Jaylon Smith shredded his knee in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, 2016. He hasn’t played an official game since then, sitting out all of last year, what would have been his rookie season, after being taken by Dallas early in the second round.

Smith was clearly a top-ten pick (likely even top-five) prior to the injury, an explosive athlete and sound tackler who also read the game and played intelligently. A perfect inside linebacker for a modern NFL defense. His knee injury threatened to rob him of some of that athleticism, and it was always going to be a long road back, hence the slide down the draft board. But last night, Smith returned, and it looks like the Cowboys faith in him has been rewarded.

Smith was all over the place, recording seven tackles and forcing a fumble in his NFL debut, despite splitting time as the Cowboys attempt to bring him along slowly. Smith looked great doing it, too, if you’ll pardon the shaky video:

After the Cowboys completed the victory, game ball in hand, Smith’s interview with Michele Tafoya demonstrated just how much it meant to him to be back:

Smith always seemed like a great guy who was wronged pretty harshly by the college game and the toll it takes on athletes. And, indeed, he lost out on top-five pick salary, as well as a year of his career. But there’s nothing that can be done to change that now, and Smith likely knows that better than anyone.

Hopefully he can stay healthy, because fewer players are more fun to watch.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.