clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Buckeyes in the NFL: 2023 Fantasy Football Preview — Jaxon Smith-Njigba

There are several mouths to feed in Seattle, but this is nothing new for JSN. Look for him to find immediate success in the NFL, while reminding us all of his special talent.

Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

After his special and record-setting 2021 season, capped off by a Rose Bowl performance for the ages, Jaxon Smith-Njigba was viewed as a mortal lock to be/become a first round NFL Draft pick. That was, of course, until the very first game of Ohio State’s 2022 season, during which JSN suffered a nasty hamstring injury. The injury would go on to wreck his entire ’22 season and put into question both his draft stock and status.

JSN eventually declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, despite what had to be at least mild uncertainty. But he likely saw what was perceived to be a weak crop of wide receivers, as well as the opportunity in front of him, and decided that the gamble was worth the minimal risk. Said gamble paid off, as JSN was drafted No. 20 overall by the Seattle Seahawks. He kicked off a run of four consecutive WR picks, by landing with a team that boasts a firm foundation and plenty of coaching/front office continuity.

Now he will look to make both a real life and fantasy impact in the Emerald City, much like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson – his former teammates and fellow Buckeye brethren – did as rookies before him.

Seattle already had DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in the fold prior to drafting JSN, but being (at least) third on a depth chart is nothing new to the latter. He was listed behind Olave and Wilson on Ohio State’s depth chart in 2021, and all he did was go on to lead the Buckeyes in receptions and receiving yards by a wide, wide margin... That Rose Bowl performance helped a bit, sure. But JSN was a star with or without those other guys in the lineup. So I am not concerned about his ability to fit in and stand out at the same time.

What does concern me, at least from a fantasy perspective, is Seattle quarterback Geno Smith. Nothing against the 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, but he was a backup for six years. Then poof, out of nowhere, he enjoys the best season of his career – by far! – at age 32. His comeback is/was an awesome, phenomenal story, but are we sure that he did not just capture lightning in a bottle?

I worry about his ability to keep several mouths fed now that JSN is in town. Especially given the fact that Seattle’s third-leading receiver (actual WR, not TE) last season finished with 27 catches for 387 yards, on only 42 targets. Conversely, Metcalf and Lockett combined for 258 targets.

That being said, JSN is a major theoretical upgrade over Marquis Goodwin, the Seahawks’ former WR3 (no offense). So the former should absolutely eat into the target share of both Metcalf and Lockett, provided the former Buckeye is healthy. Some might disagree, and argue that JSN are Lockett are redundant, but to those people I would say: Not so fast, my friend.

Because although Lockett has the appearance of a shifty slot receiver, he is arguably more effective as a deep threat. And he hasn’t exactly shown a proclivity or fondness for operating in the middle of the field, where JSN makes a killing. Sure, the rookie from OSU can go deep and makes plays outside as well, but his immediate (and perhaps more essential for SEA) impact might be as a YAC guy.

Ohio State fans saw what JSN could do as a slot receiver two years ago, and I expect that be his primary role in 2023. With Metcalf battling the opposing team’s top corner and Lockett acting as a home run threat, there should be plenty of opportunities for JSN to work underneath. But this former Buckeye is more than ‘just’ a prototypical slot receiver, as pointed out in my last paragraph. Although he may not be the fastest guy on the field, he is an expert at finding space and then making people miss in said space. And JSN’s hands are always going to set him apart from most, as will his ability to make contested catches.

However, I would still caution fantasy football players to proceed with... umm, caution... when it comes to drafting JSN. Because most do not anticipate the same level of production as say an Olave or Wilson in his (JSN’s) rookie season. Not with two proven guys ahead of him and a QB who has just one solid season under his belt (out of nine played).

I would even go as far as to say that I am not confident JSN will outscore other WRs taken after him in the first round of the 2023 draft. I certainly love his long-term upside more than all the rest, but Quentin Johnston (pick No. 21) gets to play alongside stud QB Justin Herbert and two oft-injured WRs in Los Angeles, Zay Flowers (No. 22) is a burner on a team looking to throw the ball more in Baltimore, and Jordan Addison (No. 23) faces little competition for the WR2 spot in Minnesota.

All three (arguably) find themselves in a better situation than JSN, even if they lag behind in terms of talent.

But if you want to draft based solely on said talent or upside, then JSN is your guy. And he has always been my guy, so I will definitely be targeting him in drafts at some point. I especially love him in dynasty leagues because I believe that he will become or develop into WR1-A in Seattle once Lockett moves on or gets released for cap purposes, which could happen as soon as next offseason.

For now though, JSN is and should be a mid-round target. His current ADP is just inside the top-100, and that feels about right. FantasyPros has him as the consensus No. 39 WR, which is three spots behind where Deebo Samuel finished last season. So it’s not like anybody is projecting the rookie to be a bust.

I believe that JSN has top-70 upside in 2023, however, fantasy owners need to have realistic expectations. Just look at Marquise Goodwin’s 2022 target share if you need a reminder of what his floor could be. Draft with caution. And if you end up with the next, immediately successful, former Buckeye pass catcher in the seventh or eighth round, then consider that a major draft victory.