Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State | NFL Draft Scouting Report

Following Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave out of OSU, Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be a perfect fit for the Seattle Seahawks beside D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

In a polarizing 2023 NFL Draft WR class that appeared to lack blue-chip talent at the top, could Jaxon Smith-Njigba eventually emerge as the class’ top producer with the Seattle Seahawks? Smith-Njigba has college production on his side, and he might just have the necessary stylistic qualities to sustain that output at the professional level.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Wide Receiver
  • School: Ohio State
  • Current Year: Junior
  • Height/Weight: 6’1″, 196 pounds
  • Length: 30 1/2″
  • Hand: 9″

Ohio State has a type at wide receiver. Neither Garrett Wilson nor Chris Olave was overwhelming size threats. While both had their own unique nuances as individual prospects, they won largely with their ability to separate and convert at the catch point. Those are two of the most important jobs for a wide receiver. And Smith-Njigba holds up his end there as well.

Standing at 6’1″, 196 pounds, Smith-Njigba fits the Ohio State mold that’s been reinforced in previous cycles. However, there’s talk that Smith-Njigba may be one of the best to come out yet. If production was the only factor, then he’d have that title locked down.

In 44 high school games, Smith-Njigba racked up 5,346 receiving yards and 82 touchdowns. As a senior, he caught 104 passes for 2,094 yards and 35 scores. And as a true collegiate sophomore in 2021, Smith-Njigba led a talented Buckeyes receiving corps in both receptions and receiving yards — with 95 catches for 1,606 yards and nine scores. In his final five games, he had 60 catches for 858 yards and six scores.

Smith-Njigba’s dominant 2021 campaign fueled early WR1 talks in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle and led some to wonder if he was a better prospect than both his predecessors.

Unfortunately for Smith-Njigba, a nagging hamstring injury kept him off the field for most of the 2022 season, and prevented him from stacking his momentum and solidifying his reputation as the top WR in the class.

Nevertheless, even after being limited to just five catches for 43 yards, Smith-Njigba’s first-round stock remained strong, and he was ultimately selected by the Seattle Seahawks at 20th overall, as the first WR off the board.

In Seattle’s offense, the 21-year-old will get a chance to cement himself as a starting NFL WR early. From there, he’ll be able to carve out a place as a crucial offensive threat.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba Scouting Report

A former five-star recruit, Smith-Njigba has dominated everywhere he’s been. Now, as he moves on to the NFL level, the question is whether or not he has the skill set to dominate the pros. Here, we’ll take a closer look at his traits.

Positives

Smith-Njigba is a bit of an enigma athletically. At the very least, he passes the desired threshold for an NFL starter. He has good acceleration off the line and can use fast feet to gain speed as he heads upfield.

JSN flashes the capacity for great explosion, especially when he’s on the attack — either surging into space or pursuing blockers. He’s a fairly easy accelerator who generates solid initial momentum and can freely throttle up and down.

Going further, Smith-Njigba has enough explosiveness to get out into space and escape congestion after taking short passes. He also pinches tight angles around defensive backs while accelerating, showing off valuable ankle flexion.

Another component that helps Smith-Njigba, however, is his agility and ease of motion. He has very fluid hips and can expertly manipulate short ranges, as well as use abrupt lateral movements to disrupt tackling angles.

Smith-Njigba has high-end lateral twitch and brings exceptional energy with his movement. The Ohio State WR also has rare stop-and-start ability and can break at impressive angles with his loose hips.

Smith-Njigba is an extremely sudden, amped-up mover who stores immense amounts of potential energy within his frame. While he’s not an elite explosive threat, JSN’s mix of agility and cylindrical twitch is hyper-elite, and he uses that trait to routinely get DBs off-balance when working 1-on-1.

Smith-Njigba’s athletic profile isn’t quite elite, and he’s visibly less explosive than his predecessors, Olave and Wilson. Nevertheless, Smith-Njigba still has an elite trait to build his game off of, and he’s far from a liability with his burst and speed.

On top of his near-generational agility (his 3.93 shuttle and 6.57 three-cone are both past the 99th percentile), his 35″ vertical, 10’5″ broad jump, and 4.48 40-yard dash at his pro day help convey JSN’s strong functional athleticism.

Smith-Njigba’s movement style helps compound his separation ability, but he’s already very proficient at using his traits effectively. The Ohio State WR has elite stopping ability. He quickly chops his feet and decelerates heading into route stems. Moreover, he’s a manipulative route runner who adjusts his tempo through reps. He also uses route angles and sudden movements at stems to generate displacement.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Smith-Njigba can manipulate and change his route path in tight spaces while keeping his speed. Additionally, he violently plants and rotates around at stems with impressive quickness. He carries acceleration through transitions with great hip sink but also presses upfield at stems and actively employs deception. The former Ohio State WR has great zone and blind-spot awareness, and can exploit spaces quickly.

Smith-Njigba is already a proficient separator, but he doesn’t rely on separation to win. The Ohio State WR is a natural hands catcher, with incredibly smooth body control in the open field when adjusting for throws. He contorts in stride and corrals tough passes with ease. Furthermore, he shows off exceptional reaction quickness and makes high-difficulty adjustments with very little response time.

The Buckeyes star is surprisingly comfortable going low for passes and maintains his focus even as his balance is compromised. Going further, Smith-Njigba has the play strength to pry the ball away from DBs at the catch point. He secures catches with defenders in his wheelhouse and is comfortable with very little space.

Smith-Njigba is very consistent catching the ball in stride to supplement run-after-catch opportunities, and he converts over the middle of the field, even with impending contact. Overall, he’s an extremely comfortable, acrobatic catcher with glue on his gloves, and his elite catching instincts ensure that he’s always a threat to convert in high-pressure situations.

For his size, Smith-Njigba is surprisingly physical. He uses violently targeted swats to combat jams and swipes down arms at the catch point. Additionally, the Ohio State WR consistently finishes forward on RAC plays and actively uses stiff arms to delay and disrupt tackle attempts. As a blocker, JSN is an energetic and high-effort player. He understands leverage and effectively directs DBs away from runners.

Among other things, Smith-Njigba has shown that while he doesn’t have great long speed, he can at least stack defenders in the slot on intermediate routes. He also has enough speed to extend RAC opportunities and reach the corner on drags and digs. Finally, Smith-Njigba has shown to sneak through arm tackles in open space with his slippery running ability and active feet.

Areas for Improvement

While Smith-Njigba is an exceptional player, there are some limitations and areas for improvement to make note of. Like other Ohio State WRs before him, JSN isn’t an overwhelming size threat. His height, weight, and length are all close to the median for wide receivers. He has decent frame density but is not always going to withstand direct contact. JSN also sometimes lacks the strength to maintain key blocks on the outside.

Going further, Smith-Njigba appears to lack quantifiably elite explosive burst. He won’t always win on explosiveness alone and doesn’t always cover a ton of ground off initial explosions out of cuts. The Ohio State WR sometimes needs room to quicken his feet and build up speed in short spaces. He also lacks breakaway long speed and can get run down in the open field by plus athletes.

Because he lacks quantifiably elite explosiveness and speed, Smith-Njigba isn’t going to offer a consistent dynamic element downfield. Luckily, his hyper-elite short-area agility helps counteract this, and he does have enough burst to create space off the line. Still, the non-elite traits slightly detract from his ceiling.

Elsewhere, Smith-Njigba is prone to occasional focus drops, often when he has to extend beyond his frame for passes. Additionally, JSN primarily operated out of the slot in 2021 and frequently had free releases.

Smith-Njigba’s combined elite agility, spatial awareness, and nuance as a separator suggest that he has the tools to combat press. However, he needs more press experience on the boundary before he can definitively prove it.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s 2023 NFL Outlook

Smith-Njigba was a surefire first-round prospect and a top-25 talent on my 2023 NFL Draft board. At his position, he was my WR2 behind only TCU’s Quentin Johnston, and one could argue that Smith-Njigba has perhaps the clearest path to success at the NFL level — especially now that he’s landed in Seattle.

Smith-Njigba’s translatable method of success is what’s always made him one of the more appealing WR prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. He’s not the most explosive or fastest receiver in the class, but JSN is a hyper-agile and methodical route runner who can masterfully separate with his brand of mobility and spatial awareness. And when he’s contested, he has the elite catching instincts and sure hands to convert.

Right away, Smith-Njigba could be a consistent chain-mover for an NFL offense. But with his measured explosiveness, short-area twitch, and play strength, he can be a solid run-after-catch weapon as well. He’s able to make defenders miss and slip through arm tackles in open space, making him just as viable as a RAC weapon in the short range. To top it off, he’s a stellar run blocker.

Smith-Njigba doesn’t have quantifiably elite explosiveness, and he does have a visible cap on his long speed. Those factors are part of what kept him from being a blue-chip WR prospect and what could keep him from being a true WR1 in the NFL. JSN also has room to accrue more experience against press coverage, although his skills are translatable there.

Smith-Njigba isn’t a generational WR prospect, and other wideouts from the 2023 NFL Draft may have more exciting overall athletic profiles. But if you want a well-rounded, high-floor receiver who can churn out 1,000-yard seasons year after year and be an asset for your offense, he has the separation ability, instincts, and RAC utility to be your guy.

It’s particularly exciting to think about how Smith-Njigba fits alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in Seattle. While Metcalf and Lockett stress defenses vertically, Smith-Njigba can be a quality RAC threat out of the slot or serve as a formidable independent separator in the short and intermediate ranges, chiseling away at defenses who are stretched thin by the team’s weapons.

Smith-Njigba not only has the perfect complements at WR, relative to his skill set, but he also has a Pro Bowl QB in Geno Smith, who distinguished himself in 2022 with his efficiency, accuracy, and ability to get the ball to his playmakers.

Smith-Njigba may have the highest immediate floor of the first-round 2023 NFL Draft wide receivers, and he should be a consistent producer year over year.

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