Jaylon Smith enrolled at Notre Dame wanting to be better than Manti Te’o.
Mission accomplished, at least on a quicker timeline.
On Tuesday, the former five-star prospect from Fort Wayne, Ind., won the Butkus Award, which goes to college football’s top collegiate linebacker. He was also named a first-team All-American by USA Today. The junior did all that a year earlier than Te’o, and the pair also shares the distinction as the only players to win the Butkus awards in college and high school.
Smith was a finalist for the Butkus last year and ultimately won out on his next try over finalists Deion Jones (LSU), Leonard Floyd (Georgia), Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) and Reggie Ragland (Alabama). Smith and McMillan will face off in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.
The voting panel that picks the Butkus winner includes Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh and Nick Saban.
Smith is a consensus first-round pick in NFL mock drafts and Brian Kelly said he was one five Irish players to request formal evaluations from the committee that advises underclassmen. Ronnie Stanley, Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise and KeiVarae Russell also request draft feedback. It would be a surprise if Smith returned for his senior season considering his NFL potential.
Based on the NFL’s salary structure for rookies, Smith would be in line to sign a four-year deal worth in excess of $12 million if he went No. 10 overall. Slipping to No. 20 overall would mean a contract worth approximately $8.5 million.
Smith leads Notre Dame with 113 tackles to go with nine tackles for loss, one sack, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.