Brian Kelly said what you’d expect him to say about Jaylon Smith.
"I don't think he's a risk,” Kelly told ESPN from Chicago on Friday morning. “I think he's a smart investment."
In reality the consensus All-American and former surefire Top 10 pick is both things, a risk that he won’t return to his super hero self and a smart investment that one of college football’s best athletes can be signed for a fraction of the contractual price.
On Friday night during the second round of the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys bet on Smith’s comeback in a way more substantial than the linebacker’s endorsement deals with adidas and New Era. By taking Smith with the 34th overall pick and the third selection in the second round, Dallas added a feel good story to a draft that needed one.
The Cowboys team surgeon, Dan Cooper, performed Smith’s knee operation earlier this year.
Smith protected himself with a reported insurance policy that paid a maximum value of $5 million if he slipped to the 75th pick overall, which is the 12th pick in the third round. According to Darren Rovell, Smith’s policy paid out $700,000 for falling out of the first round and $100,000 for each addition pick up to that $5 million maximum.
Smith didn’t come close to maxing that out.
He’s the 11th linebacker drafted out of Notre Dame in the last 20 years and just the third to go in the opening two rounds following Manti Te’o and Courtney Watson.
The Irish have had just one first-round pick at linebacker in program history in Bob Crable in 1982.
The consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner would have been the second if not for the torn ACL, LCL and nerve damage in his left knee that made him one of the NFL Draft’s toughest stories. After some misinformation early in the draft process that Smith might play this season, the linebacker has conceded the nerve’s healing process is ongoing and it’s not clear when he’ll be back at full strength.
If Smith does get all the way back he’ll be a steal for the Cowboys after they spend this season helping he former Irish linebacker recover. Spotrac estimated Smith’s rookie contract at $6.5 million.
As for Notre Dame, Smith is Notre Dame’s third selection in a loaded Irish draft and the program’s 488th overall. Notre Dame began Friday trailing USC by just two picks for the most in NFL Draft history.
Smith finished his Notre Dame career with 293 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 11 pass breakups and four sacks. He started all 39 games of his Notre Dame career and was a captain last fall.