It's a sizable gamble for an organization with Super Bowl aspirations, as Smith is fully expected to miss the entirety of the 2016 season with a devastating knee injury that led a bout with drop-foot, a nerve issue that affects his ability to fully maneuver his lower leg.
The Cowboys have perhaps the best read on Smith's medical condition, as their team doctor performed his surgery, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported. The hope is that the nerve will start firing again, allowing the former Fighting Irish star to regain pre-injury form by the 2017 season.
Prior to tearing his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl, the 2015 Butkus Award winner was viewed as the potential No. 1 overall draft pick.
"He was far and away the best," one scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He wasn't just the best by default. He was the best in an excellent group of guys. It's just a risk-reward thing now."
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock raves about Smith as a "sideline-to-sideline rabbit" with shades of All-Pro middle linebackers Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis.