Before the paint was dry on the Buffalo Bills’ 2022 home playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, most fans had already begun to apply a new coat of concern for the team’s wide receiver room. While some of the complaints may be wading in unnecessary waters of expectations due to Gabe Davis’ head-spinning 2021 playoff performance, apprehension about the coming season isn’t unwarranted.
It would seem that the Bills understand this idea, having made a point to address the situation in free agency as able. While adding receivers like Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield bring hope of increased production, more is needed.
To that end, NFL National Insider Ian Rapoport has reported that the Bills will host wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba on a top-30 pre-draft visit — just one among many stops on his NFL Draft tour.
#OSU WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a consensus first-rounder, has already had a Top 30 visit with the #Falcons, source said. Among the many he's scheduled to visit are the #Ravens, #Texans, #Bills and #Cowboys.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 10, 2023
If general manager Brandon Beane and the Bills hope to draft Smith-Njigba, they may have to play an aggressive hand at the end of the month. With Rapoport calling him a “consensus first-rounder,” there are sure to be many suitors for Smith-Njigba.
A report from Monday stated that Beane may try to move up in Round 1, looking to give Josh Allen help. Is that a clue to their wanting to draft a wide receiver such as Smith-Njigba, or perhaps someone else? While the merits of moving up for anyone in the 2023 NFL Draft are an oft-debated topic this year given the perceived depth at multiple positions, Jaxon Smith-Njigba may be worth moving up for in the first round — if he begins to drop.
Smith-Njigba had a very productive sophomore season for Ohio State University in 2021, grabbing 95 receptions for 1,606 yards (16.9 ypc) and nine touchdowns. If there’s a red flag to wave about Smith-Njigba, it’s that one season of production. The 2022 season was a forgettable one for Smith-Njigba, who missed most of the campaign due to a lingering hamstring injury suffered early in the fall. Smith-Njigba then made the decision to forego participating in the college football playoffs
Smith-Njigba’s 2021 season was magical... otherworldly in contrast to the rest of his college career. Against Nebraska that season, he hauled in 15 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown. Later in the season, during the 2022 Rose Bowl, Smith-Njigba again caught 15 passes for an FBS Bowl record 347 yards — which allowed him to set the receiving yards record for Ohio State. Those two games played a huge role in his overall stat line, but minus them, Smith-Njigba still tallied 65 receptions for 1,019 yards and eight touchdowns.
While Smith-Njigba lacks jaw-dropping timed measurables, the 6’1”, 196-pound possession receiver has the chops to play the role of an elite slot receiver in the NFL. NFL analyst Lance Zierlein has compared Smith-Njigba to Jarvis Landry, but that may be underselling his potential and unfairly lowering his ceiling. While other comparisons such as Robert Woods might oversell his ability as a downfield blocker.
Smith-Njigba didn’t participate in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but did so at Ohio State’s Pro Day — posting a time of 4.48 seconds. While that doesn’t scream elite vertical threat, Smith-Njigba plays much faster than his timed tests. Per Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network, Smith-Njigba has “near-generational agility (his 3.93 shuttle and 6.57 three-cone are both past the 99th percentile),” so he’s not void of explosive traits.
Smith-Njigba is a highly agile receiver whose start-and-stop in one-on-one matchups is elite, similarly to Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs. It would be easy to understand why Brandon Beane and the Buffalo Bills would covet a player of Smith-Njigba’s ability. He’d provide the team with a dominant slot presence, and upside to play on the outside — while coming to Orchard Park, NY with a fifth-year option as a first-round pick.
There are reasons to pause, due to Smith-Njigba’s one year of (incredible) college production. But he’s produced similarly at every stop on the way, and likely has plenty of room to grow as a player in the pros. If Jaxon Smith-Njigba manages to fall far enough in the draft, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover Beane working the phone in an attempt to give Josh Allen another true passing weapon.