over 600 pounds and squat an impressive 400. Smith is scheduled for another medical evaluation on April 14-15. If Smith has a chance of returning to top form, he is definitely worth serious consideration, even though he is unlikely to make an immediate impact.
The Steelers were plagued with injuries to key players, and their 2015 second-round draft pick, so it is unlikely that they would consider a player whose return to peak form is in doubt. Other teams in the AFC North probably don't have the luxury of drafting a player who will not be ready to make an immediate impact.
If Smith can make a full recovery, he will be one of the biggest bargains of the 2016 draft. Initially projected to be one of the top picks in the first round, his Fiesta Bowl injury has dashed nearly all hope of him going in the top ten, even if positive news comes out of his April 14-15 check up.
It will be interesting to see which team drafts Smith. The Rams drafted Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2015 draft even though the star running back was recovering from a serious ACL injury. Though Gurley wasn't ready to play at the beginning of the season, he ended up being the backbone of the Rams offense, rushing for over 1100 yards despite his late start.
A significant difference between Gurley and Smith, however, is the timing of the injury. Gurley's injury happened earlier in the NCAA season and he had more time to recover before the draft. With the NFL's short season, a few months is the difference between seeing regular-season playing time, and sitting on the sidelines until 2017.