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Jaxon Smith-Njigba
NFL Combine

Jaxon Smith-Njigba Not Running 40-Yard Dash Isn’t A Big Deal

  • Justin Melo
  • March 3, 2023
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Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba won’t run the 40-yard dash on Saturday, he told reporters during Friday’s NFL Scouting Combine media session. Smith-Njigba will participate in every other athletic drill, including the broad jump, vertical jump, and three-cone. Smith-Njigba will run the 40 at Ohio State’s Pro Day (3/22). 

It’s unfortunate that Smith-Njigba won’t run in Indianapolis, but his decision is understandable given the circumstances. Smith-Njigba only appeared in three contests throughout the 2022 campaign due to recurring hamstring injuries. Smith-Njigba explained that he’s been 100% healthy for approximately two weeks. Waiting until Ohio State’s Pro Day will give Smith-Njigba another three weeks to practice the 40. In 2021, a healthy Smith-Njigba recorded team-highs in receptions (95) and receiving yards (1,606) with nine touchdowns despite playing alongside a pair of eventual first-round receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

Smith-Njigba still possesses an opportunity to continue gaining first-round momentum with this weekend’s workout. A positive three-cone result would highlight Smith-Njigba’s agility, body control, and ability to change direction. Smith-Njigba’s oily hips should be on display. Good results in the vertical and broad jump tests could showcase Smith-Njigba’s initial burst and explosiveness. Opportunities are still present without the 40.

It’s difficult to poke holes in Smith-Njigba’s arsenal, but long speed is a question that requires further addressing. A route-running technician, speed isn’t at the forefront of Smith-Njigba’s skill set. Smith-Njigba doesn’t have to perform a blazing 40 to satisfy NFL personnel members. A respectable time in the low-to-mid 4.5s would suffice.

Versatility is a selling point of Smith-Njigba’s game. Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day placed Smith-Njigba in advantageous positions pre-snap. Smith-Njigba routinely moved around Ohio State’s formation. He routinely enjoyed free releases from the slot, but also possessed the footwork necessary to defeat press coverage on the boundary.

“I can play inside and outside,” Smith-Njigba said on Friday. “Wherever they need me [to play], I can get it done.”

Smith-Njigba is an outstanding route-runner. Smith-Njigba utilizes body control and deceptive footwork to routinely create separation between himself and the defender. Smith-Njigba is a technically-refined receiver with a high-level comprehension of spatial awareness. Above all, Smith-Njigba understands that it’s these skills that make him a unique receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft.

“My creativity”, Smith-Njigba responded when asked about what makes him unique as a route-runner. “Reacting to the defender is a strong point in my game. I think I’m a top-five player in this class,” Smith-Njigba concluded.

Smith-Njigba is certainly in the mix to be the first receiver drafted alongside TCU’s Quentin Johnston, USC’s Jordan Addison, and Boston College’s Zay Flowers. Once the ball is released in his direction, Smith-Njigba secures targets with exceptional hands and ball skills at the catch point. Smith-Njigba is a decisive runner post-catch with excellent vision.

Smith-Njigba possesses an opportunity to check some boxes throughout the athletic drills he’s decided to participate in. Attention then quickly shifts to Ohio State’s Pro Day and Smith-Njigba’s 40-yard dash result. Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s evaluation remains a fluid process and there will be one final question for the draft’s most technically-gifted receiver to answer.

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Justin Melo