Jaxon Smith-Njigba Scouting Report

In our Scouting Reports, we will give you a quick debrief to get you the information you need to know. We go a step further, providing an in-depth review showing off examples of what we do and don’t like. We’ve included a date from the initial scouting report. Updated notes may get added and dated over the course of the the year. With that, welcome to the Jaxon Smith-Njigba scouting report!

If you’d like to see more, below are all the completed scouting reports for this season:

QBRBWRTE
Will LevisTank BigsbyJordan AddisonTBD
Spencer Rattler* (2024)Sean TuckerQuentin Johnston
Anthony RichardsonZach CharbonnetJaxon Smith-Njigba
Michael Penix Jr.* (2024)Blake Corum* (2024)Jalin Hyatt
Josh Downs

The 2022 season has been marred by injury for Jaxon Smith-Njigba (JSN). However, many think his 2021 season – where he played alongside 1st Round draft picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave – may have already locked him in for 1st Round draft capital. How deserving is JSN of this praise? Let’s take a look.

Date: 11.18.2022
Details
: Jaxon Smith-Njigba | WR | Ohio State #11
DOB: 02.14.2002 | 21 years old
H/W: 6’ 1″ | 196 lbs

NFL Combine results (updated 03.06.2023):
40-yd dash: N/A
10-yd split: N/A
Vertical jump: 35″
Broad jump: 10′ 5″
3-Cone: 6.57s
20-yd shuttle: 3.93s

YearGamesTeamReceptionsRec YardsRec AvgRec TDsRush AttemptsRush YardsRush AvgRush TDs
20206OHIO STATE10494.910002
202113OHIO STATE95160616.990000
20223OHIO STATE5438.600000

Projection

NFL Draft Projection (updated 03.06.2023):

1st Round Pick – Jaxon Smith Njigba (JSN) showed quite a lot during his ’21 season, though his injury this year leaves a number of questions unanswered. Can he continue to stand out among elite surrounding talent? Is he a slot only guy? Can he be a deep threat? Why has the injury kept him off the field so long? For many, the skillset he showcased during the ’21 season answers or supersedes these questions. He showed advanced technique during his sophomore season and is an outstanding route runner with great hands. There’s enough athleticism to make a dent (as evidenced by the ’22 Rose Bowl) and – assuming he’s injury free – he should be able to produce immediately.

Dynasty Rookie Draft Projection – 1QB (updated 03.06.2023):

Top 4 pick – I expect JSN to be drafted to a team who intends to use him immediately. Even if he’s not on top of a depth chart, I expect him to be the first receiver drafted. His talent is great and immediate production potential is also outstanding. He should be the first receiver after the top two or three RBs.

Dynasty Rookie Draft Projection – Superflex/2QB (updated 03.06.2023):

Top 8 pick – Depending on your league, there are two-to-four quarterbacks who could be taken at the top of the 1st Round. Most likely JSN goes in the top six, but in some leagues or circumstances he may fall to eight (lucky!).

Scouting Brief

A former 5 star recruit, Jaxon Smith-Njigba (JSN) was called “a rare talent” and proclaimed to be “…the best I’ve ever seen” by 1st Round Picks and former teammates Chris Olave (scouting report here) and Garrett Wilson (scouting report here).

High praise from two guys who look extremely good against NFL competition themselves.

Ohio State had to feed both of those two and JSN at the same time. As a result, JSN predominantly lined up in the slot in 2021.

Being a slot receiver in college typically has the benefit of lining up against safeties and linebackers. The slot is often backed off the line of scrimmage which gives extra space to help avoid a jam. Further, the split of a slot receiver will always be able to threaten routes in either direction.

One negative consequence of JSN only being in the slot is that some scenarios, like beating press or alignment against a top corner, are more rare and difficult to assess.

2022 was going to be the year JSN expanded his film without Wilson and Olave taking the heat. It was to be the year he solidified himself as (one of) the top dog(s) in this draft class. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury has largely kept him off the field.

Some would argue this is a smart business decision. JSN showed enough to warrant a high pick, there’s no need to risk additional injury. Others seem to be forgetting his name, accolades, and talents as the year goes on.

There’s no denying JSN had a more productive season than both Wilson and Olave during the 2021 season. There’s also no denying the talent he displayed as just a sophomore.

He does a phenomenal job off the line and in his routes getting DBs to buy whatever he’s selling.

JSN consistently gets off the line clean with a plethora of different releases and an outstanding job attacking leverage. In deeper routes and crossers, he angles his stem to clear defenders from the area he’s attacking. He’s consistently in good position at any point in his routes.

He has also shown great, late hands and body control when snatching the football from the air. He does catch against his body occasionally though. I’m hopeful JSN will play down the stretch of the year to see if he will show more consistency here.

I’m also hopeful to get a better grasp on his contested catch ability, as well as his verticality, timing, and hands in a 50/50 situation. He showed huge success on short and intermediate routes by creating space, so these scenarios just didn’t crop up often.

JSN does not show great burst. He typically relies on leverage, angles, and body control to create separation. I’m not sure if this is a lack of ability, or due to lack of necessity.

His lateral movement and long speed is definitely good enough to help him get plenty of YAC (’22 Rose Bowl anyone?). However, I don’t think he’ll be quite the same monster at the combine that Wilson and Olave were.

Going against NFL competition, where DBs recover much faster, a lack of burst could be a hindrance to his production…but it’s still a question mark for me right now. I don’t think a 4.55 40 yard dash would be huge issue, but a slow 10-yard split (~1.6s) could be impactful.

Other question marks surrounding JSN are how the injury has impacted him, and whether or not he can produce on the outside. In my opinion, the skills he shows will help in any alignment from any split, and I’m hopeful he comes back from the injury this year.

I think JSN’s advanced route running gives him the ability to produce in any scheme immediately. As a result, as long as he clears medical and tests decent, I can see him being the first or second receiver drafted in 2023, likely in the 1st Round.

Detailed Breakdown

Before we get started I’d like to note that every snap shown below is from the ’21 season. This has a couple ramifications. Every snap also has Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave on the field, typically taking up the top defenders. However, this also means the techniques he’s executing are all done as just a 19 year old sophomore.

With that, I’d like to start by showing off these advanced techniques.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (JSN) sells cookies to Girl Scouts, salt to slugs, and…whatever the equivalent is to football. Time and again he wins routes against defenders in advantageous leverage.

In fact, I didn’t track a single route which was run “wrong”. He consistently attacks leverage correctly utilizing a number of different releases, winning the route in just the first few steps.

Our first two videos we’ll look at a couple routes on 3rd down. He’s ultimately not targeted, but probably should have been. In any case, these showcase how he wins very early in the route.

In the first snap, we see JSN in the slot against Oregon. He’s drawn a quick-out and finds himself going against a defender on his outside shoulder, i.e. outside leverage.

He runs a dive release, selling an inside route with two hard steps inside, getting the defender to overcommit and give up his outside leverage. Jaxon then cuts underneath and heads to the sideline with plenty of separation. Unfortunately, Stroud has already rolled to the opposite field.

Watch how well JSN sells it. The defender throws his whole weight inside, even knowing he has linebacker help. JSN sold him an inside route, and he bought it at full price.

This time, we see JSN in a tight split against head-up catch coverage. With catch coverage this tight, the DB will mirror the receiver during his release and “catch” the receiver as he travels upfield, often throwing his inside hand to help with inside breaking routes. Not quite a press/jam, more of an assist.

Here, JSN starts with a split release. This buys time to see if the defender will signal his intentions or shift his weight. The DB stands pat, so Jaxon throws a simple jab step outside before cutting under on the slant.

What’s impressive isn’t the type of release here, it’s that he sells it with his hips, shoulders, and head, along with the space of the route.

When he throws the jab step he doesn’t just step outside his frame. Because he throws with his whole body, the DB moves a half step. That half-step is enough to force the DB to shift his weight, and the weight shift creates space to cut underneath…juuuuust out of arms length.

This is a teaching tape on how to beat hands with feet.

It’s no secret playing from the slot typically buys extra space. However, releases like this suggest he’ll be able to win a step from anywhere on the field.

There wasn’t any singular type of defense (middle field open/closed), type of coverage (zone/man), or depth of defender (press/catch/off) where JSN was either better or worse. His routes simply beat whatever was in front of him.

This was done by consistently attacking leverage correctly, using his whole body to sell a route or release, varying speed within his routes, and through a consistent body lean before the break.

I didn’t note any signaling which would give away his route break. In fairness, many of his routes were shallow and so didn’t give opportunities as vertical stemming routes.

Previously I mentioned the slot receiver doesn’t regularly go against a team’s best coverage defender…unless their best defender is a safety who lines up in the nickel.

It just so happens ’21 Michigan defense had Dax Hill (DB #30), a highly versatile and athletic defender and eventual 1st Round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2022 NFL Draft. Our next snap shows a good angle of a vertical selling route against Hill.

JSN creates a bit of separation against Dax and overall had a good game. This snap is a good showcase of JSN against a high quality NFL caliber defender.

As mentioned in the video above, JSN does a good job running the scramble drill after the play breaks down. In general, I found JSN to be a quarterback friendly receiver. He would routinely come back to the quarterback making for an easy throw too.

In the next snap, picking up from later in the Michigan game, we’re not just going to see another scramble drill, but some pretty good mitts to boot.

This time, JSN is running an in route against zone coverage. Once he sees CJ Stroud (QB #7) leaving the pocket, he immediately gains depth to get behind DJ Turner (CB #5).

This carries Turner upfield and attempts to give Stroud a one-on-one opportunity deep for this third and long. JSN and Stroud are on different pages. Stroud throws this ball in front of Turner, forcing JSN to cut across Turner’s body to make a spectacular one-handed catch, tangled up with the corner.

As for his hands, JSN typically shows solid hands when catching and securing the ball. I did find one egregious drop. However, that single drop came over the course of 6 games with a combined 59 receptions.

JSN, like Jordan Addison (scouting report here), also made a number of receptions against his body. This adds risk at the catch point, especially when in traffic, so provides an area of opportunity to improve.

Overall I found he was comfortable making receptions away from his body and made a number of difficult catches look easy. Obviously this is – at least in part – due to quality, reliable hands. Though I think his concentration is above average too.

Below are a few examples showing excellent concentration and in catching the ball outside his frame. In the latter two especially, note how he watches the ball into his hands to make sure he secures it.

In my opinion, solid ball tracking and concentration at the catch point are often underrated skills. To some, they take a back seat to athleticism, despite securing the catch being the only actual requirement of a reception. Thankfully, ball tracking and concentration are skills which JSN shows off consistently during the 2021 season.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about JSN’s record breaking performance during the 2022 Rose Bowl: 15 receptions, 347 yards, with three touchdowns.

JSN showed a bit of everything: great releases and routes, sneaky play against zone and an understanding of zone spacing, unique alignment, excellent hands, outstanding ball tracking, and incredible body control.

Did I forget to mention this was a monster YAC game? I counted ~185 yards after the catch, often in big chunks of 20-30+ yards.

I compiled a few of the best plays I could find from the Rose Bowl. There are four snaps, each show any number of quality traits. Great and late hands, ball tracking, concentration, body control, zone recognition and attack, route running, and of course YAC ability.

Despite racking up monster YAC numbers, and generally being a great playmaker, I don’t expect JSN to be a combine monster.

While his long speed is OK, his burst is very pedestrian. As seen in any of these clips, he gets separation fine but he’s a guy who doesn’t do it with pure athletic ability. I wouldn’t be surprised if he checks in at the combine around a 4.55s 40 yard dash.

Usually I try not to be specific about numbers. There’s any number of things that impact a 40 time; could be a lingering injury, guys training for combine tests instead of actual football, being a better runner in underwear, or loads of other reasons.

I got the 4.55s from the below snap. There’s a lot to like about the play, but it’s noteworthy that Brandon Smith (LB #12), 4th Round pick of the Carolina Panthers, is able to catch up with JSN.

Smith ran a 4.52 at the combine.

Joey Porter Jr (DB #9), likely 1st Round Pick in the upcoming draft, lights the grass on fire catching up to make the tackle…however, Smith is also right on JSN’s heels.

I think JSN will be able to contribute immediately. His skillset is one where he can be successful from any alignment, and there isn’t a team in the NFL that couldn’t plug him into a productive position on day 1.

His athletic profile may be lower than some are projecting. That – combined with the injury – could cause him to fall in the draft a little. That said, I think his route running and hands shouldn’t see him fall too far.

If he doesn’t make it back on the field this year, a mid-1st Round pick may be his peak, and poor athletic testing could see him fall into the 2nd Round. If he can get back on the field and show what sets him apart, I’m confident he’ll be a 1st Round lock.

Additional details

Is JSN on the rise, fall, or holding steady? Drop a comment in the comment box below to let us know your thoughts!

For more scouting reports, click any of the links below:

QBRBWRTE
Will LevisTank BigsbyJordan AddisonTBD
Spencer Rattler* (2024)Sean TuckerQuentin Johnston
Anthony RichardsonZach CharbonnetJaxon Smith-Njigba
Michael Penix Jr.* (2024)Blake Corum* (2024)Jalin Hyatt
Josh Downs

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