After a stellar NFL Combine solidified that Jaxon Smith-Njigba is healthy and ready to go at the NFL level (posting the best times at the Combine in both the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle), there has been much chatter around whose jersey we’ll see him in this fall.
This year might look different than recent NFL Drafts, which saw multiple wide receivers drafted in rapid succession in the top 10. Instead, it seems like JSN, who is projected (though it’s FAR from solidified) to be the first WR to get picked, will be picked outside of the top 10. This changes the prediction game a bit, adding a little bit of intrigue.
Right now, several teams are being tossed around as likely to be seriously considering JSN as their first-round pick. The Houston Texans (12th pick), Green Bay Packers (13th pick), New England Patriots (14th pick) and New York Jets (15th pick) have all been discussed at length as strong contenders for where JSN will wind up.
Since JSN deserves the best in his professional career and all teams are not equal, let’s unpack how he would fare with each of these teams (I am absolutely ignoring any rumor/discussion of the Bears trading down and picking JSN. As a Bears fan who has seen what they’ve done to our beloved Justin Fields, JSN deserves better and I can’t abide that kind of talk).
The Texans have two picks in the top 15, and thank goodness for them as they have so many holes to fill on the field. Their primary need is at quarterback, and it’s expected they’ll use their No. 2 pick to draft one. Now, Texans GM Nick Caserio is still claiming they might not use any of their draft picks on a quarterback, even hinting that they could trade their No. 2 pick away. If this is the case, I hope to God JSN ends up elsewhere because that man has done nothing to deserve an offense with a struggling Davis Mills at the helm.
But assuming Caserio’s bluffing and they do take a quarterback at No. 2, there’s a lot they can do with that No. 12 pick. In a year where they really need to rebuild their offense, they have a good opportunity to nab a few key players early in the draft.
The Texans will need a wide receiver — the question becomes whether they use their 12th pick to grab one. To some extent, it could come down to which quarterback they take at that No. 2 spot (which would impact the style of offense they develop).
The Panthers, who traded the Bears to get the No. 1 pick, are widely expected to draft Bryce Young at QB, which leaves C.J. Stroud as a possibility for the Texans. While Will Levis and Anthony Richardson would also be in contention, the idea of keeping Stroud and JSN together opens up an interesting possibility. We already know they have good chemistry and rapport, so this could be a strong start to rebuilding for the Texans.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers seem to believe in quarterback Jordan Love so much they just sent Aaron Rodgers over to the Jets (more on this later), so it would make sense for them to nab a few offensive weapons for Love. Given that they are in need of a wide receiver to complement Christian Watson, it would make sense for them to try to grab Smith-Njigba. Still, the last time the Packers took an offensive skill position player in the first round was Javon Walker, all the way back in 2002. They’ve been criticized for this, of course, relying heavily on Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to do the heavy lifting for their offenses. Who’s to say what kind of dynasty they could be running had they surrounded Favre or Rodgers with more weapons? Plus, the Lions’ coverage of Watson in Week 18 of last season kept the Packers out of the playoffs and exposed their need for more options.
Maybe they’ll do things differently with Love. Smith-Njigba did take a post-Combine meeting with the Packers and said he was impressed at their desire for more offensive playmakers. If this is the case, JSN might be the move for them. But I still won’t believe they’ll pull the trigger on an offensive skill position player until I see it with my own two eyeballs. Also, I reject this spiritually as a Bears fan who does not want to see JSN end up in a Green and Gold jersey.
New England Patriots
For a franchise that was an offensive dynasty in recent memory, the Patriots are feeling underwhelming. They struggled with offensive play calling last season, they lacked anyone with real star power, and they really need to give Mac Jones something to work with. They could use an edge rusher, and to that end, JSN would make sense. With that said, they signed WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to a $33 million, three-year deal, and for as much as they could benefit from an edge rusher, they could benefit from other weapons more. They could use an edge rusher. They are desperate for an offensive lineman, and they’d have several to choose from at this point in the game.
It would shock me if Belichick traded up for a receiver given the offensive line needs, and I don’t realistically see JSN going to the Pats. Even if the Pats don’t take an OL, a linebacker or cornerback would probably make more sense given the caliber of offenses they’ll face all season in the AFC East.
New York Jets
The Jets would be a fascinating place for JSN to wind up, now that they’ve got Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Having traded down their draft pick to get Rodgers, it’s unlikely JSN will still be unselected by the time the Jets get around to making their pick, and even if he is, the Jets have a pretty solid receiver lineup with Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman Jr., and Corey Davis. With that said, adding JSN as an edge rusher would give Rodgers multiple outside options in Wilson and Smith-Njigba, which would be absolute gangbusters for Rodgers.
We already know Wilson and Smith-Njigba can play off each other from their time at Ohio State, and it would give Rodgers the flexibility to do real damage with the Jets’ offense. It creates additional firepower AND it allows Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly, something that has immediate benefits for the Jets but could also extend Rodgers’ career and make him more valuable to the franchise. Overall, JSN would be a great fit with the Jets’ offense and would do well with a veteran QB behind him.
Of all the places Smith-Njigba could wind up, he would be best equipped for a successful career at the Texans if they also grab Stroud and proceed to build an offense around the pair. Otherwise, let’s cross our fingers and hope he winds up with the Jets, where Rodgers will make the most of the weapon that JSN will be as a pro athlete!