Top LB Smith on long road to recovery

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Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith endured the nightmare every college prospect fears.

In the final game of his All-American junior season – the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State – he landed awkwardly and suffered a massive knee injury, tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee.

The nation's best linebacker, winner of the 2015 Butkus Award, went from one of the surefire top picks in the draft to a medical question mark in the eyes of NFL teams.

"It's the game of football and it happened," Smith said at the Scouting Combine. "I have no choice but to live with it. I'm just moving forward. That's all I'm focused on.

"I'm hoping to go top 10. I view myself as the best player in the draft, you know? It's just a matter of waiting and enjoying the process and controlling what I can control."

It's an intense rehabilitation process for Smith, who is expected to miss the 2016 season as he continues to recover.

Evaluators love his tape and production. He displayed incredible explosiveness and finished his college career with 284 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

But there is obvious concern about his playing future after such a major knee injury.

"It's a long-term decision for whoever drafts me," Smith said. "I'm a guy who will be around for a while playing at an elite level – an impact player. It's great watching a guy like (Rams running back) Todd Gurley do it last year and come back almost mid-season and perform. It's very encouraging."

Gurley suffered a season-ending knee injury during his final year at Georgia and faced similar questions in Indianapolis. The Rams showed they had plenty of confidence in his ability to rebound, selecting him with the 10th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Gurley went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Smith knows his recovery will be longer, but he's determined to reward the faith of whichever team takes a chance on him.

"It tests your patience," Smith said. "First time I've been injured in my life. It's making a man out of me.

"I can't tell when I'll be back. But I'll be back 100 percent."

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