Jaxon Smith-Njigba's transition from 'good slot' to 'best receiver in college football'
Out of at least 5 first round receivers at Ohio State, JSN emerged as the best in the second half of the 2021 season
College football might never see another wide receiver room like Ohio State’s corps in 2021. So deep was that unit that the number six option was the top-ranked receiver recruit in the country in 2020, and with a healthy senior season could be taken relatively high in the next NFL draft.
Of the other five, three have already been first round picks (two of the top-three receivers in 2022 and the first receiver off the board in 2023) and the remaining two are projected to be the top-two receivers in 2024.
But out of those six—also including Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming—only Jaxon Smith-Njigba has set the Ohio State record for single game receptions (twice), the school record for yards in a single game (and also the third-most yards), and the Buckeyes record for most yards in a single season.
Even sharing the field with two of the top-five receivers in college football in 2021, and at times the top two freshman receivers in the country (Egbuka was the number one receiver recruit in 2021, Harrison is often projected as a top-five pick in next year’s draft, and both played a bit in 2021), the player in the group who was most trusted by quarterback C.J. Stroud, head coach Ryan Day, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, and receivers coach Brian Hartline was the sophomore who set Texas records throughout his high school career.
Smith-Njigba had more yards in his final five games of 2021 (958) than Olave had (936) over the entire season. In his final six games, he only had three fewer yards (1,055) than Wilson’s entire season. And I understand why any time you bring up “yards”, there’s a hesitation to respect the statistic. Many fans are currently suffering from “trefetaphobia” (latin meaning “three feet fears”) in the age of analytics, and I get it.
But the conversation around Smith-Njigba going into the 2023 NFL Draft reminded me a bit of Cooper Kupp skepticism in 2017, as “Team All-Traits” was desperately looking to explain away his legendary career at Eastern Washington in which he broke every major receiving record in FCS history. To be fair to Team All-Traits, Kupp broke records set by players like Scott Pingel, Terrell Hudgins, and David Ball.
However, the NFL knew that Cooper Kupp was no Pingel-Hudgins-Ball. How do I know that? The Rams drafted him. And did so in spite of a 4.62 time in the 40-yard dash. But his 6.75 three-cone time was really good for a 204 lb receiver (faster than eventual teammate Brandin Cooks, who is known for his speed) and Kupp didn’t waste any time in showing skeptics that they were wrong about him.
Smith-Njigba ran a 6.57 in the three-cone drill at 196 lbs, and among receivers who were drafted that is the ninth-fastest time at the combine dating back to 2000. Under those conditions, his 3.93 short shuttle time is tied as the sixth-fastest. It would be unfair of me to compare him to Odell Beckham, Jr. and Brandin Cooks because both of those receivers ran a sub-4.4 and JSN is closer to 4.6, a dramatic difference, but his short area quickness is as fast or faster than OBJ and Cooks.
Does this guarantee that he will produce like Kupp, OBJ, or Cooks—all current or former Sean McVay receivers, who also happens to be Shane Waldron’s offensive mentor? No. In a disastrous scenario (that would be shocking and is highly improbable) he’s more of a Hudgins-Ball than a Cooks-Kupp.
The Seattle Seahawks and the NFL know as well as the 2021 Ohio State Buckeyes that Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a special receiver. Because of yards? Well, it didn’t hurt that Ohio State wanted to get him the ball and then he went off at an historic clip when he got the ball. But yards is a symptom…Extreme Talentitis with Acute Speciality and Hyper Mindblowomity is the disease that Smith-Njigba is afflicted with. It shows up on the stat sheet and also the film.
In today’s Part III of the Jaxon Smith-Njigba pre-Seahawks review, following Part I: The High School Years, and Part II: Everything Until Now, I will highlight some of JSN’s key moments during an incredible four-game run in the second half of the 2021 season. Because so much happened in his record-breaking Rose Bowl performance against Utah, that won’t be included in this edition, but JSN still had 45 catches for 611 yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan.
Smith-Njigba had 648 yards in his first eight games of the season, then nearly doubled it in the next four.
As with the previous two Jaxon Smith-Njigba articles, this will be a special edition for Super Joes subscribers. This is not to shame anyone who is a free subscriber (I’m grateful for you and there are at least 365 free Seahawks articles per year) or a Regular Joes subscriber (at least two bonuses per week and more perks!) but this was my solution to showing gratitude to the people who for whatever reason decided they wanted to give $10 per month instead of $5, an option that I didn’t even come up with, it was our hosts at Substack!
And you can literally watch these same JSN highlights for free on YouTube, just so you know I’m not trying to take credit for inventing Fox Sports or anything. All four games are available on YouTube, I’m just going to go over some of the highlights and some of the articles/facts/stats from that run.
If you think about it, just writing 1,000 words about Smith-Njigba in the free preview section is already 1,000 more words than the average Seahawks article that I saw this summer from most other people who cover the team in some capacity. So this is already basically it’s own article for free, and Super Joes subscribers are just getting a little bit more, plus sometimes a forum to ask questions that I will use for future Q&A posts.
Sounds fun and you’re “jacked up” for another Seahawks season? Come on in. Would rather wait for the next one? It’ll be out soon, I’m sure!