The top of the board for the 2023 NFL Draft is starting to take shape as top prospects have begun to declare for the draft.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson and Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba both declared their intentions to enter the draft on Tuesday. Each will likely be considered among the top at their position group, and could potentially be targets for the New York Giants. There will be plenty of time to analyze both players in detail over the course of the draft process, but let’s take a quick look at the two and why they could be top prospects.
Richardson burst on onto the scene early this year with a big game against Pac-12 Champs Utah. Unfortunately, Richardson quickly cooled off and proved to be a very volatile over the course of the season. While he produced spectacular plays with his arm and legs, Richardson is far from a finished product. As a passer, Richardson completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 2,549 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But while those stats are hardly inspiring, his physical tools and upside will certainly get him drafted highly.
At 6-foot-4 and nearly 240 pounds, Richardson is an imposing quarterback prospect who is absolutely dripping with upside. He has one of the strongest arms in the country and is a dangerous runner. Richardson carried the ball 103 times for 654 yards (6.3 per carry) and nine touchdowns. He manages to combine the power implied by his size with good open field speed and surprising balance and agility for a tall runner. Richardson isn’t quite a young Brandon Jacobs with the ball in his hands, but he’s capable of shrugging off would-be tacklers and picking up yards after contact.
Considering his passing stats, it shouldn’t surprise that Richardson is definitely going to need development at the NFL level. Neither his mechanics nor decision making are consistent yet, and facing NFL defenses will only make the problems more apparent. That said, scouts and coaches are sure to fall in love with his upside and teams will absolutely believe they can develop him into another Josh Allen or Cam Newton.
Of course, drafting Richardson also carries considerable risk. Better prospects than he have busted in the NFL, and he definitely fits the bill as a “Boom or Bust” selection.
We know the Giants have — or at least have had — some level of interest in Richardson. Joe Schoen made waves when he, Tim McDonnell (Director of Player Personnel), and Dennis Hickey (Assistant Director of Player Personnel) were all in attendance for the September 10th game between Florida and Kentucky.
Will Levis, who also played in that game, declared for the draft last week. He’s further along in his development than Richardson, but the two have similar strengths and weaknesses as prospects. It will be fascinating to see which one is selected first in April’s draft.
Smith-Njigba had a frustrating 2022 season. He entered the year as the de facto top receiver on most big boards after a breakout 2021 campaign. However, he was plagued by a lingering hamstring injury suffered in the season opener against Notre Dame. Smith-Njigba played in just two games after the initial hamstring injury and caught just five passes all year.
When healthy, he’s one of the very best receivers in the country. In fact, he was the best receiver on a team that boasted first round picks (and budding NFL stars) Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Even with those two players on the field, Smith-Njigba became C.J. Stroud’s favorite target, setting a Big-10 record with 1,606 yards. He capped his season with an incredible 15-catch, 347-yard MVP performance at the Rose Bowl.
Smith-Njigba has acceptable — if unspectacular — size at 6-foot, 198 pounds to go with “enough” raw athleticism. But his physical traits (outside of his quickness and body control) aren’t what make him special. Smith-Njigba wins with pro-ready technique, an advanced understanding of the position, a chess players’ mentality, and excellent hands.
Some might look at Smith-Njigba as a slot receiver, but his technique and body control allow him to play bigger than his listed size and he should be able to produce at all levels of the field and from any position in the NFL. His detailed route running should let him produce immediately as a rookie and quickly become a quarterback’s best friend.