This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Position: Wide receiver
School: Ohio State
Height/Weight: 6-1, 200
Hometown: Rockwall, Texas
(Below is a portion of Deepi Sidhu's interview with Phil Harrison, beat reporter for USA Today's Buckeyes Wire.)
Sidhu: It wouldn't be a draft prospect series, Phil, if we didn't talk about some Ohio State wide receivers, because I feel like it's Wide Receiver U, especially over the past few years. This year is no exception with WR Jackson Smith-Njigba. What separates him from some of the other Ohio State wide receivers you've seen in the past?
Harrison: Ohio State has had a run of wide receivers here and had two first rounders taken last year between Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Both of them could have won Rookie of the Year and, of course, Wilson did. Both are really good wide receivers but, believe it or not, the year that all three of them were playing together, Jackson Smith-Njigba led the team in receiving. So we had two first rounders and Smith-Njigba had 1600 yards of receiving offense on that team, better than Olave and better than Wilson.
Now, what sets him apart? He's not the fastest guy. He doesn't get down the field. He's been invited to the NFL Combine, I don't know what he's going to do at it, but his 40-time probably won't be great for a wide receiver. He's not going to break the gun, but his ability to accelerate out of his routes and to gain separation in the middle of the field and then his ability after the catch to make guys miss kind of in a subtle way, he's kind of moving forward and making guys miss. Just his vision, really sets him apart and then he makes unbelievable catches. I mean, his ability to use his hands and go up in traffic is second to none. Again, he doesn't outrun people, but he just finds separation like in the middle of the field and then uses his hands in contested catches. So I think it says a lot to know that he ended up outperforming, if you will, two first rounders when he played and was healthy.
Sidhu: Where does he fit into an NFL offense, deep threat or slot receiver? Where would you put him?
Harrison: I put him in slot. I mean, that's where he was at Ohio State. And again, just to mention, he's not going to really take the top off of the defense because he's not a burner, fast enough, more than adequate but he's not a burner that's going to just go down the field on seam routes. In the middle of the field and in traffic, separates from his competition to where he's open and gets the ball and then he does his best work when he gets the ball and then he's able to make moves in space against the defense. So I would definitely think he's a slot receiver as opposed to outside.
Sidhu: What about his performances that you've covered, is there a particular game or moment or play that really stands out?
Harrison: Without question, I remember sitting in the Rose Bowl press box, when he had 337 yards receiving. That's ridiculous to even think about a receiver getting 330 yards through the air but that was the best performance I've ever seen from a wide receiver, ever, ever. And by the way, C.J. Stroud was throwing to him. Just that game alone, it was again what we talked about, he would catch the ball, separate and he wasn't going over the top. He was catching the ball, finding those seam routes and making everybody miss and getting into the endzone.
The one play that I remember the most, there are actually two of them. He caught the ball and then had a guy trailing and he did get caught from behind, but he stiff-armed the Utah defensive back for about 15 yards and got into the end zone. It goes to tell you what kind of strength he has as well. And then the other one is just a ridiculous catch that he made where it was in the very corner of the endzone, and it just dropped out of the sky, right on the side of the end zone and somehow, he was able to last-minute adjust his eyes and catch the ball, make the catch and get actually two feet inbounds and then pushed out of bounds. That was actually the game-tying score. So just an unbelievable ability to adjust with a guy draped right on him.