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Jaxon Smith-Njigba Enters 2023 NFL Draft; Out for Ohio State's CFP Game vs. Georgia

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVDecember 5, 2022

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 01: Jaxon Smith-Njigba #11 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball after a reception during the first half against the Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl Game at Rose Bowl Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The 2022 season did not exactly go as planned for Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but his attention is now on the next level.

The 20-year-old declared for the 2023 NFL draft on Monday and confirmed he won't suit up for the Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff.

"I want to be out there competing with my brothers more than anything," he said to ESPN's Pete Thamel. "The decision to turn pro was made after I was unable to come back on multiple occasions during the season and the doctors determined I would be unable to participate in the playoffs."

Many college football players make their biggest impression on scouts and draft evaluators during their final season, but that was not the case for the Buckeyes playmaker. He arrived in Columbus, Ohio, as a 5-star prospect in the class of 2020, per 247Sports' composite rankings, and lived up to the hype as a sophomore.

He finished that 2021 campaign with 95 catches for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns, leading a team that also had Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in receiving yards.

Smith-Njigba was never better than he was in the Rose Bowl to finish that season. He took advantage of more opportunities with Olave and Wilson sitting out and torched Utah's defense for 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns.

It was a dazzling performance, capping off a year that saw him work in the slot and on the outside and mix in a number of highlight-reel catches. It also placed him firmly near the top of mock drafts heading into the 2022 season, especially when compared to his fellow wide receivers.

And then things quickly changed.

He suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener against Notre Dame, briefly came back in contests against Toledo and Iowa, and dealt with health concerns throughout the campaign. It reached a point that Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day told reporters in November he was more "hoping" than "expecting" the wide receiver would return at some point.

Ultimately, the injury proved too difficult to overcome.

While Smith-Njigba did not turn in the dominant season many were expecting due to health concerns, he still figures to be an early draft pick.

The high-ceiling wide receiver, who was a polished route-runner with the versatility to work in the slot or the outside and the hands to bring down contested catches in 2021, will return when he is fully healthy.

And teams in need of pass-catchers near the top of the draft will surely look his direction.