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

Is Ohio State WR and 2023 NFL Draft prospect Jaxon Smith-Njigba the best of the bunch from the historic 2021 OSU trio? Let's find out.

The Ohio State WR trio of Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba will go down in the college football history books. But as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect, is Smith-Njigba’s scouting report stronger than his predecessors? Here’s a look at what Smith-Njigba has to offer and where he stands in a crowded 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver class.

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Jaxon Smith-Njigba NFL draft profile

Ohio State has a type at wide receiver. Neither Wilson nor Olave was an overwhelming size threat. While both had their own unique nuances as individual prospects, they both 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 6’0″, 198 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 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 is just 20 years old. And already, he looks like a man amongst boys.

  • Position: Wide Receiver
  • School: Ohio State
  • Current Year: Junior
  • Height/Weight: 6’0″, 198 pounds

Jaxon Smith-Njigba scouting report

A former five-star recruit, Smith-Njigba has dominated everywhere he’s been. And now, with Wilson and Olave gone, the spotlight is on him alone. Can he make the most of it and command first-round capital like they did? Let’s find out.

Smith-Njigba’s positives

Smith-Njigba is a bit of an enigma athletically. But 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. Smith-Njigba 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 can also pinch 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. With those hips, he can expertly manipulate short ranges, as well as use abrupt lateral movements to disrupt tackling angles.

Smith-Njigba has visible lateral twitch, and he brings good energy with his movement. The Ohio State WR also has great stop-and-start ability and can break at impressive angles with his loose hips. He’s an extremely sudden, amped-up mover who stores immense amounts of potential energy within his frame. While he’s not an elite explosive threat, Smith-Njigba’s cylindrical twitch is high-level, and he uses that trait to get DBs off-balance.

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 near-elite stopping ability. He quickly chops his feet and decelerates heading into route stems. Moreover, he’s a manipulative route runner who can adjust his tempo through reps. He also uses route angles and sudden movements at stems to generate displacement.

Sat., Jan. 1, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) fends off Utah Utes cornerback Micah Bernard (2) as he races to the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of the 108th Rose Bowl Game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Utah Utes at the Rose Bowl.
Rose Bowl Game Ohio State Buckeyes Against Utah Utes

Smith-Njigba can manipulate and change his route path in tight spaces while keeping his speed. Additionally, he can violently plant and rotate 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 Ohio State WR has great zone and blind-spot awareness, and he 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 can contort in stride and corral 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 he 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’s able to secure catches with defenders in his wheelhouse, and he’s comfortable with very little space. Smith-Njigba’s 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.

For his size, Smith-Njigba is surprisingly physical. He uses violent 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, Smith-Njigba is an energetic and high-effort player. He understands leverage and can effectively direct 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 he can sneak through arm tackles in open space with his slippery running ability and active feet.

Smith-Njigba’s 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, Smith-Njigba isn’t an overwhelming size threat. His height, weight, and length are all likely close to the median for wide receivers. With his slightly lighter frame, he’s not always going to withstand direct contact. He 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 he doesn’t 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 be run down in open field by plus athletes. With lacking elite explosiveness and burst, Smith-Njigba isn’t going to offer a consistent dynamic element downfield.

Elsewhere, Smith-Njigba is prone to occasional focus drops, often when he has to extend beyond his frame for passes. Additionally, he primarily operated out of the slot in 2021 and frequently had free releases. Some of Smith-Njigba’s traits suggest that he can translate well against press coverage. However, he needs more press experience on the boundary to prove it.

Current draft projection for Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Smith-Njigba is a favorite to not only break into Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft but also be one of the first wide receivers off the board. It’s important not to speak in absolutes, but another strong season would almost assuredly grant Smith-Njigba first-round capital. And looking at his evaluation, that early-round billing is warranted.

What makes Smith-Njigba’s game particularly appealing is that his mode of success is very translatable to the next level. He’s not the most explosive or the fastest receiver, but he’s a methodical route runner who can employ his brand of athleticism extremely efficiently. He can manipulate defensive backs and tempo routes to maximize space. And when the ball comes his way, Smith-Njigba has rare instincts and excellent hands.

Interestingly enough, while Smith-Njigba is a phenomenal prospect, his production may inflate his stock a bit past his actual value. He has a very reasonable path to success at the next level, but his lack of elite burst and speed are notable concerns. The silver lining is that the Ohio State WR flashes great explosive capacity. Even without elite explosiveness, he’s still a very abrupt player whose natural suddenness provides ample value. Seeing him against press coverage in 2021 will be key, but he projects well there.

Smith-Njigba isn’t necessarily a generational WR prospect, and other wideouts in the 2023 NFL Draft may have better athletic profiles. But if you want a well-rounded, high-floor receiver who can churn out 1,000-yard seasons year after year, Smith-Njigba is your guy.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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