NFL Draft: Understanding Notre Dame Linebacker Jaylon Smith's Medical Setback

Bad news for one of the most talented players in the draft

Jaylon Smith was the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft until New Year’s Eve, when he tore both the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and LCL (lateral collateral ligament) in his knee during Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.

He declared early for the draft anyway — although expected to miss the 2016 season, he was expected back for 2017. It was a reasonable expectation. The surgeries for these problems have improved by light years over the last decades.

But last week, we were told that an issue with the nerves had arisen. More tests were expected, but his return time frame wasn’t changed. 

It may have now. Smith has developed a condition known colloquially as ‘drop foot’. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. The forefoot drops, and it may drag while walking. Sometimes it’s curable. Sometimes not. Any way you look at it, it’s bad news. 

There are two specifics that indicate that. First, the drop foot is caused by a problem with the peroneal nerve. The peroneal branches off from the sciatic nerve and is closer to the surface of the body, making it more susceptible to injury. So, there’s another nerve involved beyond the sciatic, which runs down from the lower back and through the knee and calf areas. 

Secondly, drop foot is sometimes incurable — you may have to just live with it. Surgery is an option — usually the compression of the peroneal nerve is at or next to the junction with the sciatic nerve. Relieving that pressure may solve the issue. But it’s another surgery and more scar tissue, so it’s a calculated risk. 

PT is indicated and will sometimes cure the issue. The fact that the drop foot is a sequelae of the ACL/LCL tears and the surgery for them isn’t a positive — surgeries to fix surgeries will have a somewhat lower chance of success. This isn’t to say that it’s impossible for him to heal — his case isn’t close to that level yet. Several things remain to try. 

But if you’re a team with X number of picks and you need them immediately, Smith’s choice isn’t for you. If your team is in a ‘win now’ mode, he’d be an unlikely (though not impossible — you’ll still be playing in 2017 or 2018) choice. If you have enough picks and he falls to the sixth round — college free agent area, you might be tempted.

Hopefully, whatever approach they take will be successful. It would truly be a shame for such a talented young man to miss out on his dream. One point is certain, though. 

The odds just got worse. And that’s never a good thing. 

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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @DocBearOMD.

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