Jaxon Smith-Njigba Draft Profile
Coming into the 2022 college football season, it was hard to find a player with more excitement around his name than Ohio State wide receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. That is what made this past season so frustrating; Smith-Njigba was banged up all season and only played a fraction of three games. When watching him play week-one against Notre Dame, it was easy to see that he was battling some things, and it got to a point where he would be doing his team a disservice if he was out there over his back-ups. After he re-aggravated his hamstring in his week eight return against Iowa, Smith-Njigba was shut down for the rest of the season and began preparing for the NFL Draft. Because of the injury problems and lack of exposure in 2022, Smith-Njigba is one of the most fascinating players in the pre-draft process. When looking at his intangibles, Smith-Njigba is one of the more well-rounded prospects. He played high-school football in Texas where he was named the state’s best football-player in 2019. At Ohio State, he was coached by arguably the best receivers coach in all of college football and was surrounded by incredible talent from Garrett Wilson to Chris Olave to Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Smith-Njigba understands what it takes to win and be successful in the league; he is going to have the opportunity to be a really good slot receiver for many years to come.
The first thing that sticks out when watching Smith-Njigba play is his body-control when the ball is in the air. His ability to track the football is excellent; he is able to adjust to the trajectory of the football and always put himself in a position to make a play. As a route-runner, Smith-Njigba does a nice job with diamond releases. He understands how to stem his defensive back one way, then quickly redirect his body the other way and stack on top of the defender. After the catch, Smith-Njigba is good at spinning out and getting upfield. When most of these players are younger, coaches will throw them at running back or quarterback just so they are in the position to have the ball in their hands every play. I would not be surprised if that was the case for Smith-Njigba because of how consistently he is able to read his blocks and pick up yards after the catch. One of the most important traits for a slot receiver is their ability to catch the ball over the middle of the field through different zones and openings of the defense. Smith-Njigba does not have concentration drops and is fearless when running through the heart of the defense. In 2021, Smith-Njigba was CJ Stroud’s go-to guy on third and fourth down, despite playing with two bonafide first round receivers besides him. For modern-day slot receivers, toughness is a prerequisite and it is one that Smith-Njigba has. While he is not the strongest player out there, he is feisty and competitive. His willingness to throw a block (and flex after them) is what teams love to see. If he is able to properly recover, Smith-Njigba is going to be a starting slot receiver in the NFL next year.
I don’t believe Smith-Njigba has the necessary speed to be a vertical threat in the NFL, and that resulted in an inability to sell vertically. As a route runner his speed does not intimidate defensive backs enough to where they feel like they have to play on their toes. This lack of explosion also exists after the catch where he does not have enough speed to outrun defenders. While his concentration is impressive over the middle of the field, I believe his hands are just slightly above average. Whether he is double-catching passes or straight up dropping balls, his hands aren’t natural. His catch radius is also limited; he struggles having to catch low passes towards the turf. While those are all physical limitations, I believe the biggest concern is his health; Smith-Njigba needs to prove he can stay healthy. If there are red-flags in his medical I could see him dropping in this draft. I believe these are big deterrents that will prevent Smith-Njigba from being a premiere player at his position, but I can still see him being a heavy production guy.
Every year the athletes at the receiver position seem to get freakier and freakier. With all of the injury concerns and lack of elite speed, I would personally have a hard time putting a first-round grade on Smith-Njigba. With that being said, Smith-Njigba has the toughness and savyness you want in your slot receiver. I believe he has a high ceiling (if he can stay healthy), but a low floor. The wiggle and toughness that Smith-Njigba has reminds me of Tyler Boyd, but I don’t believe he is as explosive as Boyd. I believe his best fit would be in a role where he can be productive at the first and second level; teams like the Packers and Titans both need that type of player. Smith-Njigba is a slot-receiver that I can see playing in the league for a long-time, but it all comes down to him staying healthy.
Short-Area Quickness: 8/10
Hands + Catch Radius: 8/10
Route Running: 8.5/10
Toughness + Strength: 8.25/10
Separation Skills: 6.5/8
Body Control + Movement Skills: 7.5/8
After the Catch: 4.75/6
Competitiveness + Intelligence + Effort: 5.25/6
Final Rating: 82
Pro Comparison: Less-Explosive Tyler Boyd
Team Fits: Packers, Titans, Browns
Draft Projection: Pick 20 - 32
Draft Grade: Late Second Round Pick