Even though Jaylon Smith tore his ACL and MCL on Jan. 1, the Notre Dame linebacker is confident he can not only return healthy, but be an impact player in the NFL.
Jaylon Smith's collegiate career did not end the way he wanted it to.
In his final game at Notre Dame, Smith tore both his ACL and MCL in his left knee in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.
After consulting with his family, Smith decided to leave Notre Dame after just three seasons and declare for the NFL Draft despite the uphill battle he faces.
Since that last game, Smith has been fighting to rehab his injuries and get back out on the field as quickly as possible, although he is expected to miss the entire 2016 season.
"It was just a matter of sitting down and talking with my family and making a great decision, the best decision for me," Smith said at the NFL Combine. "And I'm really just looking forward to being a part of the NFL."
The 233-pound linebacker showcased his impressive skillset while healthy, earning himself consensus All-American honors in 2015, leading his team for the second consecutive season in tackles with 113.
Smith is also only the second player to ever win the Butkus Award in both high school and college, awarded annually to the nation's top linebacker.
One player that Smith has looked to during his rehabilitation process is Ram's star Todd Gurley. Gurley suffered a similar knee injury and has been able to rebound amazingly, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015.
Smith views teams selecting him as an investment, confident in his ability to not only recover, but also produce effectively.
"It's a long-term decision for whoever drafts me," Smith said. "I'm a guy who will be around for a while playing at an elite level. An impact player. It's great watching a guy like Todd Gurley do it last year and come back almost mid-season and perform. It's very encouraging."
Since his injury on Jan. 1, Smith has been progressing well and is happy with the progress, despite reports of severe nerve damage.
"I feel great," Smith said. "There's no soreness in the knee or there's no pain. I've been off pain pills for almost a month. It's the matter of the recovery process. I don't know when the nerve and everything will heal, but it's just a matter of me taking it day-by-day and controlling what I can control."
Injury aside, Smith believes that he will be taken with a top 10 draft pick, confident in his ability to bounce back from this severe injury. Not only does he believe that he will come back stronger than every physically, Smith says that this has helped him mature off the football field as well.
"It tests your patience as well," Smith said. "First time I've been injured in my life. It's making a man out of me. Like I said, it's just a process and having great guys around you to encourage you and support you."