What makes Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba so good? 'It's ridiculous'

What makes Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba so good? ‘It’s ridiculous’

In the summer of 2022, everyone who pays attention to college football is aware of Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But rewind 365 days and it’s almost exclusively Ohio State fans — and probably not all of them — and those who closely follow recruiting who were aware of the Buckeye receiver.

As Smith-Njigba prepared to enter his sophomore year, on the back of a 10-reception, 49-yard, one touchdown first season, the hypo surrounding Scarlet and Gray wideouts was focused on Chris Olavewho surprised many by returning for his senior year, and Garrett Wilson, the budding star who was expected to depart after his junior season. While Smith-Njigba was ready to step into a bigger role in his second year in Columbus, operating out of the slot for Ohio State, few people were talking about the Rockwall, Texas native.

It didn’t take long for Smith-Njigba to announce himself to the college football world. In just his second start of 2021, he recorded seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon. This performance came in a loss, which meant Smith-Njigba wasn’t happy about it, but it was a sign that it wasn’t just Olave and Wilson that opposing secondaries needed to worry about.

The sophomore went on to lead the Buckeyes in receptions (95) and receiving yards (1,606) despite playing in an offense that featured two top 11 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. He set a Scarlet and Gray single-game record with 15 catches for 240 yards and one touchdown in a mid-season win at Nebraska and then did one better in the Rose Bowl against Utah, recording 15 receptions for an FBS record 347 yards and three touchdowns without Olave or Wilson on the field.

While he was a five-star prospect and the country’s fifth-best receiver coming out of high school, Smith-Njigba made a case in 2021 to be the best wideout in the nation despite not being talked about much coming into the year. And he still has another season in Columbus.

So what makes Ohio State’s No. 1 receiver heading into 2022 so good? Strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti recently was asked about Smith-Njigba’s emergence.

Jaxon is very, very, very competitive. He’s a great player. He’s got a lot of energy,” Marotti said of the junior.

I think a lot of it is his change of direction. It’s ridiculous. There’s no wasted movement. There’s no wasted space. He can cut on a dime. Very reactive. Strong, low center of gravity. He’s fast, but he’s not the fastest, exactly. He’s pretty quick. He’ll be mad because I said that.”

Unlike the last offseason, Smith-Njigba is already being talked about as one of the best players in college football for 2022. He, along with Buckeye quarterback CJ Stroudare being projected as top picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

But Smith-Njigba isn’t a finished product yet and he and the Scarlet and Gray’s other receivers continue to work to get better. The group, which includes other five-stars in Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbukaas well as Marvin Harrison Jr.spend much of their free time this offseason at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, catching passes and working on routes.

There is one area, however, where Marotti would like to see improvement from Smith-Njigba.

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Jaxon is a guy that needs to be a leader,” he said. “Jaxon Smith needs to be a leader. A leader has to be felt, a leader has to be heard, a leader has to be seen every day, all the time. Jaxon needs to be a leader.”

Smith-Njigba seems to have much of the rest of the game down. Becoming the verbal leader Marotti hopes for would be just another piece of the overall puzzle.