Jaylon Smith was considered one of the best players in the country and was arguably the top prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft heading into the final game of his college career. During Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, though, Smith tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee, and subsequently experienced nerve damage in his leg as well.
The fact that the nerve had not yet begun firing caused him to slip to the top of the second round of the draft, where the Cowboys snatched him knowing he would not play at all during the 2016 season and may not play ever again. He worked out with team trainers throughout the season and the team says his nerve has experienced rapid recovery over the last few months. It has gotten to the point where Jerry Jones speculated he might be fully recovered by the time the 2017 season begins (though other people with the Cowboys have been more cautious in their evaluations).
As for Smith himself, he says that if he had to do it all over again, he would do it exactly the same way. He went on Ed Werder and Matt Mosley's Doomsday Podcast this week and said he does not regret his decision to play in the bowl game.
"Those freak types of accidents, injuries, they happen," Smith said. "But you don't go in the game thinking, 'Oh man, I'm going to get hurt.' That was my decision, and I love it. And I wouldn't change it. If I knew that I was going to get hurt and wasn't going to be a top-five pick again, I would have literally played in that game again because of my teammates and how much Notre Dame means to me."
Smith isn't one of those players that takes offense to others electing to sit their bowl games, though. He's just fine with guys like Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Jabrill Peppers and the like deciding they'd rather not risk injury one last time before turning pro.
"Salute to those guys," Smith said. "My experience, what I liked about people making their decisions, whether they're playing the game or not, it's your own decision. You have to make that decision for you. So for me, I made the decision to play in that game, and I don't regret it at all. That's the beauty of any decision I've made, it's been my decision. If I had the decision again, I would have played in that game."