2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Jaxson Smith-Njigba (Fantasy Football)

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At this point, fantasy managers and NFL fans alike might want to start getting used to Ohio State wide receivers translating to the NFL. Over the last several years guys like Michael Thomas, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Chis Olave and Garrett Wilson have found success in the NFL. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (JSN), the WR prospect out of Ohio State and projected first round pick, will look to be the next Buckeye to make his mark in fantasy.

This article will take a look at JSN’s college production profile, his measurables and athletic testing numbers from the Scouting Combine as well as his film to see what type of prospect we might be getting in Smith-Njigba. At the conclusion, we’ll dive into his fantasy outlook for 2023 and beyond. Let’s get to it!

Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.

College Production Profile

Before we dive into his college career, let’s go all the way back to 2019 when Smith-Njigba was a senior in high school. He earned All-American honors and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas. Because of that, he was labeled as a 5-star recruit coming out of high school. In 2020 as a true freshman, JSN didn’t see the field much. Why? Two guys named Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson were on the roster, and of course, that was the 2020 shortened Covid year.

However, in 2021 as a Sophomore, Smith-Njigba exploded onto the scene, catching 95 balls for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns. With that production, JSN earned a Breakout Age of 19.6. He checks the box there from what we want to see – a wide receiver who produced early in his college career. But before we move on, I always like to add context to a player’s season. I mentioned earlier two guys named Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, who as we know, went on to be first round NFL Draft picks in last year’s draft. Smith-Njiba shared the field with two future (current?) NFL stars in Wilson and Olave who were top tier prospects coming out last year. Some NFL prospects produce elite numbers with minimal target competition. JSN produced an impressive season with NFL wide receivers on the field at the same time, which means a lot.

But wait…there’s more. Jameson Williams was also at Ohio State in 2020 before he transferred to Alabama and became a first round NFL Draft pick. It remains to be seen if Williams will be a productive NFL WR but the fact that he was taken 12th overall last year and produced elite numbers at ‘Bama further adds to the fact that JSN’s target competition as a true freshman was incredibly difficult.

After an injury plagued season in 2022 in which JSN dealt with recurring hamstring injuries all year, he’s now one of the more polarizing WR prospects in the class. However, if you go back to his 2021 season, there’s plenty to be excited about with Smith-Njigba.

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Height Weight Age Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3-Cone 20-Yard Shuttle
6′ 1″ 196 lbs. 21.1 35″ 10′ 5″ 6.57 sec 3.93 sec

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There’s really only one way to put it when it comes to Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s NFL Combine – he crushed it. Now, you may notice that there isn’t a 40-yard dash time listed for JSN in his measurables table above – that’s because he didn’t participate in the 40 in Indianapolis. While that may be a knock on the overall athletic testing profile, the thing about Smith-Njigba’s game is that he doesn’t rely on long speed to win. Rather, he’s more of a route technician who wins with agility. We’ll talk more about that in his film breakdown.

So while it may have been nice to see a number on JSN’s speed in order to compare him apples to apples among other WR prospects, I personally wouldn’t be too worried about the fact that he didn’t run the 40. We’ll see if he runs at Ohio State’s Pro Day on March 23.

Okay, back to the positives here, the former Ohio State WR flashed elite agility with his 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle testing. Since 2007, among WRs participating at the Combine, his 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle times are the 12th best and 4th best, respectively. With these numbers, he earned a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.41 out of a possible 10.

Just to get a sense of JSN’s numbers, I took a look back at Combine testing going back to 2013. Here are some comparable testing numbers for the 20-Yard short shuttle for current NFL WRs who have been fantasy relevant:

Year Player 20-Yard Shuttle
2014 Brandin Cooks 3.81
2023 Jaxon Smith-Njigba 3.93
2014 Odell Beckham Jr. 3.94
2015 Amari Cooper 3.98
2017 Chris Godwin 4.00
2014 Allen Robinson 4.00
2017 Zay Jones 4.01

Of course, this is just one data point, and there’s plenty of wide outs who have posted elite numbers in these tests who didn’t pan out in the NFL, but it’s nice to see where JSN stacks up against some proven fantasy stars. All in all, Smith-Njigba improved his NFL Draft stock with his performance at the Combine, and because we know NFL Draft capital is strongly predictive of both NFL and fantasy success, JSN’s Combine numbers shouldn’t go overlooked.

For reference, in the betting markets, JSN’s odds to be the first WR off the board ranged between +350 to +380 prior to the Combine. Following his performance, he’s now the odds on favorite at +125.

What’s on Tape

Games viewed: Michigan (2021), Oregon (2021), Penn State (2021), Maryland (2021), Purdue (2021), , Utah (2021 Rose Bowl), Notre Dame (2022)

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1. Jaxon Smith-Njigba can create separate with his route running ability. 

Smith-Njigba isn’t the type of WR to blow you away with top end speed. However, he’s quick and sudden at the top of his routes, understands leverage and knows how to create separation with his route running and body positioning. This out route against Maryland is a simple play, but I love a few things about it. First, if you notice carefully, he starts his route at an angle towards the middle of the field for only a yard or two, but it’s enough for the defender to bite, putting him behind the eight ball from the jump. From there, it’s an easy stick your foot in the ground and get outside route to create a layup throw for C.J. Stroud. Plays like this are all over JSN’s film.

2. Smith-Njigba is a dominant against zone coverage.

As a predominant slot WR at Ohio State, it’s not all that surprising that Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s film features a ton of him crushing against zone coverage over the middle of the field. Based on watching JSN play, he seems to have a great feel for defensive coverages, knowing when to sit down in the soft spot of the zone to make it an easy throw for his QB. Speaking of easy throws, Smith-Njigba’s hands are ultra reliable. I counted one drop in the seven games I saw. It shouldn’t take long for Smith-Njigba to earn his QB’s trust at the next level.

3. Yards after the catch…and lots of ’em.

The one knock on JSN (besides the injury plagued 2022 season) is that he may lack long speed. However, when you watch his film, there’s plenty of examples of him out-running defensive backs, especially after the catch. JSN was a yards after the catch (YAC) monster during his 2021 season. In fact, only one college WR logged more YAC than Smith-Njigba during his Sophomore season. As you’ll see below in my tweet, Smith-Njigba was uber efficient with his opportunities.

What’s NOT on Tape

1. Consistent snaps lined up as a true X wide receiver on the perimeter.

I’m not sure how much stock to put into this. In the seven games I watched from JSN’s college tape, I didn’t see many snaps where he was lined up on the outside. Part of this is due to the fact that he missed almost all of the 2022 season and in 2021, he was sharing the field with Olave and Wilson, the team’s primary perimeter pass catchers. This doesn’t mean he can’t win on the outside or won’t be successful there in the NFL. After all, Justin Jefferson was labeled as a ‘slot WR’ coming out of LSU. The Ohio State staff asked him to play there and that’s where he won over and over again. For reference, he logged an 88.6% slot rate in 2021 according to PFF.

2. Contested catches or jump balls.

If you’re looking for a WR who’s going to run fade routes at the five yard line for a possible TD, JSN is not your dude. On film, there’s not a lot of throws where he’s forced to “go up and get it” over a defender. Now, this doesn’t mean he can’t make contested catches in traffic – there were plenty of those over the middle of the field, but when you think about where he wins, it’s not as a vertical receiver.

Fantasy Outlook

After a tumultuous 2022 season that was headlined by a lingering hamstring injury, Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s dynasty outlook seems a bit more uncertain than it did after the 2021 season. However, when you zoom in on that 2021 season and what he put on tape, there’s plenty to be excited about with JSN as far as an NFL prospect. He checks a lot of the boxes we look for:

  • Early declare
  • Production at an early age
  • Top notch agility scores
  • Projected Round 1 NFL Draft capital

Speaking of the NFL Draft, we’ve already mentioned that he’s now the betting favorite to be the first WR taken, but according to GrindingTheMocks, which sources mock drafts from around the industry, JSN’s expected draft position as of March 6 is 18.3. I could see a realistic scenario where he’s taken anywhere between Picks 15 and 25 depending on team needs and team fits.

Speaking of, Smith-Njigba’s 2023 outlook will largely depend on his target competition, QB play and scheme. He profiles as a productive slot WR at the next level, but as we generally see with rookie WRs, it could take some time for him to learn the ropes of the NFL game, especially after taking a lot of time off in 2022 due to injury. Historically, we tend to see rookie wide outs breakout during the back half of their rookie season, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start of slowly but end 2023 with a bang.

From a dynasty perspective, Smith-Njigba is a first round lock in rookie drafts who is worthy of a top five pick in both super flex and single QB leagues alike. In our first mock draft in the Dynasty Pass back in February, JSN went off the board at the 1.04. That was before his performance at the Combine, so that 1.04-1.06 range feels like his floor in dynasty rookie drafts.

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