Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was unavailable for most of this past season, due to what was designated as a lingering hamstring injury, is potentially the top wideout prospect in this NFL Draft class.
He only had five catches for 43 yards in 2022, but he still holds the FBS Bowl Game and Ohio State single game record for receiving yards with 347 in the 2022 Rose Bowl (after the 2021 season). He also holds Ohio State records for most catches in a single game with 15 (twice) and most receiving yards in a single season with 1,606 during the 2021 season.
He’s also drawn comparisons to Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl wide receiver Justin Jefferson. So where does this next star-in-the-making go this April? Well, as is well-documented, the Baltimore Ravens have some major issues at this position.
They enter the 2022 season finale against division rival Cincinatti as touchdown underdogs, according to the odds to the odds at Betway. No doubt some of that consumer sentiment has to do with the Ravens’ issues in the passing game.
“The Ravens haven’t been shy about drafting receivers (eight over the past five drafts, including two first-rounders), but they really need one to work out long-term.” said ESPN’s Jordan Reid.
“Over the past three seasons, Baltimore is last in the NFL in WR receiving yards by a good margin (5,551, more than 800 yards shy of the next-worst team).
“After playing mostly in the slot during his career with the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba is an ideal fit here in a pass offense centered around concepts built off the run game.
“Smith-Njigba only appeared in three games this season after battling a hamstring injury, but he went for more than 1,600 yards in 2021.”
Northwestern defensive back A.J. Hampton, in the lead-up to NU’s loss at home to Ohio State in November, discussed going up against Jaxon-Smith Ngijba and company.
“They have a lot of good guys in their wide receiver room,” he said.
“I feel like one thing that really jumps out about him is I feel like he has really good hands and is really good in the route tree. He does all the little things right, which I feel like is something you really like to see in a wide receiver.
“At the end of the day, we’ve played these guys before. 2020, and even my freshman year in 2018, they’ve always had guys like this. It really just kind of depends on us and how our preparation goes, because I don’t really think he does anything too crazy, but he just does things a lot better than a lot of the other wide receivers in college football right now.”
While Northwestern lost, at least they covered the spread that day, and their secondary kept the Buckeyes throw game in check. A.J. Hampton saw that coming.
“I think as a secondary room, we match up very well,” he said on Monday.
“We play them every year, and praise to them, they’re a great team — I’m not taking anything from them. I think what we need to do first is take a step back. It started today in practice: it started in film, just looking at our breakdown, just doing the little things right. I feel like going into the game as a secondary, we’ve gotta play with that fire.
“We have a lot of good young talent and we’ve got some seasoned vets, too. I think the biggest thing we’ve done is just to trust ourselves and…just go out there and have fun.
The wind was definitely their 12th man today, as it led to Stroud making some terrible throws. But Hampton continued:
“I’m not taking any respect from them because they’re great wide receivers, but at the end of the day, I’m talking more about myself and about my teammates. I know what me and Cam [Mitchell] have done.
“I know what some of my younger teammates, Theran [Johnson] and all of them, have done. Personally, I think it’s gonna be a great week and a great challenge.”
Getting back to Smith-Ngijba, maybe this injury-riddled season will hurt his NFL Draft stock. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe he needs to return to the field and dominate in 2022. Or maybe his Pro Day and Scouting Combine in 2023 will speak for itself.
Certainly, his statistics, accomplishments and resume speak volumes in regard to his talent and abilities.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.