Should the Bears draft wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba?
By Noah Levy
When evaluating wide receiver products out of Ohio State, you could consider the Columbus institution a "one-stop shop" for drafting a WR of the future, especially as of late. In last year's draft, wide receiver sensations Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave were drafted back-to-back at picks 10 and 11, with the New York Jets securing Wilson and the New Orleans Saints drafting the latter.
In 2018, current New York Giant Parris Campbell and superstar Terry McLaurin, on the Washington Commanders, were selected within the first three rounds. Going back even further, you can dig out some big names like Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel (McLaurin's current teammate), and even Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes.
And this year, it also just so happens that a projected top-15 pick will be a wide receiver out of OSU, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But why might his draft stock be so high if he played only 62 snaps last year? Only five receptions and 43 yards? His sophomore season for the ages in 2021 ultimately skyrocketed his projected ranking in the approaching 2023 NFL draft. He had a Pro Football Focus rating of 91.7 out of 100, making him the second-best wide receiver in collegiate-level football that year, according to the metric.
Chicago Bears Draft Target: Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a freak athlete - Period
Smith-Njigba, in 2021, had an eye-popping stat sheet highlighted by 1,606 receiving yards and 9 TDs. He tallied 97+ yards in each of the final seven games of the regular season, and that's incredibly impressive, but what happened just a few weeks after the end of the regular season makes this seem like a complete cakewalk. In the 2021 Rose Bowl game between Ohio State and Utah, Jaxon Smith-Njibga put up one of the best performances in Rose Bowl history with 15 catches, three touchdowns, and an astonishing 347 receiving yards (yes, you read that correctly).
His breakout year was with this year's potential first-overall pick QB CJ Stroud, but he and Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields were able to overlap for a year, although Smith-Njigba wasn't the most productive out of OSU receivers in 2020, with only 49 yards and a TD.
To sum up his college career, his sophomore year was out of this world, but his other two years on the Ohio State football program weren't things people talked about too much. Could that year have been a fluke? It's a risk a team will have to take in the draft, as Smith-Njigba essentially only had one good year and, on top of that, missed significant time due to injury.
Although he has a shorter height and lighter weight than most wide receivers entering the draft, his speed and Combine measurables are freakish. Smith-Njigba ran a sub 4.5 40-yard dash, and his 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill times are some of the best in this year's draft class at wide receiver. He could be drafted anywhere from picks 8-25...it just all depends on how the draft pans out. If Chicago were to draft him at pick nine, it would be considered early for his draft stock. But there is a growing possibility that Ryan Poles and the Chicago Bears trade back even further.
Since the beginning of the month, the Chicago Bears have added, added, and added, and are nowhere near done. It started with making a splash by getting WR DJ Moore. On day one of free agency, Chicago scooped up OG Nate Davis, who will play a massive part in building the next great Bears team and solidifying the offensive line.
After the first big wave, Chicago wasn't done and signed backup QB PJ Walker, RB D'Onta Foreman, and TE Robert Tonyan, all 3+ year NFL vets. While signing Smith-Njigba would bring Chicago's offense to a whole new level, there are endless holes to fill on the roster. And to get the most out of an offense with multiple weapons, Justin Fields needs a clean pocket to have time to sling the ball down the field.
What's my verdict? Don't even think about it.
Drafting more offensive ball-carrying weapons in the first round in a draft where Chicago has an uncountable amount of roster gaps to fill should be the very least of their concern. However, it can be tricky to avoid considering the mouthwatering name of Jaxon Smith-Njigba after all of his highlights and hefty stats at Ohio State.
The Bears already have some existing firepower on offense, including blossoming QB Justin Fields and RB Khalil Herbert, WR Darnell Mooney, contested catcher WR Chase Claypool, and a reliable TE in Cole Kmet who is a proven downfield catcher and pass-blocker. The offensive line must be reconstructed before worrying about getting more weapons for No. 1.
Should the Chicago Bears have interest in selecting a wide receiver near the tail-end of the draft (which I think is highly likely), by all means, they should go ahead. With a quarterback that needs dependent weapons at the helm, no amount is too many. But stay away from first and maybe even second-round receivers, as this year's wide receiver class is stacked, and the Bears could find their guy in any draft round if they so choose.
Not only that, but Ohio State has two projected 1st round WRs in next year's draft, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, so keep an eye on names like that and have no fear: Chicago will have plenty of chances in the future to pick up a 1st round wide receiver.