GREEN BAY – The Packers continue to add more depth and versatility to their defense with the signing of former Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith.
The 26-year-old brings an extensive resume with him to Green Bay, having recorded 317 tackles (20 for loss), 20 passes defensed, nine sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions over 68 regular-season games with 56 starts.
Here are five things to know about the Packers' new linebacker:
1. Smith overcame a great deal of adversity to fulfill his NFL potential.
A five-star linebacker out of Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Smith enjoyed a dominant three-year run at the University of Notre Dame. At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, he was widely considered a top-five draft pick after recording 284 tackles (23½ for loss), 10 passes defensed, 4½ sacks, and three forced fumbles in 39 career starts for the Fighting Irish. However, tragedy struck at the end of Smith's consensus All-America junior season after he tore both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl. A week after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, Smith declared for the 2016 NFL Draft and was chosen in the second round (34th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys. Nerve issues stemming from his recovery kept Smith on the non-football injury list during his entire rookie season. He's since played in 68 consecutive NFL games dating back to the 2017 regular-season opener.
2. He had one of the best runs in the NFL for an inside linebacker from 2018-19.
After being honored as the Cowboys' Ed Block Courage Award recipient during his comeback season in 2017, Smith enjoyed a breakout year in 2018, finishing with 150 tackles (five for loss), four sacks and two forced fumbles. He signed an extension with the Cowboys after that season and responded with a Pro Bowl campaign in 2019, leading Dallas' defense with a career-high 168 tackles. With 161 tackles a year ago, Smith became the first Cowboys defender to top 150 tackles in three straight seasons since Bradie James (2008-10). Smith also tied for second in tackles for loss (five), passes defensed (five) and fumble recoveries (two).
3. Smith was one of Head Coach Matt LaFleur's "favorites" at Notre Dame.
LaFleur's lone year as the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame in 2014 coincided with Smith's true sophomore season with the Fighting Irish. Smith not only led the Fighting Irish with 112 tackles and nine tackles for loss that year, but also left a lasting impression on LaFleur. "I've always had a lot of respect for him, not only as a football player but as a man," said LaFleur on Thursday morning. "He was one of my favorites when I was at Notre Dame. I just think a veteran guy who's played at a really high level and just can bring kind of a mentality and leadership to our defense."
"He's got an infectious personality. He's a guy that everybody on the team really gravitated to, was a great leader not only by example but vocal as well. And then he was a pretty damn good player too. He was the complete package."
4. Aaron Rodgers is also a fan.
While the Packers' MVP quarterback admittedly doesn't know Smith well, Rodgers has enjoyed competing against him. Smith has played against Green Bay three times in his career (including playoffs). He registered a fourth-quarter sack of Rodgers during the Packers' 34-24 win in Dallas on Oct. 6, 2019, and the two met briefly on the field postgame.
"I like him as a person, and he's a super like friendly, happy guy, even on the field," said Rodgers of Smith on Wednesday. "He's a fierce competitor, but he always has a smile on his face. I appreciate that about him, and it was just more of a respectful competitor to competitor conversation after the game."
5. Smith is the sixth linebacker the Packers have acquired from the 2016 NFL Draft.
In addition to drafting Kyler Fackrell (third round, 88th overall) and Blake Martinez (fourth, 131) that year, the Packers also have either signed or traded for B.J. Goodson (fourth, 109), Antonio Morrison (fourth, 125), De'Vondre Campbell (fourth, 115) and now Smith (second, 34). Smith and Campbell both signed as free agents, while Morrison was traded from Indianapolis near the end of training camp in 2018 and Goodson was acquired from the New York Giants before the season opener in 2019.