This series will feature the top NFL draft prospects with insight from the Beat reporters who covered them in college. This article is just a preview of that full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant Podcast.
Name: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Position: wide receiver
School: State of Ohio
Height/Weight: 6-1, 200
Hometown: Rockwall, Texas
(Below is part of Deepi Sidhu’s interview with Phil Harrison, Beat Reporter for USA Today’s Buckeyes Wire.)
Sidhu: It wouldn’t be a blueprint for a potential series, Phil, if we didn’t talk about some wide receivers from Ohio State, because I have a feeling that’s wide receiver U, especially in recent years. This year is no exception with WR Jackson Smith-Njigba. What sets it apart from some of the other Ohio State receivers you’ve seen in the past?
Harrison: Ohio State has had a string of wide receivers here and had two first rounds between Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave last year. Both could have been Rookie of the Year and Wilson of course. Both are really good wide receivers, but believe it or not, the year all three played together, Jackson Smith-Njigba led the team in receiving. So we had two first-rounders and Smith-Njigba had 1600 yards attacking on that team, better than Olave and better than Wilson.
What distinguishes him now? He’s not the fastest. He doesn’t come onto the field. He’s been invited to the NFL Combine, I don’t know what he’s going to do with that, but his 40-year streak probably won’t be great for a wide receiver. He won’t break the gun, but his ability to accelerate out of his routes and split in midfield, and then his post-catch ability to subtly get the guys to miss, he moves kinda forward and miss guys. His vision alone really sets him apart and then he makes incredible catches. I mean his ability to use his hands and step up in traffic is second to none. Again, he doesn’t run away from people, just finds the separation like mid-field and then uses his hands in contested catches. I think it’s saying a lot to know that he ended up, if you will, outperforming two first round players when he was playing and healthy.
Sidhu: How does he fit into an NFL offense, deep threat, or slot receiver? where would you put him?
Harrison: I put it in the slot. I mean, he was in Ohio State. And again, just for the record, he’s not really going to top the defense because he’s not a burner, fast enough, more than adequate, but he’s not a burner that’s just going to go down the field on seam paths. In the middle of the field and in traffic, separates himself from his competition where he is open and gets the ball and then he does his best work when he gets the ball and then he can move in space against the defense. So I would definitely think he’s a slot receiver as opposed to Outside.
Sidhu: What about his performances that you reported on? Is there a particular game or moment or play that really stands out?
Harrison: Without question, I remember sitting in the Rose Bowl press box when he received 337 yards. It’s ridiculous to even consider a receiver flying 330 yards through the air, but that was the best performance I’ve seen from a wide receiver. And by the way, CJ Stroud tossed him. Just that game alone, we talked about that again, he would catch the ball, break up and he wouldn’t overdo it. He caught the ball, found those seam routes and made everyone miss him and go into the end zone.
The one track I remember the most, there are actually two of them. He caught the ball and then had a guy behind him and he got caught from behind, but he armed the Utah defender with stiff arms for about 15 yards and got into the end zone. It also tells you what kind of strength he has. And then the other one is just a ridiculous catch he made right in the corner of the end zone and he just fell out of the sky right on the side of the end zone and somehow he was able to hold out- adjust his eyes a minute and catch the ball, make the catch and actually get two feet inbounds and then pushed out. That was actually the game-winning score. So just an incredible ability to adapt to a guy draped right on top of him.