The Buffalo Bills are off and rolling through the NFL offseason and into the start of free agency and the new league year. Plenty of things have already happened since the legal tampering period opened on Monday afternoon. Former Bills starting linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is on the move to the Chicago Bears, while veteran safety Jordan Poyer has re-signed with the team for two years. A lot of moving parts are still in play with free agency just recently underway.
Wide receiver remains a need for the team with the first wave of the offseason and free agency transitioning to a busy spring period. Buffalo did make a move in that regard by signing former New Orleans Saints speedster Deonte Harty (formerly Deonte Harris) to a two-year deal. Harty is coming off a turf toe injury that cost him nearly all of the 2022 season. The 5’6” 170-pound Harty will certainly provide the Bills with some explosiveness and juice as a yards-after-catch option, while pushing for a legitimate opportunity in three-receiver sets immediately.
But One Bills Drive shouldn’t stop there. Relying on a player of Harris’ stature as a full-time player would be a bit of malpractice for the team. But it does allow for some buffer time to groom a young rookie. The three biggest needs at large for the Bills are a wide receiver, a right tackle, and a MIKE linebacker.
Let’s talk about one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft — Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. To prepare here, I jumped into the All-22 tape for Smith-Njigba to get the best feel possible for the prospect. His nagging hamstring injury in 2022 forced me to go back to 2021 to see what his film is made of. A review of what I discovered follows below.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba Scouting Report
Combine testing: 35” vertical, 10’5” broad jumps; 6.57 3-cone, 3.93 20-yard shuttle
- A true quarterback’s best friend; always presents himself as an option for his signal caller
- His ability to gear down on stop routes is very nice; ran a stop route while corner was aligned in press (against Penn State, 2021) then immediately spun up the field for a huge gain
- Moves with a smooth tenacity; hidden deceptiveness and turning on a dime in one smooth transition looks too easy for him at times; he’s a paint brush on grass
- His elite agility times at the combine reflected his tape
- Innate sense to climb through zones and find the perfect pocket running a multitude of route combinations
- On-field football IQ is elite
- Short-area mover who lacks elite long speed; winning vertically is a legitimate question in the NFL
- Pure explosion is just average coming off the line of scrimmage
- Find yourself desiring more from him by breaking opposing defenders off and snapping routes — would like to see more opportunity for choice routes in the future
- YAC will be limited with this player at the next level
- Missed nearly all of 2022 season with soft-tissue injury
Why Jaxon Smith-Njigba Fits the Bills
Bills Mafia was able to watch a young Josh Allen grow before their eyes, taking his largest leap from the 2020 to the 2021 season. A big reason for that was having an “easy button” target he could always rely on to get open in the short-to-intermediate areas of the middle section on the field. That man was Cole Beasley — a limited, and yet, very useful player for years in the NFL for one reason. Beasley just understands the nuances of the game — sitting down in zone pockets and snapping off option routes at just the right moment.
Insert a younger, larger, and more gifted version of Beasley in Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba provides a very similar skill set to Beasley — a reliable set of hands with a football IQ that charts through the roof at such a young age. As a sophomore, Smith-Njigba was piloting a receiving corps that had two 2022 first-round picks and subsequently Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates on it in 2021. Smith-Njigba has the goods to make catches in volume. He’s never going to be one of the big eye catchers at the position in the league, but his high floor offers up an easy-button insurance policy for a star in Josh Allen who can’t help himself but to push the ball deep. Allen has always been at his best with a small security blanket to reel him in. Smith-Njigba fully fits that mold.