Before the 2023 NFL Draft, I discussed the best possible fantasy fits for Jaxon Smith-Njigba, as well as what justifies hype for him as a high-ceiling slot receiver. Now that we know his home is in Seattle, let’s dive in more about why the Seahawks were an ideal landing spot, to begin with.
In that previous article, you’ll find the traits of elite short-area quickness, and if you hadn’t heard it already, all the rumblings that JSN is better than Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, said by Olave and Wilson themselves. After the Seahawks used the 20th pick in the draft to secure Smith-Njigba’s services, we now get to see the prospects of adding him to Seattle’s receiver room realized and get a better idea of what we can expect for fantasy production.
SURROUNDING TALENT: QUARTERBACK
Jaxon joins forces with Geno Smith, who boasted the NFL’s highest completion percentage in 2022 (69.8%).
More particularly, Geno excelled in not just the deep game (passes over 20 yards), but the short game as well (passes between 0-9 yards). He most certainly did not excel, however, in the intermediate (10-19 yards) and behind the line-of-scrimmage areas. Out of quarterbacks who threw at least 30 passes last year, Geno’s PFF grades rank as follows:
Deep throws — grade of 99.2, 1st out of 29
Intermediate — 59.6, 36th out of 41
Short — 77.7, 6th out of 55
Behind LOS — 61.3, 30th out 35
Whatever the reason he’s hot in some areas and cold in others, he performed similarly in a limited sample size with The Seahawks in 2021, when he started 3 games. In fact, before his tenure with the Jets went south, Geno’s effective deep ball accuracy was pointed out early in his career:
SURROUNDING TALENT: WIDE RECEIVERS
So Geno can chuck it deep, sweet. We know that DK Metcalf can get it done deep, and at 30 years old, Tyler Lockett showed no signs of slowing down, catching 10 of his 19 deep attempts for 304 yards and six touchdowns, earning a 98.8 PFF grade, which was his highest-graded area of the field.
All that field-stretching leaves a ton of room for Smith-Njigba, who projects as a slot at the NFL level. Even though he may not be able to turn on the jets like Lockett or Metcalf, Luke Easterling of Athlon Sports summarizes what justified his first-round draft capital:
“Whatever he might lack in straight-line speed, Smith-Njigba more than makes up for with his route-running prowess, as his combination of physical quickness, technique, and intelligence make him nearly uncoverable when he was fully healthy in 2021,” Easterling said.
This isn’t to say JSN won’t be able to contribute in the deep game. His elite PFF grades during his last full season in 2021 are actually highlighted by a perfect 99.9 score in the medium and deep areas. Straight to the point, Jaxon explained to reporters what he does best as a receiver:
“I get open,” he said.
Seattle would arguably be the landing spot with the highest ceiling for JSN, if it wasn’t for the massive amount of aerial pie that Metcalf and Lockett consume. Since DK came into the league in 2019, those two have routinely hit triple-digit target marks for the year, while WR3s have averaged only 40.75 targets per year.
But none of those WR3s, Marquise Goodwin, David Moore, or D’Wayne Eskridge, profile as a complete receiver like Smith-Njigba. Only JSN has been praised for the most important part of a receiver’s game: route running.
The question is less about whether or not he’s talented enough to demand a bigger aerial pie than 40.75 targets-per-season, but rather whether Lockett and Metcalf are too talented to give up a valuable portion of their piece of the pie.
COACHING AND OFFENSIVE SCHEME
If Smith-Njigba is to command 70-80 targets, it appears more likely that he gets them because a) age does start creeping up on Lockett, or b) JSN eats from the tight end’s slice of the pie. Last season, the TE position accounted for 136 targets, and 24.6 percent of Seattle’s total targets ranked seventh in the league. That’s the highest it’s been since 2017 and in no year in between did they rank higher than 15th. So, Pete Carroll and company clearly aren’t committed to prioritizing targeting the tight end position.
Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has struggled to rekindle the magic that saw Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks all produce WR2 numbers in fantasy while he was the Rams passing game coordinator in 2018. To be fair, that was the last year of peak Todd Gurley and by the end of the year, defenses had caught up with the Rams’ offensive scheme by running an unusual 6-1 defense to confuse Jared Goff.
With the offense trending up from where it was in Waldron’s first year as OC in ’21, perhaps it can trend toward three fantasy-relevant wide receivers once again. The Ohio State product is the first receiver in the Waldron-era that the Seahawks drafted before the seventh round, let alone JSN’s first-round capital.
The Rams’ offense in 2018 peppered the wide receiver position with 362 targets (which pro-rates to 385 targets for a 17-game regular season), the fifth-highest targeting percentage in the league that year. Now that there is undeniably legitimate talent at Seattle’s WR3 spot, each of Lockett, Metcalf, and JSN can average 100 targets between for the year.
After years of prime Marshawn Lynch, then followed by Brian Schottenheimer’s tenure as OC, the ‘Hawks gained a reputation as one of the most run-heavy teams in the league. In Waldron’s two seasons, their run play percentage has been the 13th and 20th-highest in the NFL. Not only does the addition of second-round pick Zach Charbonnet complement Kenneth Walker III and imply Seattle’s commitment to a run-pass balance, but it also speaks to their prioritizing of offensive skill positions, giving them an arsenal of weapons that leaves Waldron without excuses. The talent is now there to keep the arrow pointing up in a division that features the 49ers.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FOR FANTASY?
JSN is in a position to be the first fantasy-relevant WR3 for Seattle in… a while. It’s hard enough for teams to sport three fantasy-relevant receivers in general, let alone a team with a history like the Seahawks. WR2 numbers seem lofty in 2023, but Jaxon could realistically see WR3/FLEX numbers out of the gate. As a late-round flier in redraft leagues, his production could be volatile at first, becoming modest, but more consistent as the year goes on. Any breakout games will probably be the kind that are infrequent enough that he won’t be in starting fantasy lineups when it happens. Metcalf and Lockett are just too talented to expect them to be leapfrogged this year.
For dynasty, an early first-round rookie pick is warranted. Consider yourself fortunate to find a willing trade partner who will trade out of that early spot at market value. Age will catch up with Lockett at some point and the Seahawks also have a potential out in his contract in 2024. As JSN gets acclimated to the pros, he could potentially become a top-two receiver on the Seahawks even if Lockett’s age wasn’t a factor. The post-Russell Wilson-era Seahawks have the tools to emphasize the aerial attack, unlike the majority of Pete Carroll’s run-heavy tenure. With signs that they will continue a balanced approach, JSN’s future prospects as a consistent WR2 are promising, and if his ability to get open in college does transfer to the pros, he can become Seattle’s alpha-WR and challenge yearly for fantasy WR1 numbers, alongside Metcalf. JSN slides in at No. 3 overall on The Wolf’s 2023 Rookie Rankings.
Keep an eye on our 2023 Fantasy Rankings as the offseason progresses and The Wolf updates his rankings and accompanying player notes.
WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS
“Overall, Smith-Njigba isn’t an elite size/speed athlete and won’t be an ideal fit for every role, but he is a crafty route runner with smooth short-area quickness and tracking talent to be a surehanded target. He projects as an early NFL starter who is at his best in the slot,” summarized Dane Brugler of The Athletic.