When the Dallas Cowboys selected former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith with the No. 34 pick in last year's draft, it came as a big surprise to nearly everyone in NFL circles. Smith was considered one of the five best players in the draft before suffering a severe knee injury in Notre Dame's bowl game -- an injury that was expected to knock him into the later rounds of the draft. 

The nerve in Smith's knee was not firing properly, leading many to believe that he would miss the entirety of the 2016 season, if not longer. Because there was no way to tell if the nerve would ever begin firing properly again, there were even some that thought he might never step on the field as an NFL player. 

The Cowboys felt confident in their opinion that it would fire again, perhaps because it was their team doctor that performed Smith's knee surgery. Smith missed the entirety of the 2016 season, but Cowboys executive vice president and COO Stephen Jones has recently begun talking about his potential availability for 2017. Perhaps that's because, according to a report from NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, the nerve in Smith's knee has indeed begun regenerating. 

An excerpt from Rapoport's story:

After speaking with a source informed of his prognosis, we have some more details. The nerve in Smith's knee has begun regenerating as the team had hoped. There is still a long way to go, but he's slowly getting muscle control.

Smith can now pick his toes up, and he can lift his foot. More good news. What no one knows is when the nerve will return completely or if it will. And internally, the Cowboys continue to minimize expectations and know he has a ways to go. Nevermind that he missed football last year and must catch up on the field.

Smith is still expected to wear an AFO (ankle foot orthotic) brace, otherwise known as a "drop foot" brace, at least during the 2017 season. But if the nerve in his knee begins to regenerate further, it's possible he could drop the brace in the future. 

Getting Smith on the field at all will make one of the best draft classes in recent memory (Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott alone make it the best Cowboys class in years ) even better, and the potential of him getting back to anything approximating full strength would be a huge win for a Dallas defense that badly needs additional playmakers, but it's important to temper expectations for a player returning not only from a year and a half away from football, but still playing with a serious condition in his knee.