Jaxon Smith-Njigba Profile
Watching a wide receiver at the top of his game is one of the best sites in football. And in Texan Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the Ohio State Buckeyes have a once-in-a-generation talent with some of the best hands in the business.
Here, we take a look at Smith-Njigba’s rise to the top, starting with his record-breaking feats at Rockwall High School in Dallas, Texas. We also look at some of the long-standing records that he shattered during his time with the Ohio State Buckeyes and what the future might hold when he makes a name for himself as an NFL wide receiver.
Life Before Football
Jaxon Smith-Njigba was born in Rockwall, Texas on Valentine’s Day, 2002. He spent his formative years in the Dallas metroplex area and played sports with his siblings and friends from a very early age. As well as football, Smith-Njigba played baseball, and his older brother Canaan Smith-Njigba forged a career for himself in MLB, representing the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although Jaxon enjoyed multiple sports, he spent much of his childhood harboring ambitions of making it as a pro footballer, even before attending high school.
Although a Texan native, Smith-Njigba is of half Sierra Leonean descent. His grandparents hail from the West African nation, and he’s one of several Ohio State football players who have African roots. Spending his entire childhood in Rockwall, the obvious place for Smith-Njigba’s schooling was Rockwall High School, but he couldn’t possibly imagine the name he would make for himself during his years as a junior and senior, thanks to his remarkable achievements on the football field as a young man.
A High School Legend
It’s fair to say that Smith-Njigba is one of the most productive receivers in the history of Texas high school football, and his performances as a senior at Rockwall High School are the stuff of legend. According to the record books, Smith-Njigba sits at number three in Texas state history, with 5,414 receiving yards to his name during his incredible high school career. His highlight reel shows catches that seem impossible, something that he continued into his college career.
Should you spend some time on YouTube, you will witness incredible catch after incredible catch, with Smith-Njigba collecting balls in the endzone against all odds. His penchant for flair and one-handed catches captured the imagination of many fans during his high school career, and it’s something that he managed to back up with numbers. After all, Smith-Njigba showed that there’s substance to his game, and he’s not just in it for the glory catches!
In the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex, he led all high school players with 97 receptions for 1,828 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior. But as a senior, he went even better - catching 104 passes for 2,094 yards and 35 touchdowns. His exploits at Rockwell earned him the Landry Award and the Texas Gatorade Football Player of the Year Award. He became the first Yellowjacket to win the award in its 35-year history, but he became the sixth Dallas-area player in eight years to be honored with the award.
Unsurprisingly, Smith-Njigba was a star performer in the 2019 All-American Bowl and was named an All-American by SI and USA Today. He finished his high school career with 82 touchdowns in 44 games - a phenomenal record in anyone’s book. His performances on the football field attracted widespread attention from colleges across the board, and it’s not something that surprised the coaches that worked with him from a young age.
Trey Brooks - Rockwell’s Head Coach - said that Smith-Njigba immediately caught his attention as a junior, commenting that his double-move routes were unlike anything he had ever seen on a football field. He described him as a natural route runner who was capable of the unexpected, which helped him solidify his place in the Rockwell lineup as a young man. In fact, Brooks was so impressed with Smith-Njigba’s potential that he put him on the varsity roster as a freshman, and the 14-year-old impressed coaches and fans alike with some inspired displays.
But one of Smith-Njigba’s most memorable moments in high school football came in two career playoff games against Allen. He totaled an incredible 29 catches for 525 yards and eight TDs. He carded five touchdown receptions and a rushing touchdown in a memorable 60-59 Rockwell win, and four of his TDs came in the first quarter, including an incredible one-handed catch that goes down as one of the most memorable TDs in recent Rockwell history.
Although Smith-Njigba caught the attention of fans with his one-handed catches and his exceptional flair, he caught the attention of college recruiters and coaches due to his agility, strong hands, elite ball tracking, and spatial awareness. All of these combined to help Smith-Njigba cement his credentials as a five-star prospect, and it wasn’t long before colleges came calling for the once-in-a-generation talent. He was awash with offers from the likes of Ole Miss and Notre Dame, but he admits to jumping at the opportunity to join the Buckeyes when Ohio State came calling.
Committing to Ohio State
Due to his exploits at Rockwall, Smith-Njigba wasn’t short of options when it came to college. He had caught the attention of Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, who was determined to add him to the Buckeyes roster. Smith-Njigba said that he had been waiting for Ohio State to come calling, and he was extremely impressed with how Hartline treated him during the recruitment process and his ambition for the team.
In the class of 2020, when he committed to the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba was considered the 59th-best wide receiver and No. 288 prospect. He turned down offers from Notre Dame, Ole Miss, and Nebraska, among others, to wear the famous red and grey jerseys of the Buckeyes. He became the seventh member of Ohio State’s 2020 recruiting class, joining Jack Miller, Luke Wypler, Jake Wray, Davron Hubbard, and Lejond Cavazos.
Initially, there was skepticism about whether Smith-Njigba could make an impact in his position with Ohio State, given that he was up against Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave for a starting berth. But the competition for places seemed to spur Smith-Njigba on, and he committed to Ohio State without looking back.
Life with the Buckeyes
Although much was expected of Smith-Njigba in his debut season with the Buckeyes, it would be fair to describe his 2020 freshman year as modest. He made ten receptions for 49 yards in a Covid-shortened season, and although he showed glimpses of his undoubted quality, he wasn’t able to showcase his electrifying high school form in his first year in college. However, his teammates and coaches praised his performances, admitting they were excited about what was coming. Garrett Wilson went as far as to say that Smith-Njigba was “the best I’ve ever seen,” showing real faith in Smith-Njigba’s promise.
The faith that Buckeyes’ coach Ryan Day put in Smith-Njigba after a slightly underwhelming start to his college career more than paid dividends when the 2021 season got underway. Going into his sophomore year, Smith-Njigba was named as a starting slot receiver in spite of the incredible competition for the role. He emerged from the shadows of Olave and Wilson and got his chance in the season opener against Minnesota to show what he could do. By November of his sophomore year, Buckeyes fans finally realized what all the fuss was about.
In a 26-17 win against Nebraska, Smith-Njigba recorded 15 receptions, which was a single-game school record at the time, for 240 yards - the second-most receiving yards in the history of Ohio State football. He became the first OSU receiver to surpass the 200-yard mark since Santonio Holmes managed the feat in 2004. It was clear that the Buckeyes had set up to weaponize Smith-Njigba’s speed and agility, and his biggest play of the game was a 75-yard TD reception that catapulted Ohio into a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.
Buckeyes’ fans often look to the game against Nebraska as the true arrival of Smith-Njigba, and his performance more than justified his selection by coach Day. It was a game in which the jigsaw pieces came together, and it also seemed to instill confidence in Smith-Njigba that he belonged in the starting lineup, as he put in several more memorable displays as the season progressed.
In the 2022 Rose Bowl, he set an Ohio State and FBS Bowl record for receiving yards with 347. In the same game, he also recorded 15 receptions, tying the record that he had set against Nebraska earlier in the season. He also passed the figures set by the legendary David Boston for single receiving yards at Ohio State, registering 1,606 yards in his sophomore year. His outstanding 2021 performances for the Buckeyes led the Dallas Morning News to describe him as “unguardable,” highlighting his incredible agility and spatial awareness as two of his most impressive attributes.
NFL Draft 2023
At the beginning of the 2022-23 season, Smith-Njigba was highly regarded as a top-five or ten prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft. However, a hamstring injury that he suffered in the first game of the season limited his game time for Ohio State, hampering his credentials ahead of the 2023 draft. Still, Smith-Njigba is a big prospect, and the fact that he has excelled in a team that already has Olave and Wilson should be enough for franchises to consider Smith-Njigba as a top pick for the wide receiver berth.
Mel Kiper included Smith-Njigba at number 16 in his top 25 2023 Draft picks and argues that he still warrants a first-round pick despite the hamstring injury that kept him out for much of the season. In 2022-23, he appeared only in limited snaps in a handful of games, and he wasn’t able to reach the heights of his sophomore season. Regardless, most have Smith-Njigba in the upper echelons of their draft pick predictions, highlighting the fact that the wide receiver did enough in his second season with Ohio State to carry him into the NFL.
Recap: Jaxon Smith-Njigba Profile
After a record-breaking high school career at Rockwall in Dallas, Texas, Jaxon Smith-Njigba has fulfilled much of his promise at Ohio State in spite of a hamstring injury that limited his game time during his junior year. He benefitted from playing alongside Wilson and Olave and set several records during his time with the Buckeyes, showcasing his incredible talent while posting impressive numbers.
Although Buckeyes’ fans would like to have seen more of him in the 2022-23 season, experts believe that he had already done enough to feature prominently in the 2023 NFL Draft, with several franchises undoubtedly keen on the agility and spatial awareness of the Texan. Only time will tell which records Smith-Njigba goes on to break when he makes a name for himself in the NFL.
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