“Coming into the season, prior to the injury, talking to scouts, it was like, ‘All right, his production was outstanding and what he did was amazing, but maybe it’s more system than talent,'” McShay said. “Because where’s the explosive trait? Where’s the speed? Where’s the vertical ability? There’s drops on tape. So there’s all those things. But then you go back and say, ‘He found a way.’ So I struggle with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, I really do, because I see the talent there. I see the ability to create. But I do I think he’s going to be a No. 3 receiver. And every NFL scout that I’ve talked to said, ‘You take a No. 3 early-mid-second-round picks. That’s not a first-round pick. Mel’s got him at No. 5 overalls. That’s fine. We can disagree on that. It’s OK. But I think there’s something missing there. And maybe I’ll be proven wrong.”
With those two moving on to the NFL, Smith-Njigba entered 2022 as a popular dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Instead, he barely played and was limited even when he saw the field, catching five passes for 43 yards.
“It was frustrating for him, mostly,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said heading into the College Football Playoff. “I mean, nobody was more frustrated than Jaxon. Nobody wanted to play more than Jaxon. I know that. But, yeah — it was tough this year, not having him. We had a lot of the offense kind of designed around him and had to adapt as time went on and hopefully get him back, but it never quite got to where he was comfortable playing and then, certainly, got him reevaluated there the last month and just determined that it wasn’t going to be able to make sense for him to go back on the field — just too much risk there.
“And it was hard for him — I know it was really hard for Jaxon this year, to sit around and watch his teammates play and his body not allow him to play,” Day said. “And I think, in a day and age where you’re not going to go out there and give a lot of detail about what the injury is and so many people questioning and asking about him, that wasn’t easy for him either. And I think we knew he wasn’t going to be able to play this next month. It was kind of ruled out by the doctors. And so, they made the decision. Just felt like it was time to kind of put it to bed so that he can get a little peace because it was hard for him this season.”
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Smith-Njigba arrived at Ohio State as a five-star prospect, the No. 2 wideout and No. 15 overall player in the 2020 class. Then the Rockwall (Texas) native caught 10 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown as a freshman before a monster breakout season as a sophomore, when he pulled in 95 balls for 1,606 yards and nine scores despite sharing production with two future first-round picks etc Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.
Kevin Flaherty contributed to this report.