FRISCO, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey aren't the only kindred spirits in this cross conference matchup.
It will always be fun to compare and contrast those two stars, taken No. 4 and No. 5 by Dallas and Jacksonville at the top of the 2016 NFL Draft. But peer just a little way down the draft board, and you'll see two other intriguing names.
They weren't taken at the top of the draft, but there might not have been two more intriguing talents in that 2016 class than Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack. Widely considered the top two linebackers in that draft, Smith said Thursday that the two definitely share a bond.
"Yeah, that's my brother. I can't wait to trade jerseys with him after the game," he said.
It's not exactly the same story, but it's remarkable how similar Smith and Jack's journey to NFL stardom has been. Coming out of Fort Wayne, Ind., Smith was the highest-ranked linebacker in his high school recruiting class before signing with Notre Dame. Jack was a four-star talent out of Bellevue, Wash., who eventually signed on at UCLA.
"We played in the Army All-America Game together, as well," Smith said.
Given Notre Dame's penchant for cross-country scheduling, the duo played a lot of the same opposition – USC and Stanford, to name a few. Jack even showcased his talent on the offensive side of the ball, tallying 68 carries for 387 career rushing yards as a running back.
The similarities really take hold in each player's junior year, though. Jack got his injury out of the way early, tearing his meniscus just three games into his junior season.
"He got hurt early during our junior year, and I hopped on the phone with him and just got a chance to chop it up," Smith said. "And we seen each other at the Combine. So it's been all love."
At the NFL Combine, at his Pro Day and in the lead-up to that draft, the injury was an issue that would dog him throughout that spring, ultimately prompting him to slide out of the first round.
For Smith, it was obviously the opposite. His final season with the Fighting Irish was a tour de force, as he racked up 115 tackles, nine tackles for loss, a sack and five pass breakups to be named a consensus All-American for the 2015 season.
As has been well-documented, it wasn't until his final college game that Smith tore both his ACL and MCL, damaging his peroneal nerve in a gruesome injury.
The Cowboys famously felt good enough about Smith's prognosis that they drafted him No. 34 overall. Two picks later, the Jaguars made Jack the 36th overall pick.
It's not necessarily a "what if." The Cowboys have never given any indicator that they thought about drafting Jack. But the stories are strikingly similar. The Jaguars used Jack sparingly in his rookie year – before he exploded for 90 tackles in 2017. Now, in Year 3, he pairs with Telvin Smith to man the middle of one of the NFL's best defenses.
Then there's Smith, who continues to blossom after taking a medical redshirt in his rookie year. Following his fantastic, 12-tackle performance last week against Houston, he currently sits second on the team with 46 tackles, three sacks and three tackles for loss.
It's quite a comeback story, on both accounts. And while Smith and Jack will be competing against each other this weekend, it's a good bet they'll continue to support each other – just as they have all along.
"It's just about the grind. It's something were I had faith in him, he had faith in me – even when the world didn't," Smith said. "It's just a matter of a comm