In 2021, Jaxon Smith-Njigba comfortably outpaced future first-round draft pick teammates Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in receptions-per-game and yards-per-game. Despite that season being his lone breakout season due to a stacked receiver room his freshman season and an injury-riddled junior season, JSN’s former teammates and coaches haven’t been shy about declaring Jaxon the best of the three.
This shouldn’t be a shock after we saw JSN haul in 15 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns in his last full game of action.
More recently, he’s been considered the only first-round graded receiver in the 2023 class by multiple NFL teams, according to Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy. This happened after Smith-Njigba answered a few questions at the NFL Combine and his pro day by running a 4.48 40-yard dash at 196 lbs and recording blazing times in both the shuttle (3.93 sec) and three-cone drill (6.57).
Due to his ability to get open out of the slot without dazzling top-end speed, NFL.com’s veteran rookie prospect grader, Lance Zierlein, comped JSN to Jarvis Landry.
But wait, isn’t Landry’s success considered an anomaly by the consensus of the NFL community? Yes. Take Zierlein’s comp as an assumption of JSN’s future production if anything, because the profiles of the two receivers are extreme opposites in multiple ways.
Performing in the elite percentile range of the 3-cone drill and the 20 Yard Shuttle exemplifies great short-area quickness, and has largely correlated to the success of slot receivers, which is a role that JSN has written his name all over. A look through past great slot receivers sees very few who didn’t smash in those areas, including Randall Cobb and another anomaly, Wes Welker.
Research by PFF and Bleacher Report unintentionally serves as a reminder to be mindful of how diverse the pool of skills can be for successful wide receivers. These reports cover the entire wide receiver position, which skews the importance of short-area quickness that slot receivers generally need to succeed, which the outside guys don’t necessarily need to rely on.
JSN profiles as a player who will make his living in the slot, and has the skill set to enable him to be elite at it. Looking ahead to which NFL teams would be best served to draft a promising slot WR in the first round, we can focus on how these teams’ situations could affect Jaxon’s fantasy value.
PICK 12, HOUSTON TEXANS
Many mocks have the Texans taking a defensive player to fill a big need up front, but their wide receiver room is one of the worst in the league. To make life more comfortable for whichever quarterback they land at 2 (sans a ha-a-a-ard pivot), JSN can make life easier, and make a case to be the most productive receiver on the team immediately, even if that doesn’t immediately mean eye-popping fantasy numbers.
PICK 14, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Belichick era of drafting receivers has been borderline surreal, probably best explained in this 2021 piece by The Ringer:
“The list of players they could have had instead is stomach-churning. Yes, we’re benefiting from hindsight here, but even if we just pick an objective measure, like focusing on the first or second receivers selected after the Patriots drafted a receiver, things look pretty bad: Anquan Boldin was the next receiver taken after Bethel Johnson; Greg Jennings was taken with the pick the Patriots traded to get Chad Jackson; Mike Wallace was taken one pick after Brandon Tate; Keenan Allen was taken two receivers after Aaron Dobson; and A.J. Brown was taken two receivers after N’Keal Harry (and we’re not even counting that the Patriots traded out of the slot Seattle used to select DK Metcalf). If we compare that group side-by-side with the receivers New England took … well, see for yourself:
— Patriots WRs drafted in Rounds 1-4 from 2003 to 2019 (combined careers): 209 catches for 2,709 yards, 22 touchdowns
— WRs New England could have had (combined careers): 2,959 catches for 40,015 yards and 266 touchdowns
The latter group has more touchdown catches than the former group has catches. Boldin, Wallace, Allen, and Jennings all individually surpassed what the Pats receivers accomplished collectively.”
The notable hits at receiver for New England were the aforementioned Welker and an undrafted, QB-turned-WR in Julian Edelman whose athletic profile mirrors JSN’s elite characteristics.
Considering Edelman’s profile aligns even closer to Pats legend Deion Branch, it would almost make too much sense for Jaxon to end up in New England. In this backward world, I would feel more comfortable if the Pats grabbed him as an undrafted free agent than a first-round pick.
Okay no I wouldn’t, but it would be kind of weird to see the next great Belichick slot receiver actually have correlating draft capital, and I think this is a scenario that can play out. Though free agent signing Juju Smith-Schuster is an option to man the slot, he ended up more productive on the outside when he was with the Chiefs last season. Both receivers can co-exist and have fantasy relevance now that instead of a defensive coordinator calling the plays, it’s Bill O’Brien, whose other season as OC in New England saw Welker get a career-high 1,569 receiving yards.
PICK 20, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
With Tyler Lockett entering his age-31 season, the ‘Hawks have to consider how to fill the hole he will eventually leave. JSN is as much of a slot receiver as DK Metcalf is an X receiver, and Metcalf’s ability to stretch defenses could leave a lot for Jaxon to feast on underneath.
This could mean hearty career production, but expecting Jaxon to be more than Seattle’s WR3 in ’23 seems lofty.
PICK 21, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Keenan Allen will be 31 years old before the season starts, and even if age wasn’t a factor, the Chargers’ WR room has been oft-injured. When everyone’s healthy, JSN enables more positional flexibility for Allen. And if one of Allen or Mike Williams is out, Jaxon has the ability to be their second-most productive receiver.
Long-term, landing with the Chargers could pay huge dividends with Justin Herbert running the offense. But like the Seahawks scenario, as long as Allen and Williams are on the field, JSN’s rookie year could be very rocky for fantasy. He could even be the fourth on the target totem pole, assuming Austin Ekeler is still in town.
PICK 22, BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Odell Beckham signing may address the WR room short-term, but the Ravens could certainly get deeper at the position (no matter who’s under center). Assuming Lamar Jackson is back, new offensive coordinator Todd Monken projects to air it out more than Greg Roman did, leaving a more optimistic but still unclear picture of how JSN’s fantasy production will shake out, now and in the near future.
Keep up with the 2023 Fantasy Rankings and Big Board to help monitor where all the incoming rookies’ fantasy value will land after the post-NFL Draft dust settles.