SPORTS

Devin should get chance to catch a break

NY Daily NewsMANISH MEHTA
CONFIDENCE is high, but confidence alone might not be enough for him to stick around. The numbers game might squeeze him out of this place.
Devin Smith is no fool. He has the pedigree (touchdown machine at Ohio State) and draft clout (2015 second-rounder), but there are no guarantees that the speedy wide receiver will be a part of the Jets' long-term plans. Loyalty in pro sports is more fiction than fact, so forgive the Jets' former second-round pick if he won't definitively tell you whether he believes his future is colored with green and white or he'll be traded.
"I'm going to leave that up to them," Smith told the Daily News. "I wouldn't mind still being here. I'm very comfortable here. I got my family here. So, we're going to see."
Smith has played in only 14 of a possible 32 games since general manager Mike Maccagnan invested the 37th overall pick in him. He was marginalized this season upon returning to health from ACL surgery, only playing 35 snaps in four games (1 catch for 20 yards).
The logjam at his position contributed to Smith's lack of playing time, but sources told the Daily News that team decision makers wanted him to be more engaged in his preparation in meetings once he was medically cleared to play before Week 10. He didn't see the field until Week 14.
"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's star-crossed NFL career has been sprinkled with inopportune injuries. He suffered broken ribs and a partially punctured lung on the second day of training camp as a rookie before finishing the season with just nine receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown in 10 games. He suffered a torn ACL in punt coverage in Week 11 to cap his forgettable rookie campaign.
Smith started the 2016 season on the physically unable to perform list. While he was rehabbing his knee, three rookie receivers were staking their claims to be a part of the team's future. Undrafted Robby Anderson emerged as the most promising firstyear pass catcher during this nightmarish season with 42 receptions for 587 yards and two touchdowns.
Charone Peake, Jalin Marshall and Anderson combined for 136 targets, 75 catches and 935 yards, prompting inquiring minds to wonder whether there's a place for Smith on the Jets moving forward.
"Just because they're here on the team doesn't mean that my spot has been taken. Or whatever everybody's thinking," Smith said. "That's not the case ... I'm just going to keep on climbing, man. Everybody is going to know about Devin Smith. So, I'm not worried about it.
"There's a lot of things that have happened since I've been in the NFL that's out of my control and I can't do nothing about it," Smith added. "I just put my head down and grind and when my numbers called just go in ... That's been my whole mentality. It's been real tough week after week watching us lose from the sideline. It was frustrating ... because I wanted to be out there with them." Smith was targeted a grand total of three times in four games this season. Needless to say, his patience was tested. "He started ... kind of regaining his old form late in the season," Maccagnan said last week. "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 wide receiver math for the Jets isn't overly complicated. It makes little sense to bring back both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in 2017 with the amount of intriguing young talent at the position.
Although it's possible one of the veterans could return, could you really blame Maccagnan if he parted ways with both to help maximize the young pass catchers' reps for a rebuilding team next season?
The Jets' brain trust needs to find out more about Smith. The only way that's possible is to drastically increase his playing time in 2017. That won't be possible with those other six receivers on the roster.
"I'm not sure," Smith said about the same seven receivers returning next season. "This team is full of surprises. So, you never know. I feel the guys that we have in our room can do great things no matter how young we are."
Smith is too talented to be wasting away on the bench. The Jets need to give him a real chance of proving them right.
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