Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba took the football world by storm with a historic performance in the 2022 Rose Bowl. Projected to be one of the best talents in the 2023 NFL Draft, the former All-American wide receiver had to rebuild his draft stock after a disastrous junior season.
Smith-Njigba is one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2023 draft class. Those high on the former Buckeyes star see a player who could be the No. 1 receiver in the right offense and someone who could earn multiple Pro Bowl selections in their career. Others see a concerning 2022 season and wonder if Smith-Njigba is strictly a limited slot receiver with minimal upside.
Below, we’ll provide you with an overview of everything you need to know about Smith-Njigba’s path to the 2023 NFL Draft and how he might fare in his professional career.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba measurables
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba height: 6-foot-1
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba weight: 196 pounds
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba 40 time: 4.51
Let’s dive into our Jaxon Smith-Njigba scouting report and NFL projection.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba stats and background
Smith-Njigba was a highly-regarded recruit when he arrived at Ohio State. Rated as the 29th-best prospect in the 2020 recruiting class by 247 Sports, the Texas native ranked as the fifth-best receiver in his class as a five-star recruit.
Ranked below the likes of Julian Fleming, Kayshon Boutte, Demond Demas and Rakim Jarrett, Smith-Njigba experienced sparse playing time in 2020. He finished his freshman season with just 10 receptions for 49 receiving yards, including 49 yards in the College Football Playoffs.
Related: Quentin Johnston scouting report
Everything came together for him in his sophomore season. Despite sharing targets with future first-round picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Smith-Njigba led the team in receiving yards (1,606) and receptions (95) during the 2021 season. He earned third-team All-American honors and many projected him to be a top-five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
|Jaxon Smith-Njigba stats||Receptions||Rec. Yards||TDs||YPC|
Smith-Njigba’s historic performance in the Rose Bowl seemed to be the opening act for what would come in 2022. He set a bowl record with 347 receiving yards, breaking multiple program and Rose Bowl records in the process. Viewed at that time as an elite talent, his junior season dealt a significant blow to his draft stock.
After finishing his sophomore season with 10 games of 90-plus receiving yards, Smith-Njigba totaled just 43 receiving yards across three games in 2022. A nagging hamstring injury sidelined him for a majority of the season, eventually leading him to sit out the CFB Playoffs.
While the injury-riddled junior campaign clouds his draft stock, there is still a lot to like about Smith-Njigba as a receiver.
Statistics courtesy of College Football Reference, ESPN, and Pro Football Focus
Jaxon Smith-Njigba scouting report
It’s understandable why some in the NFL will classify Smith-Njigba strictly as a slot receiver. During the 2021 season at Ohio State, 92 percent of his targets and 84.5 percent of his receptions came from the slot. It was the obvious way to deploy him on a team with Wilson and Olave.
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba RAS: 8.3 out of 10
There were brief signs of the Buckeyes’ intentions to use him more as an outside receiver in 2022. Smith-Njigba drew 75 percent of his targets from the slot, with Ohio State moving him around more. However, the hamstring injury prevented NFL evaluators from seeing him in that role for an extended period of time.
Even if Smith-Njigba is ticketed as a slot receiver, it shouldn’t be a knock on him in the modern NFL. During the 2022 season, some of the best wide receivers in the NFL recorded a majority of their production when lined up in the slot.
|Player||Receiving Yards (slot)||Target Rate in Slot|
|Amon-Ra St. Brown||596||56.8%|
Athletically, SMith-Njigba is fairly similar to CeeDee Lamb and Amon-Ra St. Brown. He boasts a higher RAS than Lamb (7.37) and St. Brown (7.27), but all three wide receivers thrive operating from the slot. In terms of Smith-Njigba’s 40 time, it is right on par with Lamb (4.5), St. Brown (4.51) and DeAndre Hopkins (4.57).
Smith-Njigba’s advanced stats also compare favorably to some greats in the NFL. As highlighted by Austin Gayle of The Ringer, Smith-Njigba’s yards per route run average (4.01) in 2021 was the second-highest ever in a season by a Power 5 wide receiver since 2017.
It’s undeniable that he lacks the deep speed to really make a huge impact downfield. Even in 2021, Smith-NJigba finished third among Buckeyes’ receivers in deep targets (18), with just 16.1 percent of his targets coming 20-plus yards downfield as opposed to 45.5 percent on short throws (0-9 yards past the line of scrimmage).
Related: 2023 NFL offense rankings
Even with that acknowledged, Smith-Njigba is arguably the best route runner in the 2023 NFL Draft class. He knows how to create separation from cornerbacks, understands body positioning to create a better look for his quarterback and he had a lower drop rate (5.9 percent) than Wilson (7.9 percent) and Olave (7.1 percent) in 2021.
While he might not ever be the best wide receiver in the NFL, Smith-Njigba can be a No. 1 receiving threat in the right scheme and a go-to target for his quarterback. It’s why, even after a 2022 campaign where everything went wrong, he will still be a top-25 pick.
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba draft grade: 84/100
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba NFL Draft projection: Top-20
NFL projection for Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Fit does matter for Smith-Njigba at the next level. Teams that view slot wide receivers as a secondary piece in a passing attack, rather than a fundamental part of the game plan, shouldn’t be prioritizing him over someone like Quentin Johnston.
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He also likely isn’t a fit for teams that already have a proven slot receiver. Clubs like the Los Angeles Chargers (Keenan Allen), Detroit Lions (St. Brown) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Chris Godwin) have slot weapons they already trust.
With that said, Smith-Njigba is a viable option for teams like the Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens. He would be an instant three to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, especially if he is partnered with a young quarterback who depends upon the slot receiver to be a security option when pressure or the play-caller wants him to get the football out quickly.
Over the course of his NFL career, Smith-Njigba can deliver multiple 1,000-yard seasons and could replicate some of the production we saw from Lamb and St. Brown in 2022. If all goes well, Smith-Njigba should emerge as the best wide receiver from the 2023 NFL Draft.