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Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith: ‘It’s a long-term decision for whoever drafts me’

INDIANAPOLIS — NFL teams asked Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith numerous questions about his knee. He knows his future depends on it.

“I can’t tell when I’ll be back,” Smith said Friday at the combine. “But I’ll be back 100 percent.”

Smith tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee Jan. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. If Smith were healthy, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said he would have been part of the discussion for the top overall pick.

If that were the case, the Bears would be lucky to have a chance to consider him at No. 11. Smith was that good at Notre Dame in the eyes of evaluators. Now teams seriously looking at Smith have to be willing to accept he might not play in 2016.

“The medical tests at the combine are significant,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “That’s huge. We have to determine, ‘This guy is going to be an elite, special player, but it means that he’s going to miss a little time early on.’ Then as a club, you’ve got to make that decision. You saw last year with [Rams running back Todd] Gurley, sometimes those decisions are worth it.”

Smith tried to be upbeat about his situation, but he also said he’s dealing with nerve damage. He’s wearing an ankle-foot orthosis brace to help him walk and facilitate healing.

“I’ve been off pain pills for almost a month,” Smith said. “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.”

Smith, a unanimous All-American for the Irish last season, looks at Gurley as an inspiration. Gurley tore his ACL in November 2015 but was taken with the 10th overall pick. He made his debut in Week 3
and became the NFL offensive rookie of the year.

Gurley’s outlook became more positive after the combine’s medical recheck. Smith only can hope for the same after his recheck in April, but he has had significantly less time to recover than Gurley.

“It’s a long-term decision for whoever drafts me,” said Smith, who is rehabbing at AWP Sports in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “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. It’s very encouraging.”

Smith definitely isn’t short on confidence.

“I’m hoping to go [in the] top 10,” Smith said. “I view myself as the best player in the draft. It’s just a matter of waiting and enjoying the process and controlling what I can control.”

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Email: ajahns@suntimes.com