Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, one of the most highly regarded prospects in college football, intends to enter the 2016 NFL Draft. Despite sustaining a knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State that required reconstructive surgery, Smith will forego his final season of NCAA eligibility.
Smith issued his announcement via social media:
Smith made 113 tackles for the Fighting Irish in 2015 with nine tackles for loss, showing an ability to play both inside or outside as a pass rusher and garnering glowing reviews. He won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, and NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock described him as a "top 10" draft talent. According to NFL Media's Lance Zierlein, teams holding six of the top eight picks in the first round of the draft have a need for a linebacker of some kind. The injury cast a shadow on his final college game, although following surgery, it was reported that the damage to Smith's knee isn't as serious as once feared.
"It's really just perseverence from here with the adversity I'm going through right now with a knee injury," Smith said.
Due to rehabilitation on his knee, Smith will likely participate in little more than personal interviews with NFL clubs at the NFL Scouting Combine next month in Indianapolis. Underclassmen have until a Jan. 18 deadline to apply for early draft eligibility.
The Fighting Irish have lost several of their top underclassmen to early entry, including Smith, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Will Fuller, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and running back C.J. Prosise.