WB #9 Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame*

6’2” – 240 lbs. – 4.60e

Team captain who has been able to stay healthy over three seasons as a starter. Relatively undersized weakside linebacker with average height and a somewhat thin build; looks smaller than his listed size. Typically lines up behind the defensive line but is also aligned opposite wide receivers on some passing downs. Has very good straight-line speed; runs like a safety. Passionate, high-motor player who flies to the ball; style is somewhat reminiscent of Steelers legend Troy Polamalu. Can energize a defense, but often takes some wasted steps and may benefit from being more patient. Accelerates quickly when playing downhill; explosiveness allows him to overwhelm opposing running backs with his initial jolt (even ran over the opposing center versus Southern California.) That said, doesn’t look as powerful when asked to read and react, often being driven off of his spot in the run game. Looks better when allowed to roam, flowing to the ball well and doing a good job of protecting his legs against cut blocks. Very good in backside pursuit. Is an effective tackler, but doesn’t generate a ton of pop on contact. Often blitzes on third downs and can be disruptive in that capacity, typically shooting gaps but lining up on the edge at times as well. Gets his hands up to contest passing lanes when he’s unable to reach the passer. Has a lot of experience in coverage; takes some snaps opposite slot receivers and can jam and disrupt their routes. Also makes some zone drops, with the ability to plant and drive effectively. As a weakside linebacker, hasn’t been asked to cover opposing tight ends much and probably lacks the physical profile to hold up against opposing inline options; better suited to cover wide receivers and running backs, possibly flex tight ends. Will probably have to play in a swarming even front where he’s protected by big defensive linemen and given considerable room to freelance (may frustrate coaches who emphasize discipline), but in the right capacity he could offer teams an energetic playmaker with excellent leadership abilities. A better blitzer than Panthers 2015 first-round pick Shaq Thompson, but perhaps not quite as good in coverage. Has the look of a three-down starter who should earn some first-round grades as a weakside prospect, although schematic limitations may adversely affect his ultimate draft position, being a less-than-ideal fit for some defenses.

Games watched: Clemson (’15), Southern California (’15), Texas (’15)

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