There is one thing certain about the New York Jets; they have a surplus of highly talented wide receivers. A unit that was once graced with the likes of Greg Salas and David Nelson now has a bountiful number of men with skill, strength and speed all headlined by Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. When healthy, the Jets simply don't have the space for their logjam of talent. Lost in this situation is the forgotten man: Devin Smith.
General manager Mike Maccagnan used the 37th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on a touchdown machine from Ohio State. In his college career, Smith compiled 121 receptions, over 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was a player that could do it all in college - not only catch but also receive punts and kickoffs on special teams. When the Jets drafted Smith, they considered him to be versatile and football's version of a 'five-tool' player.
Injuries hurt that stock. The expectations have not been met because Smith hasn't had the chance to. Now, Smith's name is dropped lower and lower on the depth chart behind Marshall and Decker, behind Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson, even behind Charone Peake and Jalin Marshall.
In an article posted by the New York Daily News' Manish Meta, the organization had their concerns about Smith after returning from a torn ACL this past season. Meta's source said: "team decision makers wanted him to be more engaged in his preparation in meetings once he was medically cleared to play."
That could be one of the main reasons why Smith was cleared to play in Week 10, but didn't enter a game until Week 14. Each time Todd Bowles was asked about Smith in his daily press conference, the coach provided haziness around Smith's game time status. Oftentimes, Bowles would say: "there's a chance. We'll see."
Sure, that was affirming.
In four games this season, Smith played 35 snaps. He caught one pass. Since being drafted, Smith played in 14 of 32 contests - largely due to the broken ribs and punctured lung he sustained in training camp in 2015, followed by the torn ACL while on special teams in Week 11 of that same season. Smith couldn't catch a break and was placed on the physically unable to perform list.
Yet, the question arises: Was the organization more worried about Smith's physical or mental attributes?
If you ask Smith, he was ready to play this season. He waited for his number to be called - but - that opportunity rarely occurred.
"A lot of times I felt that I was ready and my name wasn't called," Smith said. "I just told myself, 'Just keep working hard.' That's been the whole thing this year. Just working on my body and making sure my body gets what it needs. So, I feel like going into this offseason is very important."
Smith needs to have a healthy offseason to work on his abilities and come back strong for camp in 2017. It could also dictate his future - whether it is in green and white or other colors. The wide receiver is entering the second to last year of his contract. He has a $1.6 million cap hit according to overthecap.com. But, the Jets have shelled out over $1 million to a player with 10 career receptions, 135 yards and one touchdown. The work ethic must show this year and not just with the handstands he impressively showed off this past summer.
"He started... kind of regaining his old form late in the season," Maccagnan said of Smith. "Didn't have a lot of opportunities. This will be a big offseason for him. We'll see how he does. It'll be an important year for him. We like him in terms of a prospect. We do think he has potential. It's a question of giving him an opportunity to get on the field and actually show what he can do."
The question Maccagnan speaks of is a challenge for Smith. This offseason, the Jets are expected to retool and reassess their roster. That means veterans like Marshall or Decker could be on their way out of New York. With the emergence of Enunwa and Anderson, older veterans and players that don't fit in Bowles' (or the new offensive coordinator's) system could be shown the door.
There's no question Smith has a long rope to pull to try to reach the top once again.
"I wouldn't mind still being here. I'm very comfortable here. I got my family here. So, we're going to see," Smith told the Daily News. "Just because (Peake, Marshall, and Anderson) are here on the team doesn't mean that my spot has been taken. Or whatever everybody's thinking. That's not the case. I'm just going to keep climbing, man. Everybody is going to know about Devin Smith. So, I'm not worried about it."
Smith is up to the task. The Jets would be wise to give him another shot. There is too much untapped potential in this wide receiver.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)