Brooks: LB Jaylon Smith reminds of young Patrick Willis

Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith's recovery from a knee injury might prevent him from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine later this month, but it didn't prevent him from drawing some awfully high praise from NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks.

The former NFL scout likened Smith to retired seven-time Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted No. 11 overall in 2007.

"Jaylon Smith is an all-time athlete, a guy you absolutely love. He's a thumper in the middle, he can run from sideline to sideline. He's very violent in his play, a guy that I believe is a three-down linebacker, very versatile. He kind of reminds me of a young Patrick Willis in terms of his ability to play in the middle of a 3-4 defense," Brooks said on NFL HQ. "(He'll) make plays, communicate all the calls, and do all the things you look for from that position. A natural leader. He's a guy that I think is going to be a star. If not for the injury, I think we're talking about a top-five talent."

The similarities between Smith and Willis don't stop there: both won the Butkus Award as college football's best linebacker, Willis in 2006 after his final season playing at Ole Miss, and Smith last year.

Smith tore knee ligaments in his final college game against Ohio State five weeks ago in the Fiesta Bowl. His goal for the NFL Scouting Combine later this month is simply to be able to walk without crutches, according to 247sports.com. As such, his participation level at the annual event in Indianapolis will likely be limited to medical examinations and personal interviews. Anchoring his draft stock against concerns about the injury is a tall stack of impressive game tape dating back to his freshman season, when he made 67 stops in his first year with the Fighting Irish in 2013.

The market for linebackers in the 2016 draft, fortunately for Smith, is a strong one. NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein counts the linebacker position among the needs of 14 of the top 20 clubs picking in the first round.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread*.

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