By now, its been well established that while productive, the Dallas Cowboys offense was lacking substantial firepower last season. After trading Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns, the Cowboys found themselves in an unenviable situation. Outside of CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard, there was no one else who posed a big-play threat to attack opposing defenses and give Dallas an explosive outlet. This held especially true when it came to the the passing game.
For most of last season, the Cowboys were forced to put duct tape over the wide receiver position in hopes that the situation would work itself out. At the beginning of the season, they were without Michael Gallup, who was unavailable still recovering from an ACL injury. The committee of Dennis Houston, Noah Brown, and Simi Fehoko unsurprisingly led to minimal returns, and the offense was severely throttled down.
This also coincided with the absence of Dak Prescott who suffered a fractured thumb in the season opener. Though things would get a little better with the return of Prescott and Gallup, and a mid-season addition of T.Y. Hilton, there was still a lot left to be desired. Facing the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs for the second year in a row, Dallas struggled to find any rhythm offensively. Tony Pollard sustaining a broken fibula would complicate matters even more. When the dust settled and the curtain was pulled back, the Cowboys has lost and were right back where they started. A very good offense but not one with enough speed to be a serious threat against premier competition.
This brings Jaxon Smith-Njigba into the picture. The Cowboys hold the 26th pick of this year’s draft and Smith-Njigba’s name is being mentioned as a possible option for the Cowboys in that spot. Smith-Njigba, a five-star recruit from Dallas Texas, burst onto the college football scene in 2021 with 95 receptions for 1,606 yards, including a 347-yard performance in the Rose Bowl. Smith-Njigba’s junior season was cut short by a hamstring injury limited the receiver to three games in 2022.
When evaluating him, he has very apparent natural tools and it’s why some have connected the dots between his skills and a pairing with the Dallas Cowboys. Also, considering Smith-Njigba’s season was cut short, we’re going to strictly look at his film from 2021. The games that were examined are against Penn State, Rutgers, Akron, and Indiana.
He’s got good speed. It’s not elite top tier speed but it’s much more than what the Cowboys currently have. If you get him the ball in space, as you’ll see on this jet motion play, he’ll rip into your secondary. Plus, if he gets a free release, he’ll easily run past you with his long strides.
An area where the Cowboys struggled last season was getting separation on routes. Smith-Njigba has no issue in that department. The other thing that stands out is his release off the line of scrimmage. He plays mostly in the slot and that’s where you see the creativity with his footwork. This play nearly goes to the house and it starts with an excellent release off the line of scrimmage. He takes the ball upfield, makes one player miss, and it’s nearly a touchdown. Also, this release while split out wide is top-notch. He sells the outside release before snapping back inside. Stroud had a touchdown to Smith-Njigba if he wanted it.
He also understands coverage and knows when to settle in the zone defense and give his quarterback a window. Prime example right here. He throttles himself down quickly and shows the quarterback his numbers and is one broken tackle away from a touchdown.
There’s not many areas of concern with Smith-Njigba except for one thing. When watching him in this sample, there was a tendency to try to cradle the ball with his body instead of catching it cleanly with his hands. This also leads to untimely drops. Here are a couple of plays where you see him catch the ball with his body which leads to a drop. Aside from that, there’s not much else that gives one pause with Smith-Njigba.
Due to his very limited experience and playing only one full season, he may take time to get acclimated to the NFL. It’s hard to know how he’ll handle playing outside numbers when asked to since he’s played a lot in the slot. How he’ll adjust to playing against cornerbacks with NFL-level strength in press-coverage is something to look out for. Smith-Njigba is still very young having declared for the draft at 20 years old and has both a lot to learn and a lot of potential.
He may get drafted earlier because of his natural traits, but he’s not as far along as his Ohio State counterparts Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. While he can offer an added element after the catch, he’s not a true burner, lacking that extra gear. However for the Cowboys’ needs, he’ll definitely see the field early if selected. We’ll learn more information on his measurables coming up.
BTB caught up with JSN in the lead up to Super Bowl LVII. You can watch our interview with him right here.