The 2023 NFL Draft does not feature a strong wide receiver class. The top wide receivers are almost all physical outliers, and there simply isn’t a “blue chip” outside receiver to set the depth chart.
Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba came into the 2022 season as the presumptive top receiver in the draft class after an incredible 2021 season — his only season of production. However, a series of hamstring issues held him to just five catches in three games on the season, and his draft stock plummeted.
Once the draft process started, however, Smith-Njigba was able to rehabilitate his draft stock. He showed that he is once again healthy at Ohio State’s Pro Day, and he’s back in the conversation as the best receiver in the draft.
The New York Giants have an obvious need at wide receiver, and GM Joe Schoen has said that he doesn’t particularly care about body type if the receiver can separate. Getting separation with his routes happens to be Smith-Njigba’s specialty, but will he even fall to the Giants?
Prospect: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11)
Games Watched: vs. Oregon (2021), vs. Nebraska (2021), vs. Penn State (2021), vs. Michigan (2021)
Red Flags: Hamstring (2022)
Games Played: 13
Yards (YPC): 1,606 (16.9 per catch)
Best: Route running, quickness, agility, ball skills, blocking, competitive toughness
Worst: Long speed, catch radius, explosiveness
Projection: A starting receiver with scheme diversity.
Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a smart, agile, reliable, and productive slot receiver.
Smith-Njigba was incredibly productive in 2021, with 95 receptions for 1,600 yards, and 9 touchdowns. He is a detailed, savvy route runner and a very reliable catcher of the ball.
He has a crisp release off of the line of scrimmage, wasting little time or energy getting into his routes. He was also able to release against man coverage without having his route disturbed. Smith-Njigba makes full use of his route as a weapon, and does a good job of manipulating it based on the situation. He does a good job of pressing his routes vertically when he can, and also manipulates his route tempo to throw off defenders’ timing. Smith-Njigba bends his routes to find soft spots in the defense and does a very good job of selling double moves to create separation downfield.
Smith-Njigba does a very good job of locating, tracking, and making adjustments to the ball in the air. He has excellent body control along the sideline and in the red zone. He’s a natural hands catcher who extends to pluck the ball out of the air and away from his body, and he’s able to contort his body to haul in difficult catches. Smith-Njigba also does a good job of positioning his body to box out defenders and shield the ball.
Smith-Njigba has excellent short-area quickness and agility, which he puts to good use as a ball carrier. He’s able to make tacklers miss in close quarters and rack up yards after the catch if he can find a glimmer of daylight. He has solid vision in the open field, as well as the lower-body strength and contact balance to run through arm tackles and survive incidental contact.
He is a tough player, and is a very willing blocker. Smith-Njigba is willing to mix it up around the line of scrimmage, and is quick to transition from receiver to blocker downfield for his teammates.
Smith-Njigba is a quick and agile receiver, but he lacks great speed and explosiveness, which shows up in his tape. He doesn’t explode off the line of scrimmage, nor does he have an elite burst out of his breaks. He also lacks long speed, and can be run down from behind if he gets loose in the open field.
He also played out of the slot almost exclusively in Ohio State’s offense. The alignment made sure he was afforded space with which to work and maximize his strengths. That also means that his ability to play on the perimeter is something of an unknown. Teams will need to project whether or not they believe he can be an outside receiver in their system.
Of course, teams will need to do their due diligence with respect to Smith-Njigba’s injury history. Teams will want to pay close attention to Smith-Njigba’s medical reports and his long-term prognosis.
Overall Grade: 8.2
Jaxon Smith-Njigba projects as a starting slot receiver with scheme diversity at the NFL level.
Smith-Njigba has shown that he’s a smart, tough, agile, and reliable receiver, and that should be enough to let him produce right away at the NFL level. He isn’t the biggest or fastest receiver, and there could be questions as to whether or not he can be a “Number One” receiver at the NFL level. But regardless of what teams call him, he should be able to handle a high workload and be a reliable option for his future team.
The biggest questions teams will need to answer is whether or not he can play on the outside, and just how durable he will be.
Without seeing Smith-Njigba play a high volume of snaps on the outside, saying whether he can or not is purely a projection. Teams will need to decide for themselves whether or not his traits will translate to the outside in their schemes. The other question is with regards to the hamstring issues that limited him to just three games in 2022. Teams will also need to assess for themselves whether or not he’s a long-term injury risk.
Smith-Njigba has the potential to be the first receiver off the board and the best receiver to come out of the 2023 NFL Draft class.