FRISCO, Texas – For all the intrigue surrounding this year's NFL draft, the loudest buzz in the Cowboys organization is about one of last year's draft picks.
More than a year removed from undergoing major surgery on his injured left knee, Jaylon Smith is continuing to show signs of progress in his recovery. Given what that could mean for the Dallas defense, it's a story that has garnered plenty of attention during the offseason.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones stoked the fire further on Monday, when he acknowledged that Smith has started to feel sensations in his left foot.
"His doctors are very encouraged, which is the one that I spend the most credibility to," Jones said. "They are very excited about his feelings, about his feelings in his foot area. He's lifting those toes."
Jones has long been optimistic about Smith's odds of returning to his previous ability – back when he was considered one of the five best prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft, prior to tearing both his ACL and LCL and damaging his peroneal nerve in a New Year's Day bowl game 16 months ago.
But the revelation that Smith has begun to move his toes is plenty enough reason for optimism. Due to the nerve damage in his leg, the 21-year-old linebacker has been experiencing dropfoot since the injury, and there has been speculation since last spring that he would require a brace to be able to move properly on the football field.
Jones acknowledged that Smith is still dealing with that issue as it stands right now – though not in the same capacity as he has in the past.
"Not as much as it was by a significant degree three weeks ago. Not as much as it was in relation to three weeks ago as it was three weeks before that or three weeks before that," Jones said. "And don't make it a given that he's going to have the brace on … I'm just telling you what I do see, his arrow is going up."
Only time will tell if that comes to pass, but there's no denying what it would mean to the Cowboys if Smith is in fact capable of playing like his old self. The organization decided to draft the Notre Dame standout 34th overall last spring, knowing full well the long recovery that awaited.
Most draft analysts agree that Smith would have been one of last year's top 10 picks had he remained healthy.
"I think as much as anything else, one of the reasons that we felt good enough to draft him with the situation that he was in last year was the kind of person he is," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "That's the thing that just leaped out at us, the kind of spirit he has, his willingness to work hard at it."
Jones said Monday he expects Smith to be able to function just like any other player by the time the Cowboys get to training camp. If that is in fact that case, it could be quite a boost for the Cowboys.