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The Comp Picks Series
Comp Picks is a season-long, weekly series that looks at the incoming rookie class from all angles, tying everything together with an NFL player comparison, or a combination of players, to contextualize upside and risk.
Junior, 6'0, 198 lbs
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a former five-star recruit and ranked as the fifth-best receiver in the 2020 class. He accumulated 5,384 receiving yards on 296 receptions and 63 touchdowns in his high school career in Rockwall, Texas, in one of the nation's most competitive classifications: Class 6A. Upon arrival at Ohio State University in 2020, Smith-Njigba had a quiet first year. He played in seven games, catching ten balls for 49 yards and a single touchdown. On the depth chart, he was behind three former first-round picks (Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jameson Williams), but he shined when given the opportunity in his second year. He led the Power 5 with 1,595 yards on 95 receptions, scoring nine touchdowns and overtaking Olave and Wilson as the top target in the Buckeyes' offense. He shined tremendously in the team's Rose Bowl game, in which Olave and Wilson sat out in favor of NFL Draft preparation, catching 15 balls for 336 yards and three touchdowns in one of the most dominant receiving performances of the year.
Smith-Njigba is considered one of the best receivers in the 2023 class, and his skill set is full of traits that translate well to the NFL level. His athleticism shines; his fluid hips and ankles consistently help to create separation, and his change-of-direction ability allows for a suddenness within his routes. He has quick, smooth feet within his routes and possesses a recognition and ability to manipulate leverage that creates visible separation. He is creative after the catch, albeit slightly slower than expected in the open field. He is shifty with the ball in his hands, and combining that with the vision he runs with makes it difficult to bring him to the ground. He is aggressive at the catch point, displaying an innate ability to win 50-50 balls and take advantage of mismatches. He is effective when tracking balls downfield, and his ability to create space at all three field levels will appeal to NFL evaluators.
Smith-Njigba possesses a unique blend of skills that allow for success, but he is not without flaws. The most prominent is play strength. A good press-man corner can push Smith-Njigba off his route, ruining timing and effectively taking him out of the play altogether. He also displays less natural hands than expected, attacking the ball with a short-armed form and occasionally catching with his body. That reality has caused occasional drop issues, which is something to keep an eye on in the 2022 college football season. Finally, most of his success in 2021 came from slot alignments. While this may be a product of the presence of Olave and Wilson, NFL evaluators will want to see Smith-Njigba succeed from an outside alignment before investing top-20 draft capital in the Buckeye.
The Comp Pick: D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
While some may feel this comparison is underwhelming, D.J. Moore has produced at an incredibly high level since entering the NFL in 2018. He accrued the 14th-most receiving yards through a player's first four years in NFL history. Smith-Njigba and Moore possess fantastic athleticism. The lateral agility Smith-Njigba has both within his routes and releases and after the catch is reminiscent of Moore, though Moore currently looks more fluid with the ball in his hands. They're similarly built, with just ten pounds separating the two. Moore is an aggressive attacker at the catch point, and Smith-Njigba has flashed similar ability. There are similarities in how they win on underneath routes, with quickness and footwork assisting in creating separation. Moore's early success in the NFL bodes well for Smith-Njigba, as the traits he displayed at Maryland proved to be translatable.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is an incredibly productive receiver that thrives out of the slot. He has natural hands and a good feel for cutting out tackling angles. His route running is advanced, and while press coverage can take him out of plays, another year in the weight room and developing release packages can make this a non-issue. He may not be an elite prospect like Ja'Marr Chase or Drake London from the past two drafts, but he profiles as a first-round draft pick and one of the best receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft. In rookie drafts, he currently projects as a top-six pick. If Smith-Njigba can prove an ability to win on the outside in 2022, he could cement himself as the top receiver in both the NFL Draft and rookie drafts.
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