Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith could have been the #1 overall pick. He was that well-regarded.
He had sideline-to-sideline speed, he could defend the pass, and he was a tackling machine. He was a three year starter, a team captain, an All American, and won the Butkus Award as college football's top linebacker.
And now there's a chance that he could be available for the Patriots- and maybe well after their 2nd round pick and into the third day of the draft.
In his final college game, Smith suffered a horrible and devastating injury. He tore his ACL and LCL and teams believe he suffered nerve damage in his knee and ankle. Some teams believe that Smith could miss the entirety of the 2016 season, and maybe beyond, others have failed him on his physical, and ESPN is reporting that at least three teams have taken him off their draft board completely.
Smith has lost roughly 10 pounds from his playing weight over the past month and his knee is still going through the healing process. He won't be ready for the 2016 season- but the Patriots are a team that wouldn't need him to be.
Should the Patriots take a risk on Smith in the middle of the draft?
New England has never been afraid of taking top talent with their draft picks, having selected defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the 1st round of the 2014 draft. Easley was regarded as a possible top 10 pick, but he suffered a torn ACL and plummeted down the board. Smith's injury is considered to be far greater than Easley's, but the Patriots will definitely be evaluating the injury on their own.
From a linebacker perspective, the Patriots are fine with top-tier depth in Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower. However, Jonathan Freeny, Darius Fleming, and Jonathan Bostic are the next three players in the depth chart and while Freeny saw heavy snaps, the trio are less-than-ideal depth should an injury befall Collins and Hightower.
If Collins and Hightower are lucky from an injury perspective in 2016, then the Patriots could afford to stash a player like Smith to see if he can recover for the future. Injury fortune hasn't smiled on the Patriots in recent years.
The Patriots might also not feel like they could stash a linebacker and that they need one that will be ready to play in week 1. While a veteran would make sense in that scenario, a different 2nd round pick at linebacker could also conceivably be an option to start.
Draft alternatives definitely come into play. The Patriots used their 2nd round picks in 2014 (QB Jimmy Garoppolo) and 2015 (S Jordan Richards) on players that have been sitting on the bench due to the players in front of them. While Smith would join them on the bench, at least Garoppolo and Richards are available to play in case the starter goes down with an injury. And can the Patriots afford to use three straight 2nd round picks on roster stashes?
The Patriots would be bypassing starting quality talent in the 2nd round, and even the 3rd, if they select Smith. But should Smith pan out, the Patriots would have one of the most promising linebacker prospects in years.
If you were Bill Belichick, would you be willing to take a risk on Smith? And if so, when would you be willing to draft him?