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NY Jets: Whither Devin Smith?

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New York Jets wide receiver Devin Smith had a rough rookie year in 2015.  He was injured and missed all of training camp.  When he finally saw the field Smith suffered from the dropsies and was largely ineffective, posting just nine catches on 28 targets for 115 yards.  His season ended prematurely when he tore his ACL on December 13, 2015, just two weeks less than a year ago now.

Smith lost his entire offseason and missed all of training camp rehabilitating his injured knee. He started the 2016 regular season on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) List, which meant he was not allowed to practice with the Jets for at least the first six weeks of the season. Six weeks ago Smith came off the PUP list and began practicing.  He has been practicing with the Jets ever since, and he has been eligible to be activated for four weeks now, but Smith still has not been activated on game days.  The question is, why?

There are a few possibilities.  Perhaps Smith has not recovered all that well from his injury.  Perhaps it has robbed him of some of his speed and lateral quickness. As much as these injuries have become routine and we just expect full recoveries, it doesn't always happen that way. A minority of players never fully regain their effectiveness following ACL surgery, even today.  Some guys never make it back at all, while others make it back in diminished form.  Our own Darrelle Revis has never been quite the same player since his ACL surgery, and he is hardly alone in this.  If Smith is still not quite right after a full year of rehabilitation it does not bode well for his future prospects.  Without anyone outside of the team having seen Smith in action since his injury it is difficult to know if this is the case.

Another possibility is that Smith simply isn't as good as the rookie wide receivers who are playing ahead of him.  This also does would not bode well for Smith's future. If he can't beat out an unimpressive undrafted free agent receiver like Jalin Marshall then hopes for Smith to ever live up to his 2nd round billing have to be severely diminished.

A third possibility is that head coach Todd Bowles just doesn't want to upset the apple cart so to speak.  This would be understandable if the Jets were winning and Bowles didn't want to mess with team chemistry during a playoff run. However, if this is what's going on with Smith on a 3-8 team you have to question Bowles' hyper-conservative nature.  If Smith has a future with this team and is not physically compromised then he should be playing now.

Regardless of why Smith is not playing, if he fails to see the field much longer in 2016 the season will be a total loss for Smith.  He will then go into the 2017 season, his third in the NFL, having never had a training camp, with less NFL accomplishments than at least six receivers on the roster, assuming everyone is back next year, and having had considerably less playing time and practice reps than all six such receivers. At that point it would be fair to question whither Devin Smith, and will he even have a place on the 2017 New York Jets?