CHICAGO — Myles Jack’s free fall out of the first round finally ended Friday night when the Jaguars selected him with the 36th overall selection, but it was another linebacker dealing with a knee problem who made just as spectacular a move up the board as Jack made on the way down.
Very few draft analysts — maybe none? — expected injured Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith to be picked anywhere near the top of the draft. But the Cowboys pulled off the biggest shocker of the night when they took a player who was widely regarded as a top 5 talent before blowing out his left knee in the Fiesta Bowl.
Many draft observers said Smith, who may not play this season while rehabbing from two torn ligaments and nerve issues in the knee, might not be drafted until the fourth round or beyond. But Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones doesn’t mind taking risks, and he thinks the reward will be worth it with the 6-2, 225-pound defender.
“I’m going to be fine,” Smith said shortly after being drafted. “I’ll be able to play again. It’s just timing. Timing is everything and for Dallas to draft me, they’re going to get a great player. I’m looking forward to playing for a great team.”
Smith said he has resumed running in recent weeks, and believes he has a chance to play sometime this season.
“Absolutely never doubt God,” Smith said. “For me, it’s just progressing each and every day. You have to be patient.”
Smith was emotional after being selected “because just everything I’ve been through thus far,” he said. “It’s been the most challenging time of my life, but at the same time it’s been the best time of my life where my dream has just come true. I’ve been wanting to play in the NFL since I was seven years old.”
Smith was last year’ Dick Butkus Award winner as the country’s best linebacker after putting together his second straight season with 100-plus tackles. He finished his three-year career for the Irish with 284 tackles, including 23 ½ for loss, 4 ½ sacks, three fumble recoveries, three forces fumbles and 10 passes defensed.
The injury in the Fiesta Bowl was devastating, as he was injured on a block by Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker. While many draft-eligible players have recovered from torn knee ligaments, it’s the nerve damage, which requires more time to heal, that complicates his recovery. But one reason Dallas is confident Smith can make a full recovery is because the surgery was performed by Cowboys team physician Dr. Dan Cooper.
Jack, meanwhile, slipped out of the first round because of concerns about what might be a future surgery due to a condition that was discovered after he underwent surgery to repair his meniscus in September. Jack has expressed confidence he won’t knee additional surgery — which could be a microfracture procedure that has often caused professional athletes to end their careers — to correct the condition.
Jack said the day before the draft that he felt the Jaguars, who recently worked Jack out in California and came away satisfied he was physically sound, would be the perfect fit.
“We’ve had conversations about Myles Jack for many months now, just really intrigued by his skill set and how he plays the game,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “He just gives us great versatility. You’re always looking at having speed on the field.”
Are the Jaguars taking a big risk with Jack?
“The risk, we’ll deal with that,” Bradley said.
Another big second-round surprise: The Buccaneers traded up with the Chiefs to take Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo at 59th overall. The last kicker to be drafted in the second round was Mike Nugent of the Jets in 2005. Only one kicker in NFL history, Sebastian Jankikowski of the Raiders, has been drafted in the first round. Aguayo set an NCAA record for kicking accuracy by making 267 of his 276 field goal attempts, good for an astounding 96.7 percentage.
The Ohio State draft.
Ohio State set a record for the most players taken from one school in the first three rounds with 10. Braxton Miller became the ninth Ohio State player drafted this year when he was taken by the Texans in the third round. The Seahawks later took Nick Vannett.