A certain, very online segment of the Ohio State fanbase got itself worked up into a bit of a tizzy today when as part of his final media availability of the week, Buckeye head football coach Ryan Day seemingly reversed course on his outlook for star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s return from a series of season-long hamstring injuries that first occurred in the opener against Notre Dame.
On a Zoom press conference, Day was asked if he was still expecting JSN to return this season, and while I’m not sure that the coach ever really previously said that he was expecting the WR back, his response made it seem like a return was even less likely than some had hoped it to be.
“I wouldn’t say expecting,” he said. “I’d probably say more hoping, but no update at this point.”
At the beginning of the month, the head coach had said that he was “absolutely” optimistic that Smith-Njigba would be back at some point this season, and JSN’s position coach Brian Hartline said that he had “a huge level of confidence“ that the best receiver in the country coming into the season would eventually be able to join the best receiver in the country during the season — Marvin Harrison Jr. — in an even more unguardable WR corps before season’s end.
I don’t want to get into a parsing of words here, especially because it has been shown to us time and time again that the Ohio State coaching staff is going to do everything in its power to keep full injury information from being disclosed publicly. So, for all we know, JSN could be in the starting lineup on Saturday against Maryland, or he could have already decided to shut it down. I don’t think either of those things is likely, but given the limited insight into injury situations coming from the program, it’s tough to ascertain what is ever really going on.
Cleveland.com’s Stephen Means reported a few weeks ago that JSN’s father said that the best-case scenario for his son’s return would be in the regular season finale against TTUN, but even a postseason appearance wasn’t guaranteed.
While none of us actually know much of anything about JSN’s injury, we do understand all of the particulars of the situation at large. He was nearly universally perceived to be the best receiver in college football coming into the season and one of the first WRs to be taken in the 2023 NFL draft. He’s also tried multiple times to come back from the hamstring injury, only to have his body betray him at every turn.
Hammies are tough to recover from; unless it is something that requires surgery — which multiple doctors, including reportedly the renowned Dr. James Andrews, have said his doesn’t — the only thing that can really help the healing is rest. So Jaxon’s in a tough spot, does he risk exacerbating the injury to try and get back to help his brothers achieve their goals, or does he play it safe, take his time and wait until the spring to prep for the draft?
Obviously, as a fan, I want to see him play for the Buckeyes again, but we don’t know the true severity of his injury, and far be it for me to profer an opinion about what is or isn’t the best decision for Smith-Njigba. So, I have arrived at a position of moving on from the idea of having JSN back in the rotation, while always holding on to the slightest sliver of hope that he could still return.
My grandfather always used to say, “Expect the worst, hope for the best,” and I think that’s what we have to do here. I know that we are all annoyed by the rash of injuries this season. My own opinions have certainly run the gamut on that topic, but at this point, the Buckeyes still have the best receiving corps in the sport, so if they were to get JSN back at anything approaching full strength ahead of The Game, that would just be gravy on top of the two-day leftover Thanksgiving turkey. And if it happens for the College Football Playoff, it would be the perfect present that got overlooked back behind the tree that we didn’t find until nearly a week later.
It doesn’t do any of us any good to actively worry about Smith-Njigba’s potential return. I think that odds are obviously trending in the negative direction, but that is purely from reading tea leaves, since none of us have any actual concrete information about what’s going on with his injury, and that’s totally fine. It behooves not only the Buckeyes to keep it close to the vest for potential competitive reasons, but by letting too much information get out there, it could potentially hurt his draft stock leading to long-term financial implications for JSN.
We have no idea if he’s going to return, and it doesn’t sound like Ryan Day does either. So, sit back, relax, root for the Buckeyes, and hope for the best, and who knows, if you’re good, maybe Santa will leave a JSN-sized present under your tree next month.