(Editor's Note: A week after the NFL Draft, the DallasCowboys.com staff is debating the team's decision to draft injured linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round. For Bryan Broaddus' Counterpoint, click here.)
IRVING, Texas – You might call drafting Jaylon Smith an Auerbachian move.
In 1978, Red Auerbach, esteemed general manager of the Boston Celtics, drafted Larry Bird sixth overall even though he still had another year of college basketball left. The five teams ahead of Boston, envisioning a hole on their roster for the coming season, passed. Auerbach thought bigger.
Granted, the Celtics weren't so much taking a risk as testing their own patience. Bird was healthy and a future walk-in starter for rebuilding Boston. He just wasn't available yet.
No one can argue the Cowboys took a risk, plain and simple, selecting Smith in the second round. The circumstances are different here; he's eligible to begin his NFL career, but when is uncertain due to the severe knee injury, including nerve damage, he sustained on New Year's Day in his final game as an All-American linebacker for Notre Dame. It's quite possible he misses the entire 2016 season.
Would the risk have been worth the potential reward at No. 4, where Smith easily would have been slotted as a top-five prospect if healthy? No.
What about 34th overall? Absolutely.
If there's anything we should understand about the NFL Draft by now, it's that nothing is guaranteed. Not first-round picks, and certainly not second-round picks. The bottom line is this: the Cowboys stuck to their draft board and took the best players available at No. 4 (Ezekiel Elliott) and No. 34 (Smith, with a medical tag).
If you want to argue that drafting an injured player is a reach in itself, fine. But there certainly wasn't any guarantee that a healthy rookie selected at No. 34 would have made a significant contribution to the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.
Think about this team's last three second-round picks. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory battled injuries as rookies. Gavin Escobar settled in as a reserve tight end.
Drafting in the '30s is not a can't-miss zone. Really, neither is drafting in the top 5. The Cowboys felt Elliott was most NFL-ready prospect available to them at No. 4, a player who can instantly impact their offense and simultaneously take pressure off their defense.
They felt Smith, at No. 34, could eventually become the best player in this particular draft class. The team's orthopedic physician, Dr. Dan Cooper, performed Smith's surgery in January. Clearly it's a prognosis they were comfortable with.
"You put the tape on," head coach Jason Garrett said, "he's one of the best college linebackers I have seen in a long, long time."[embeddedad0]
Is it a risk? Of course, but not nearly the risk it's made out to be – even for a team that needs defensive help now. The hope is their third- and fourth-rounders, defensive linemen Maliek Collins and Charles Tapper, can step in and give them something as rookies. Same with sixth-round cornerback Anthony Brown.
No matter what their alternative options might have been in the second round, the biggest additions this team can possibly make this offseason are as follows: a healthy Tony Romo, a healthy Dez Bryant, a healthy Orlando Scandrick, and now Elliott.
If they have to wait a year on Smith, so be it. The potential reward of getting a top-five, franchise defensive player 30 picks later is worth the calculated risk.