Photo courtesy of Getty Images
By Evan Brown
The current draft order is completely unrecognizable when compared to the original. Tennessee is the former owner of the number one overall pick but is unique in that, having drafted Marcus Mariota the previous year, they have no QB need to fill. The Rams, however, do. In blockbuster trade deal, the Rams traded up to take Tennessee’s top spot on the board in exchange for a hefty amount of early round picks this year and next. But this created an issue. Now that it was apparent that the Rams were going to take a QB at number one, there’d be one less top-QB prospect for the teams picking later on. Thus the Eagles, who have also been handicapped by some poor QB play, traded up with the Browns to take the second-overall pick for a similarly hefty supply of picks in later rounds.
And here we are.
This unprecedented scramble for QBs has repositioned and repossessed an insane amount of draft picks. And it all goes back to one player: Jaylon Smith.
Recall the Titans don’t need a QB. Rather, they need a stronger offensive line to protect their young, rising star and more importantly, a stout defense. Tennessee ranked 27th in the league in defensive points per game with 26.4. Their leading tacklers, Michael Griffin and Avery Williamson averaged about 6.7 tackles per game in the 15 games they played. Notre Dame, however, limited their opponents to just 24.1 points per game. The Notre Dame defense was lead by none other than LB Jaylon Smith, who alone averaged 9.4 tackles per game.
Obviously, comparing NFL to NCAA stats isn’t exactly apples to apples, but it sure isn’t apples to oranges. Perhaps oranges to tangerines is more accurate. Speaking of orange, Jaylon Smith stayed right around his average and recorded 9 tackles against the offensive-powerhouse of Clemson. His defensive unit held the Tigers to just 24-points, their third-lowest score of the season. Jaylon Smith also lead the Irish with 5 passes defensed, one more than either of Notre Dame’s CBs Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russel. Why is this important for Tennessee? Barring last season’s anomaly with the Colts, Indianapolis has been the perennial victor of the AFC South due to their stellar passing offense. QB Andrew Luck threw for 4761 yards the last time the Colts won their Division 2014 and converted that number into 40 TD. Jaylon Smith has proven himself capable of not only stuffing the run but also providing tight coverage of passing targets. With a little development and NFL preparation, he could have easily become Tennessee’s key to stopping the Colts inside passing game. Unfortunately, saddled with a severe knee-injury substantiated with a failed medical exam, Jaylon Smith will not be drafted early on.
So would Tennessee have drafted a healthy Jaylon Smith with the number one overall pick? We’ll never know. His athletic prowess, leadership, and high football IQ suggest he could have been a critical asset for their defense and certainly worthy of preserving the first overall pick. And if they had, these headline draft trades to snag the now-scarce QBs might have never occurred.
*All Stats courtesy of ESPN, the NFL, the NCAA, and the University of Notre Dame