Star Evaluation: Good First Season For Smith, But Expectations Higher in 2018

While free agency officially begins in March, roster turnover isn't too far away. The Cowboys will indeed add and presumably release players, along with letting some go without a new contract.

However, the majority of the 2018 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.

Today, we'll continue the series with linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Views of #54 Linebacker Jaylon Smith from the 2017-18 Regular Season.

What's Been Good:

In his first NFL season on the field, Smith had 99 tackles, one of the highest single-season totals by a first-year player in franchise history. While Smith wasn't officially listed as a rookie, he did go through the on-field experiences for the first time. For the most part, he handled it all as well as could be expected, considering the knee injury he suffered in college. Smith had six games of at least nine tackles, including a career-high 14 in his first-ever road game, a Week 2 loss at Denver.

What's Been Bad:

It's not unusual for first-year players to hit that "rookie wall" and that's what seemed to happen with Smith, who had 63 tackles in his first six games. However, in the final 10, Smith only recorded 36. In the last five games of the year, Smith totaled just five tackles.    

2017 Highlight:

There were games in which Smith recorded more tackles, but the San Francisco game was one in which the linebacker seemed to be all over the field. Maybe it was the fact that he was playing with both Anthony Hitchens and Sean Lee for the first time, but Smith had his only sack of the season, along with his only forced fumble, to go along with seven tackles.

What's Next:

The Cowboys have been more than patient with Smith in this rehab process and they have to be excited with what they saw in his first season. Like with all players, a natural progression is expected, both physically and mentally, as he continues to establish himself as one of the Cowboys' top linebackers. What happens with Anthony Hitchens and his contract situation could ultimately affect Smith, especially if he's asked to do more in nickel situations. But overall, the Cowboys are confident Smith will continue to develop and become the dynamic player they hoped for when they drafted him in the second round of the 2016 season.  

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  • There are times in scouting where you're completely wrong about a player.
  • The information you have or your gut tells you that the situation is not right.
  • I will be the first to admit that I missed on Jaylon Smith coming into the 2016 NFL Draft.
  • Not only did I miss on the diagnoses, but also the desire of the player to once again play the game after a terrible injury.
  • I honestly wanted nothing to do with Smith, and I was proven wrong.
  • Dr. Dan Cooper did a wonderful job giving him a chance to ever compete again, while Britt Brown worked tirelessly with Smith to put a plan together in order to get him back on the field.
  • The biggest factor in Smith's return was his own desire to make it back, which I didn't factor in.
  • For Smith, it was a battle of countless days, but he did return. His play initially was rough and sporadic, but it did improve.
  • The more comfortable he became, the thoughts of his injury subsided.
  • Word from those that would know say that 2018 should be even better on the field for Smith.
  • Improvement in mobility should allow him to once again work closer to becoming the player he once was at Notre Dame.
  • Jaylon Smith should be the starter at middle linebacker this upcoming season, which is a far cry from what I ever believed he'd become.
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