- Wide receiver
- Current Team
- Ohio State Buckeyes
Jaxon Smith-Njigba 2023 Fantasy Football Rookie Profile
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a junior wide receiver prospect from Ohio State University. While technically playing three seasons with the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba battled injuries during his freshman and junior seasons, in which he played a total of only 10 games. In those 10 games, he caught 15 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. From a production profile standpoint, it was Smith-Njigba’s fully healthy sophomore season that has him poised to be a first-round draft pick, the first WR off the board in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft and the rookie WR1 for most in dynasty fantasy football formats.
Smith-Njigba exploded in that sophomore campaign, catching 95 of 112 targets for 1,606 yards and nine TDs. The 95 catches and 1,606 receiving yards were both single-season school records at a college known for producing elite WR talent. He also put up these monster numbers sharing the field with 2022 first-round draft picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Two metrics where Smith-Njigba did not put up elite numbers in 2021 were target share (22.7 percent) and College Dominator (26 percent). These are both team market share statistics, but should not be weighed too heavily based on the talent he was sharing the field with.
Smith-Njibga checks many boxes in some of the more predictive metrics. “Best season” statistics are commonly used when analyzing college production profiles, and in Smith-Njigba’s case, it makes the most sense since he missed so much time due to injury outside of his sophomore year. His best season yards per team play of 1.76 was easily the highest in the 2023 WR class. It was also among WRs drafted in the first round, the second-highest since 2015 behind only DeVonta Smith. He had the second-highest best season receiving yards per team pass attempt (behind Josh Downs) and the third-highest best season “yards per route run” in this class.
The Agility Score is the sum of a player’s times in the shuttle and three-cone drills at the NFL Combine. Smith-Njigba’s score of 10.50 seconds is the lowest in at least the last 10 years. The only other player in that time to be below 10.60 was Brandin Cooks in 2014. This metric translates to short-area quickness and the ability to create yardage after the catch (before contact) and break tackles.
His 88 percent career slot rate has been used against him and does fit in the “cons” category. While history does not favor college WRs above an 80 percent slot rate, this should not be considered a negative. Smith-Njigba has the athleticism, route-running prowess and success rate across what would be considered a diverse route tree for a “slot-only” WR.
And, mostly from the slot, he still had the highest best season yards per target (14.3) in this class and a top-10 Yards Per Reception (YPR) of 16.9. Both of these are unheard of for slot WRs with an Average Depth of Target (aDOT) below 10, like Smith-Njigba. For reference, the rest of the top 10 players in YPR had an average slot rate of 17.1 percent. How is this possible?
The answer is Yards After Catch (YAC). His 8.3 YAC per reception is second in this class, behind only Quentin Johnston.
• Short area quickness and YAC
• High success rate versus man and zone coverage (according to Reception Perception)
• Excellent route runner with diverse route tree ability
• Projected ability to line up all over the field
• College production profile based on one season
• 80+ percent of routes out of the slot
• Lacks top-end power and speed
• Can struggle with drops
Jaxon Smith-Njigba Player Comparison
Keenan Allen (WR, Los Angeles Chargers)
Keenen Allen is approximately two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than Smith-Njigba, so this comparison might seem strange at first glance. But so many comparisons seem to start and stop with height and weight. I am taking this in a different direction. Both are savvy route runners who can get open quickly, which can be a QB’s best friend more often than not. Since Allen’s slot rate hit 50 percent for the first time in 2017, his average rate has been 55.5 percent. This is what I project Smith-Njigba’s usage to resemble in the NFL. He will still run out of the slot most of the time, but he’ll also line up wide off the line of scrimmage as the flanker. Like Allen, he likely won’t be asked to play the “X receiver” often.
Looking at data from Reception Perception (NFL data for Allen), Smith-Njigba’s success rate versus zone and man coverage and the percentage of routes facing those coverages are similar. Both excel versus man coverage, with Smith-Njigba’s college success rate versus zone coverage being better than Allen’s in the NFL. Both WRs also show success across similar route types. And although the sample size is small for Smith-Njigba, both have shown success versus press coverage. I can see Smith-Njigba settling into a role that earns a lot of targets but might leave some of us wanting in the TD department. He could be a perennial high-end WR2-low-end WR1, just like Allen has been during his healthy seasons.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba Fantasy Football Projection
Smith-Njigba is currently being projected as a mid-first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. He possesses the skillset and talent to be a team’s WR1, even if he continues to run most of his routes out of the slot and off the line. This will depend on landing spot. If he ends up on a team with an established WR1, that WR corps will instantly ascend to the upper echelon of NFL WR groups.
Even if the NFL surprises us with a different first WR selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, Smith-Njigba should be the first rookie WR drafted in both redraft and dynasty fantasy football formats. Like his former Buckeye teammates, Wilson and Olave, Smith-Njigba will be fantasy-relevant immediately. Depending on landing spot, he could be a good middle-round pick in redraft formats. Regardless of landing spot, he is a top-five pick in both one QB and superflex dynasty formats.
|Season||Team||Comp||Att||Yds||Rec||Rec Yds||TD||Int||Lng||Fum||Lost||G||GS||Avg||Rec Avg|
|2020-2021||Ohio State Buckeyes||0||0||0||10||49||1||0||0||0||0||7||0||0||4.9|
|2021-2022||Ohio State Buckeyes||0||0||0||95||1606||9||0||0||0||0||13||0||0||16.9|
|2022-2023||Ohio State Buckeyes||0||0||0||5||43||0||0||0||0||0||3||0||0||8.6|