Cowboys draft prospects scouting reports for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Name: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Weight: 198 pounds
Just a year ago, Ohio State easily had the best receiving corps in the entire nation with the trio of Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Those first two just capped off incredibly impressive rookie seasons in the NFL, with Wilson winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, and now it’s Smith-Njigba’s turn.
Even with how great Wilson and Olave are, Smith-Njigba has been considered to be even better. After all, he set the Ohio State single-season receiving record in 2021 with 1,606 receiving yards, and that was with Wilson and Olave on the field. Expectations were sky high this year, but injuries limited him to just three games and five catches on the year.
That’s allowed for other names to emerge in this wide receiver group, but Smith-Njigba is still a tantalizing prospect. Born and raised in Dallas, he would be an especially apt fit for the Cowboys, who are once again looking to upgrade their receiving corps despite a career year from CeeDee Lamb. Let’s take a closer look.
Route Running: Smith-Njigba is a route-running technician, and probably the best route runner in the draft. He’s a smooth operator, his feet are constantly in sync with his brain as he reads defenses and manipulates the coverage to create separation. Simply put, Smith-Njigba gets open. In 2021, he led all receivers in passer rating when targeted against man coverage, highlighting his safety blanket ability that comes as a result of his elite route running.
Hands: He has incredibly reliable hands, and he uses them well. He frequently shows an innate ability to adjust and make the catch away from his body, which is why he became such a favorite target at Ohio State despite having Wilson and Olave around him.
Playmaking Ability: Smith-Njigba’s tape is filled with all kinds of big plays, and he does so in a variety of ways. In 2021, he caught nine of his ten targets that were contested, showing an ability to make the reception in traffic. He also forced 19 missed tackles, tied for 12th among receivers that year, and led the nation in yards per route run. When it comes to playmaking ability, Smith-Njigba is a jack of all trades.
Release: Ohio State’s offense does a great job of affording their receivers a lot of free releases, and Smith-Njigba, in particular, saw a lot of those after playing nearly 90% of his 2021 snaps in the slot. That makes it a bit difficult to project how well he’d fare against more consistent press coverage, but his route running and general fundamentals suggest he’d at least be above average in that regard.
Run After Catch: He is a YAC king. Only three receivers totaled more YAC per reception in 2021 than Smith-Njigba; one of them, Dontario Drummond, is already on the Cowboys roster. Smith-Njigba does a great job of securing the ball and cutting upfield to churn out extra yards. With YAC being a crucial part of the offense Mike McCarthy operates, he would make for a seamless transition into a stat-sheet-stuffer in Dallas.
Blocking: Smith-Njigba isn’t anything special as a blocker, but he holds his own. He won’t shy away from his duties as a blocker, which is an important trait when playing in the slot as much as he did for Ohio State. He also understands leverage well enough to succeed against similarly sized defensive backs, but bigger defenders tend to overpower him.
Versatility: Smith-Njigba played almost exclusively out of the slot, often used as a motion man to create confusion for the defense. His limited reps out wide were positive, and suggest that he should be able to handle more extensive usage there. It still requires some projection, though, but his elite route running and big-play ability figure to make it an easier projection than most.
Size: Arguably the only knock is his lack of elite size. At an even six feet, Smith-Njigba isn’t small or slender by any means, but he also doesn’t come with a noticeable size advantage either. He more than makes up for this with everything else, but he will be evaluated differently because of it by teams that really value size in their receivers.
Intangibles: Smith-Njigba is an exceptionally smart player who sees the field better than some current NFL counterparts. Some teams will question if he was a one-hit wonder given his one full season of experience, but all accounts suggest that Smith-Njigba has the mental makeup to continue to build off of his stellar 2021 season. On the injury front, it doesn’t appear that he will be hampered in any way as he enters the draft process.