Devin Smith was training with teammates last month at the Jets’ practice facility, running a simple slant pattern when he planted his right foot for the route break. His right knee cracked. Again.
"I felt it buckle," Smith said in a telephone interview on Tuesday morning. "I had it in the back of my mind, that it might be worse than it felt. It didn’t feel so bad. But I knew the doctors would tell me more."
They told him the worst. Another torn ACL. To the same right knee. Out for the entire 2017 season.
This after Smith, 25, suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung on the second day of his rookie Jets training camp in 2015, tore his ACL in his right knee that season in Week 14 against the Tennessee Titans and underwent surgery and recovered for most of last season. He was not active until Week 10 of last season.
This time, his surgery in that right knee will be two-phased. He recently returned from Vail, Colo., where bone grafts were completed on the knee. He returns in a couple of weeks for the actual ACL surgery.
The Jets cut him on Monday. He was placed on the waived/injured reserved list and once he cleared waivers, the Jets placed him on IR.
"I found out on Twitter," Smith said.
As of Tuesday morning, no Jets executive, coach, or teammate had called him.
Smith just shrugs that off. He has been through worse.
"All I can say is, it’s just weird," he says of the lack of Jets communication.
What is there to say about this Ohio State receiver who was one of the most fleet in the 2015 draft? Smith was going to be the speed guy, the deep threat the Jets craved. He was a second-round pick in 2015, No. 37 overall.
Two NFL seasons later he has played in 14 games, caught 10 balls for 135 yards and a touchdown.
No one could have predicted it, that a guy so fast could be brought to such a crawl. But this has become part of the identity of his 2015 draft class. Chicago Bears receiver Kevin White was in that draft and missed his entire rookie season due to injuries and again missed most of last season. Baltimore Ravens receiver Breshad Perriman lost the last quarter of his rookie season due to injuries. But no member of the class has been dealt Smith’s blows.
He was there with his family on 2015 draft night in Chicago, so full of hope.
"Honestly, through the whole process, with all of the coaches and teams I visited, I think I talked to the Jets one time," Smith recalled. "The mock drafts had me going here and there but very few, if any to the Jets. I was excited when they called. I was going to a new, great city and a new opportunity. I remember after the draft going back to the hotel and my family jumping around and how everyone was so happy. We have a new offense this year and a new offensive coordinator (John Morton) and I was really looking forward to a fresh start and learning the offense along with everyone at the same time."
After watching another draft class recently enter the league, after seeing other young receivers off to rapid starts, could Smith be any lower now, any more deeply discouraged?
Well, actually, no, Smith said.
His surgery and recovery should prepare him for a bold return in 2018, his surgeon insists. The fact that it is being done in two parts as opposed to the simpler version the first time should make the knee even stronger, Smith has been assured.
The fact that NFL stars including running back Adrian Peterson and linebacker Thomas Davis have undergone multiple ACL surgeries and returned to strong careers encourages Smith. Those are players that he says inspire him.
Smith has been working on his mind.
Keeping it right. Keeping it focused and hopeful.
"I want all the fans out there who do care about me to keep doing that," Smith said. "That helps push me every day. I appreciate it. They’re like family, people who aren’t giving up on me. They’ll help me come back stronger than ever. And for the Jets and all NFL teams, I’m still here. I’m busting my tail to get back. I’ll get my shot. I will be known."