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Instant reaction: Jaxon Smith-Njigba will be a real-life and fantasy football asset as a rookie

JSN landed in a great spot, with limited pressure but plenty of opportunity.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jaxon Smith-Njigba was selected 20th overall by the Seattle Seahawks during last night’s NFL Draft, making him the third (technically fourth) former Buckeye wideout taken in the first 20 picks of the draft since... last year, which seems impressive and noteworthy. JSN, of course, followed in the footsteps of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave — as well as Jameson “Parlay” Williams, whether Bama fans like it or not — who were taken with picks 10, 11, and 12 of the 2022 draft.

And Marvin Harrison Jr. is likely to join the above pass catchers (as high picks) in 2024; something Ohio State offensive coordinator Brian Hartline should probably highlight and/or italicize on his resume if he were ever to enter the job market. However, that seems unlikely given the fact that the finest sculptors in Ohio are currently working on his statue to be placed outside The Woody.

But let’s get back to JSN. When healthy, his production is unmatched. And his natural receiving ability is at least on par with that of his Buckeye brethren. So it should have come as no surprise that he was taken with a premium draft pick despite playing less than 100 snaps in 2022. And it should not catch fans, media types, or fellow NFL players off guard if/when he puts up gaudy stats as a rookie in 2023. After all, he did outshine Olave and Wilson when all three shared the field in Columbus and was at least part of the reason Williams sought opportunity elsewhere. You could make a reasonable argument that JSN is the best of the bunch, and we’re talking about the top two rookie WR in football last year, as well as the Detroit Lions’ most exciting offensive prospect since... Calvin Johnson?

Now, I am not saying that JSN is destined to put up HOF numbers or even win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2023. But I am willing to place a wager on the latter, in addition to targeting him relatively early in fantasy football drafts. Not only because of his special talent but also because of the situation in which he now finds himself. Flanked by DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett!? All aboard the JSN fantasy hype train, baby. Choo choo!

My first thought is that as long as he is healthy, JSN should immediately become the Seahawks’ starting slot receiver. Yes, Lockett has manned the position quite often, but the eight-year vet is equally adept at playing outside. Lockett also... how shall I say it? Is not a big fan of taking hits over the middle, so he is likely more than willing to pass the crown.

But if Seattle prefers to start Lockett in the slot, then I believe JSN would or should have little trouble finding success as an outside option. Because while some say the former Buckeye lacks explosiveness and/or jump-ball ability, I vehemently disagree. He may not run a 4.29 forty like Tyreke Hill or tower over defenders a la Mike Evans, but there are plenty of all-world WR who share a similar build and similar testing numbers to those put up by JSN at Ohio State’s pro day.

Smith-Njigba measured 6-foot-1, 196 pounds at the NFL Combine, excelled in the 3-cone drill and shuttle run while in Indy (99th percentile for both), and later ran a 4.48 forty during his pro day. The latter, while surely not Olympic-level, is more than enough to get by on any football field. And as previously mentioned, his change-of-direction drill results were off the chart(s). So it’s almost as if he might possess the ability to get open and/or separate from defenders. Imagine that. For comparison purposes, here are measurements and 40-yard dash results for some of the best WR in the NFL. All of whom can, and do, play outside with regularity:

Justin Jefferson — 6’1”, 195 lbs, 4.43 seconds
Ja’Marr Chase — 6 ft, 201 lbs, 4.38 seconds
Stefon Diggs — 6 ft, 191 lbs, 4.46 seconds
DeVonta Smith — 6 ft, 170 lbs, 4.48 seconds
Davante Adams — 6’1”, 215 lbs, 4.42 seconds

Ok, so I got a little ambitious by including Adams, who for my money is the best WR in football. But you get my point, right? In today’s NFL, productive pass catchers come in all shapes and sizes. And they line up all over the field, regardless of stature. So JSN should not be restricted to the slot just because he lined up there 90 percent of the time as a Buckeye. He also cooked defenders on the outside from time to time and is already a polished route runner.

Other than team fit and the fact that he resembles a few successful wideouts, why else am I bullish on JSN’s real-world and fantasy football potential? I’m glad you asked. I’ll keep going. My main reason for optimism, besides his record-setting 2021 season, is recent rookie performance. Look at the names above. Then remember for a second who JSN played with in Columbus. Jefferson, Chase, Olave, and Wilson all hit the ground running as rookies. As did Amon-Ra St. Brown and CeeDee Lamb, both of whom have been popular JSN comps.

Wide receivers who legitimately excel at getting open and catching the ball generally find success regardless of age, size, or speed. Their transition to the professional game is certainly aided – and their ceiling potentially dictated – by such factors, but it is no longer just the Randy Moss-types putting up ridiculous stats right away. That is why I have all the confidence in the world that JSN can replicate some of these other guys’ numbers. He may not be 6’4” or run a 4.33, but he possesses elite skill(s). And skill is going to give the former Buckeye a much greater advantage than having 1-2 inches of height over an opposing defensive back.

So how good could JSN actually be in 2023? Well, it’s waaaaaaaay too early to make any bold predictions. But I do feel confident saying that the OSU record-breaker is at least capable of matching his former teammates’ 2022 production. Wilson totaled 83 catches for 1,103 yards and 4 touchdowns on his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, while Olave put up a 72/1,042/4 stat line. If JSN were to split the difference, he would finish his rookie campaign with 78/1,073/4.

And how does that translate to fantasy football? A player with 78/1,073/4 line would have finished as WR22 last season... Right between Wilson (21) and Olave (23).

Is it time to bet the farm on JSN becoming NFL OROTY and/or a top-25 fantasy WR? No, not yet. But recent results are trying to tell us something. So feel free to throw out reckless predictions, jump into some dynasty drafts, and get your hopes up. Because JSN might just be that good, and we have little reason to believe otherwise.