The San Francisco 49ers re-signed wide receiver DeAndre Smelter to the practice squad on Tuesday, bringing back their 2015 fourth round draft pick following a hamstring injury. Smelter tore his ACL in college, which cost him his rookie season with the 49ers. He took part in OTAs and part of training camp this year, but he never got into preseason action. The team used the waived/injured designation to clear his roster spot, and agreed to an injury settlement.
Chip Kelly was asked on Thursday about Smelter’s return. Kelly got into some detail about the injury, saying something was a consistent problem for him dating back to OTAs. Here’s what Kelly said about Smelter:
What’s WR DeAndre Smelter look like now that he’s back on the practice squad?
“Just seen him for two days. It’s good to see him back out there running around. Obviously, even through OTAs he seemed to have something. So, it was you’d have him for a couple days and then he’d be out for a couple days or not 100-percent for a couple of days. So, the biggest thing with DeAndre is are we going to get a healthy DeAndre and that’s what we’re looking for. But, for two days so far he’s looked solid.”
He was dealing with a hamstring off and on--?
“Yeah, it was a hamstring.”
OK, it wasn’t tied to his torn ACL in college?
“I don’t know how the hamstring happened, but the injury itself was a hamstring. It had nothing, there was no knee issue and it was a pretty, whatever the grades are, grade two or grade three, it was a legitimate torn hamstring. It wasn’t one of those you know he’s out for a week or two as an extensive, obviously, just look at when we released him, waived him injured and then brought him back, I know it was a pretty severe hamstring injury.”
The 49ers could have placed Smelter on injured reserve when they made their roster cuts. It would have kept him on the roster and prevented another team from snagging him. In agreeing to an injury settlement, Smelter became a free agent for anybody to sign once he cleared waivers. Additionally, NFL rules dictate that the 49ers could not re-sign him for the length of the settlement plus three weeks.
The downside to placing a player on injured reserve is he can no longer take part in practice, even when 100 percent healthy. He could go to meetings and work with the strength and conditioning staff and trainers, but he could not join the team on the practice field during the week. In signing with the practice squad, Smelter is now allowed to join in practice like anybody else on the roster. By agreeing to the settlement and then returning, Smelter gets a chance to continue his development.
Smelter arrived to the 49ers with most viewing him as a physically gifted athlete, but a very raw wide receiver. Another season on injured reserve would have further slowed his potential development. Getting back on the practice squad means he can work with the coaching staff, and develop the basics of being an NFL receiver. Whether or not he actually develops into a quality receiver remains to be seen, but the development opportunity is there.
The 49ers wide receiver depth chart is a mess right now, but they have some projects that could be interesting. The team seemed high on Eric Rogers before he tore his ACL, and of course Bruce Ellington is out for the year. The team still needs to add more young talent, but 2017 will bring back some at least moderately intriguing options in Rogers, Smelter, and Ellington. I’m not saying the team should put all their eggs in those baskets, but the group is going to be something to watch next offseason.