Jaylon Smith can be the Cowboys’ X factor this season

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of big-name players on defense, but Jaylon Smith is the one man who can take the unit from good to great this season.

When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft they knew they’d have to wait one season for him to make any sort of impact. What they didn’t know, is that it might take two years for him to really hit is stride.

Smith believes this is the season that he can be “better than Notre Dame 100 percent.” Much of his optimism stems from the fact that Smith is currently working out without any type of ankle or foot brace. The talented linebacker played all of 2017 with a brace, but has spent the entire offseason playing without it.

If Smith can return to the athleticism he showed before his injury at Notre Dame, he could turn into a Pro Bowler for the Cowboys. He was a consensus top-10 selection before his injury. The Cowboys gambled that he could recover from the gruesome injury and it could pay off in a big way.

It’s not as if Smith wasn’t a productive player last year. He started six games at middle linebacker and played in all 16 regular season contests for Jason Garrett’s team. The Cowboys own internal stats credited him with 99 tackles on the year. That’s really good production from a part-time starter at middle linebacker.

This year, Smith projects to be the full-time starter in the middle. His size and speed make him a perfect fit to run sideline-to-sideline for the Cowboys defense. Sean Lee will enter the year as the number one linebacker on opposing teams’ scouting reports, but don’t be surprised if Smith ends the year in that position.

Some might think the Cowboys decision to spend a first-round pick on Leighton Vander Esch would hurt Smith’s productivity. In reality, it should actually increase Smith’s ability to be a high impact player. The team admits they overextended Smith at times last season due to injuries at the linebacker position. Adding Vander Esch to the rotation should allow the Cowboys to keep Smith fresh all season long.

Smith was a feel good story for the Cowboys last season, but look for him to really inflict pain on opponents this season. If his health takes another step forwards he could become the dominant inside linebacker this team needs to take their defense to the next level.

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