Whenever Jaylon Smith plays his next snap it will be in the NFL.
On Monday, the consensus All-American linebacker declared for the NFL Draft, barely a week after the junior suffered a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. At the time of the injury sources told Irish Illustrated that nerve damage could not be ruled out until surgery.
Smith underwent surgery last week and Sports Illustrated reported Smith’s nerve in the knee “was healthy and in great condition,” also reporting the surgery “went about as well as it possibly could have.”
It’s expected Smith will make a full recovery.
“Really just looking forward to the future, with my decision and moving forward,” Smith said. “I’m deciding to head to the NFL Draft.”
Smith announced his departure in a video posted on YouTube, dressed in a Bishop Luers sweatshirt.
Smith is expected to sign with high-profile agent Eugene Parker of Relativity Sports. Parker is also a product of Fort Wayne, Ind., where Smith starred as a five-star prospect before coming to Notre Dame.
Projected as a potential Top 5 pick before the injury, it’s not clear how much the knee reconstruction will impact Smith’s draft status.
As a point of comparison, running backs Todd Gurley and Willis McGahee both suffered major knee injuries during their final college seasons but both went in the first round. Like Smith, McGahee was injured in a bowl game. The rehab process forced him to sit out the rookie season of an 11-year NFL career.
ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported Smith had a $5 million insurance policy that would pay out if he slipped out of the first round.
In terms of dollars, Forbes estimates the difference between going No. 5 overall and No. 15 in the draft would be about $9 million over the life of a four-year contract ($18.8 million vs. $9.6 million in the ’15 draft class). The difference between going No. 15 and No. 25 would be only $1.6 million over four years ($9.6 million vs. $8.0 million).
Going last in the first round would net Smith a four-year contract estimated at nearly $7 million.
Smith led Notre Dame with 114 tackles to go with 9.0 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries last season. He was voted a team captain before the season and a first-team All-American after it. He also won the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker.
Smith is the fifth Notre Dame player to declare for the draft, following offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, running back C.J. Prosise, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and receiver Will Fuller. Prosise, Russell and Fuller all declared in the days immediately following the Fiesta Bowl.