2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, we’ll be profiling Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

#11 Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State (Jr.) — 6010, 200


Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Jaxon Smith-Njigba 6010/200 N/A N/A N/A
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press

The Good

— Clear understanding of the details and nuance it takes to play slot receiver
— Uses leverage to create separation on routes
— Works to square up defensive backs at the line of scrimmage to give himself a two-way go
— Has the necessary release package to win off the line and keep clean with secondary releases further down the field
— Shows no concern working over the middle
— Tempo’d route running creates needed separation
— Works to green in scramble situations, gets in QBs sightlines
— Tracks the deep ball well
— Good awareness of defenders around him in space and knows where to sit in zones
— Willing blocker who can help spring a big run

The Bad

— Lacks elite speed and burst: likely runs in 4.55-4.60 range
— Nothing brilliant about his athletic profile or overall game
— Can be lackadaisical at the top of his routes, not always sudden
— Plays high into cuts, hurts his bursts in and out of breaks
— Content with letting ball into body so he can cradle it
— Spread scheme offers a wide open field to work with on most plays
— Likely a full-time slot in NFL, played 83.0% of his snaps inside (per PFF) at OSU
— 2021 was his only productive season
— Missed all but three games in 2022 due to hamstring issues


— 110 receptions, 1,698 receiving yards, 15.4 avg., 10 receiving touchdowns in 23 career games
— Broke 20-year-old Big Ten receiving yards record with his 1,606 receiving yards in 2021
— Set Rose Bowl records with 347 receiving yards and 15 receptions with three touchdowns in 2021 vs. Utah
— 2021 Third-Team All-American (Associated Press)
— Was a 5-star recruit ranked 29th overall in the 2020 Class by 247sports
— Named the Texas 6A State Player of the Year his senior year of HS
— From Rockwall, Texas
— Brother Canaan Smith-Njigba is in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system
— Majoring in Health Sciences

Tape Breakdown

Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba has been widely recognized as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the upcoming draft class after his breakout season in 2021 that saw him outpace two future first-round draft picks, Garrett Wilson and Chirs Olave, on the way to breaking a 20-year-old Big Ten receiving record. On top of that, Smith-Njigba blew up on the national stage with 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the 2021 Rose Bowl. The hype and buzz around him came to a screeching halt after playing in only three games due to persistent hamstring injuries throughout the 2022 season. The clearly labored Smith-Njigba was able to string together only five catches for 43 yards in his limited action and now has decided to forego his senior season and take his talents to the NFL.

Ohio State has established itself as a prolific producer of elite-level wide receivers, thanks in large part to the exceptional coaching of Brian Hartline. The team’s Wide Receiver Coach and now the Offensive Coordinator, Hartline’s coaching style focuses heavily on the nuances and details of the position, leading to unparalleled development of his receivers. As a result, players like Terry McClaurin, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson have been able to achieve instant success at the professional level. Making it in the NFL takes more than just being an elite athlete, and Hartline’s coaching style focuses on the complete development of his players.

Those details are especially crucial for a prospect like Smith-Njigba, who may not possess the same level of natural athleticism as some of his predecessors, but compensates for it with his exceptional polish and technical skills. To understand this in greater detail, let’s delve into the film.

For slot receivers, mastering the art of understanding leverage against defenses is of utmost importance.  While outside receivers have to make pre and post-snap reads on some plays, slot receivers need to read the leverage of defenders on almost every play. They must snap in or snap out, bend routes, find open zones, avoid re-routes, and more depending on coverages and where the defenders are – all while being in sync with their quarterback and earning their trust. It’s a challenging position that requires immense skill and knowledge, and understanding leverage is just the beginning.

According to Pro Football Focus, Smith-Njigba played 83% of his college snaps inside and he’s successfully mastered the intricacies needed to play the position. In these first two clips, he’s running a slot choice bender.

The key to this route is reading the safeties. If it’s a two-high coverage, the slot continues straight to attack the void in the middle of the field left by the safeties playing deep halves. If it’s a single-high look like these two instances, you bend it across the field.

Smith-Njigba does a great job slithering through any possible re-routes and bends them correctly across the field. However, it’s the added touch to flatten this off that I love to see.

A lot of inexperienced receivers will continue to carry this route toward the pylon. Unless you have elite speed, this takes away your separation and the angle for your quarterback to throw the football as the defensive back trailing will naturally wall off a throw. Smith-Njigba effectively flattens out the route to maximize his separation and keep the throwing window open for his QB.

This was something that Chase Claypool struggled with his during his time in the slot in 2022.

Let’s take a look at the same route against a 2-high coverage. Smith-Njigba wastes no time and attacks the void in the middle of the field with speed, allowing him to make the catch amidst a crowded area. He’s fearless and comfortable operating over the middle of the field, demonstrating strong mental and physical toughness.

Smith-Njigba’s exceptional spatial awareness is on full display as he expertly navigates through zone coverages. In this clip against Rutgers, he powers down between two linebackers dropping into the zone, providing his quarterback with a reliable target. Then, picks up some impressive yards after the catch with precise cuts.

Keeping up with the theme of Smith-Njigba’s QB-friendly approach, he has shown an impressive ability to find open spaces and make himself available in scramble drills. Take a look at the first clip, where he moves back toward the quarterback after running a bender, ensuring that he stays in the quarterback’s line of sight. In the second clip, he smoothly works away from the nearest defender at the top of his hitch route, creating a readily available target for his QB.

The refinement of Smith-Njigba’s route running also jumps off the tape. Against Indiana, he expertly uses subtle moves to keep the defensive back guessing. The DB is playing with inside leverage, but Smith-Njigba squares him up with an inside stem and shows him a two-way go. Then, he uses the stairstep technique to force the DB vertical before snapping outside.

On the playsheet, it’s a simple out-route, but when it’s dressed up like this, it becomes very difficult to cover.

As a slot receiver, Smith-Njigba was usually free from the press coverage, but he showed his ability to beat the man across from him when he faced it. Whether it was at the line of scrimmage or a secondary release, he was able to get past defensive backs and continue his route with ease.

One minor concern with Smith-Njigba’s route running is that he tends to play a bit high when rolling into his cuts, which can affect his ability to quickly accelerate in and out of breaks.

To showcase Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s full skillset, look no further than this rep against Penn State.

He easily defeats press coverage and immediately gets vertical before snapping out of his break and presenting his numbers to the quarterback. After the catch, he efficiently spins upfield and finds green. This is where you get to see his lack of elite speed and explosiveness, easily getting hawked by multiple Penn State defenders that did not have angles on him.

Smith-Njigba’s tape also displays his impressive ability to track deep balls and make contested catches, proving that he can still be a threat down the field even without game-breaking speed, though it’s worth noting that these opportunities may be less frequent in the NFL compared to college.

To round out our evaluation, let’s discuss Smith-Njigba’s blocking. In the slot position, being able to block effectively is crucial as they are often responsible for blocking linebackers and box safeties in the run game. Due to Smith-Njigba not playing with a huge edge to his game, I was pleasantly surprised with his effort and skill in this area, as he made multiple key blocks that helped spring Buckeye running backs for touchdowns.


In conclusion, despite missing most of the 2022 season due to injuries, Jaxon Smith-Njigba has established himself as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft Class. His exceptional polish and technical skills, developed under the guidance of Ohio State’s Wide Receiver Coach and Offensive Coordinator Brian Hartline, set him apart as a player who has mastered the intricacies of playing the slot position. Smith-Njigba’s exceptional spatial awareness, ability to navigate through zone coverages and impressive route-running skills make him a QB-friendly target who can find open spaces, make himself available in scramble drills, and beat man coverage.

While he has some areas for improvement, the main shortcomings come from his overall athletic profile which limits his ceiling. He reminds me of Detroit Lion WR Amon-Ra St. Brown who is another receiver with limited athleticism but is a master at working in the middle of the field. Just like St. Brown, Smith-Njigba is a plug-and-play slot receiver who can give solid snaps from day one. Another potential concern is that he lacks position versatility, which means any sort of full-time role outside would be a projection given his limited tape outside of Ohio State. Combining that with only one year of solid production at Ohio State, it wouldn’t shock me for some teams to be a bit wary of drafting Smith-Njigba in the first round.

When it comes to the Steelers, a slot-only wide receiver at 17th overall is far too rich. However, if Smith-Njigba falls to the 32nd or 49th pick, he should be seriously considered as one of the best players available to fill a position of need. While the team has strong outside options in Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, they lack a reliable slot receiver. Some fans may look to 2022 draft pick Calvin Austin III as the solution, but he is unproven with no in-game experience, even in the preseason. Smith-Njigba’s experience in operating in the middle of the field could provide a valuable safety net for a young quarterback like Kenny Pickett in the years to come.

Projection: Day 1

Depot Draft Grade: 8.1 – Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

Games Watched: Akron (2021), Indiana (2021), Penn State (2021), Rutgers (2021), Iowa (2022), Notre Dame (2022), Toledo (2022)

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