Now, nearly two years later, Smith’s goal of returning to the NFL is almost a reality.
Smith was cleared by his surgical team to return to full football activity on Friday, according to ESPN’s Stephania Bell. He’s expected to report to the team’s facility on Monday and undergo a physical, after which the team can determine how best to move forward.
"Everyone was in agreement that my bone was in a really good place," Smith told ESPN. "I had healed a lot. They said that given the combination of the rod and where I was with the healing process, I had zero limitations and could even resume some football activities.
"To hear them say that from a life standpoint, they wouldn't restrict me from doing anything — I could go skiing or snowboarding tomorrow if I wanted — then on top of that, to get the green light that I could practice, get contact, that I had healed up, that much was pretty wild to hear. I didn't know if I would ever hear those words."
Smith nearly died after injury, infection
Smith’s leg was awkwardly pinned underneath him when he was brought down during a game against the Houston Texans in 2018. Smith, who suffered a compound fracture and had his bones break through the skin, was carted off the field and transported almost instantly to a local hospital.
His leg later became infected, too, and he was told that his injury wasn’t considered a sports injury but rather like a military one — almost as if he had been impacted by an explosion to his leg. He had to undergo 17 surgeries in total, and doctors seriously contemplated amputating his leg.
Smith, though, made it through and slowly progressed from wearing a bulky exterior metal brace to being able to walk on his own again. He even received special clearance to rehab at a military facility in San Antonio several times.
His injury and recovery were featured in an ESPN documentary earlier this year, too, which didn’t shy away from the horrific images of his injury — especially when doctors had to cut away significant chunks of his infected leg.
The 36-year-old, however, made it through.
“I’m feeling pretty good about the rest of my life, regardless of what happens with football,” he said in the documentary.
‘All eyes are on practice’
The former No. 1 overall pick told ESPN that he has spent the past several months in Hawaii with his family training and trying to prepare for the season this fall. He started to feel like his old self again and that he was making progress, something his team of doctors proved after another checkup before clearing him.
Before he can play in another game again — which would undoubtedly conclude one of the best comeback stories in NFL history — Smith knows he has other goals to check off his list first.
Up next, he said, is simply succeeding in practice.
“For me, all eyes are on practice,” he said, via ESPN. “That’s the next step. I have to go prove to myself and certainly to everybody else that I can go practice.”
More from Yahoo Sports: