IRVING, Texas – A day after bolstering their offense by drafting Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys added a talented defender by selecting Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith with the 34th overall pick.
Smith is recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl appearance this past January – his final college game – that made his draft position uncertain during the pre-draft process. The injury included ligament and nerve damage, but Smith's spirits are high. He said his knee is doing well structurally, and he's patiently waiting for the nerve to regenerate.
"I'm going to be fine. I'll be able to play again," he said. "Timing is everything. For Dallas to draft me, they're going to get a great player. I'm looking forward to playing for a great team."
Smith was a three-year starter for the Fighting Irish, totaling 293 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his college career, and won the Butkus Award recognizing the nation's best linebacker.
Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the draft, arrived at Valley Ranch on Thursday for an introductory press conference with Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett. Then the front office went back to work, preparing for the second round.
The Cowboys feel Elliott's all-around skill set will immediately impact the offense, and in turn, take pressure off the defense. And Smith has the talent to be a difference maker on defense when he's able to return to the field. The Cowboys' team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, performed the surgery on Smith's knee.
This is the second time in recent years the Cowboys have drafted a talented linebacker in the second round despite a knee injury. They drafted Bruce Carter while he was recovering from an ACL injury suffered during his final college season.