With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2023 season. So far we've looked at special teams, tight end, the defensive line, running back, linebacker and the offensive line, and today, we take a look at receiver, and in particular on what kind of impact first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba could make as a rookie. Check back tomorrow when we focus on the competition at cornerback.
Key Receiver Additions: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (draft).
Key Receiver Departures: Marquise Goodwin (signed with Browns).
Seattle's offense featured two of the NFL's best receivers heading into the offseason, but even with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf already on the roster, the Seahawks made a big investment in that position this spring.
With the 20th overall pick in the 2023 draft, the Seahawks' second of two first-rounders, they selected Jaxon Smith-Njigba, making the former Ohio State standout the first receiver selected in this year's draft.
So why pick a receiver in the first round when you already have two elite pass-catchers helping to power the offense? Well for starters, Smith-Njigba is very talented, and as general manager John Schneider noted after the first round of this year's draft, he very well may have been a top 10 pick had he not battled a hamstring injury last year. Another reason adding Smith-Njigba made sense for Seattle is that, while Lockett and Metcalf are all but locks to again be Seattle's starting receivers, a third receiver is essentially a starting role in today's NFL.
"That's what we were in the pursuit of in the draft and that's why we are so excited to have gotten (Smith-Njigba)," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the No. 3 receiver role after Seattle picked Smith-Njigba. "We thought he was the best guy in this draft to fill this role."
That's not to say that Smith-Njigba will just be handed that No. 3 role in Seattle's offense, he'll have to win that job in a competition that will also include former second-round pick Dee Eskridge, who was a standout in offseason workouts, and Dareke Young, a 2022 seventh-round pick who saw his role on offense increase late last season after first making a name for himself as a special teams standout. But even though the No. 3 job isn't Smith-Njigba's yet, it's hard to imagine him not having a significant role as a rookie.
Smith-Njigba is, after all, a player who, in his last healthy season, out-produced fellow Ohio State receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, both of whom went on to have 1,000-yard seasons as NFL rookies last season. Smith-Njigba's ability to thrive in the slot receiver role should help him thrive right away. While Metcalf and especially Lockett have the ability to play inside, Seattle's offense might be at its best when those two are lined up outside, provided there's a difference maker inside to put stress on a defense.
"He's a guy that can play on the inside and in the slot right now," Carroll said after the draft. "He has those kinds of skills, and he has shown us everything that we need to see. We will still use the flexibility because we love Tyler (Lockett) in there as well and DK (Metcalf) gets in, so we do move our guys. (Smith-Njigba) really has a chance to be a big factor right there."
Smith-Njigba was limited early in offseason workouts due to some of the lingering effects from last year's hamstring injury, but he was full-go for June's minicamp and the later stages of organized team activities. And in those later practices, Smith-Njigba very much looked the part.
"Oh, man, he's really, really natural," Carroll said. "He's really a natural athlete, gifted in his timing, in and out of breaks and things and his feel. He also has, which we saw this in the workout at school, he's got great change of direction in him, and he's got this marvelous ability to get in and out of his turns. And his hands are just as natural as can be. He's really a bright football player too, it makes sense to him. We've already moved him all around, he'd been inside, outside and all kinds of stuff. And so that looks like it's just what we were looking for."
Though again, it's worth noting that Smith-Njigba will have to earn the job if he is indeed going to be Seattle's No. 3 receiver. Young brings to the table a unique combination of physical play, size and speed, and with a background playing running back as well as receiver, he can be used in a number of different ways, from taking a handoff on jet sweeps, to lining up in the backfield as a fullback, which he did on occasion late last season. Eskridge, meanwhile, is looking to show off the talent that made him a second-round pick in 2021. Injuries have so far kept Eskridge from showing off what he can do, but if OTAs and minicamp are any indication, he could be a real factor in his third season.
"Dee has never shown anything but athleticism, explosion, quickness," Carroll said. "He's always shown that. He's been a guy that at the spot that's just been... it's just taken a while because he's missed so much time. We've never had a consistent run with him on the field. You see the bright spots and all, but now that he's been out with us, that's why you hear guys talking about him, because when he's out there enough, and he gets enough opportunities to show you, he's really explosive, he's got terrific strength. He's really got great hand-eye coordination. He's an aggressive football player, he has some defense in his background. You can tell he's real physical.We're really looking forward to his contribution, and really, the sky's the limit. The sky's the limit for him. And we just need to keep him out there and I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that he stays healthy. And if that happens during this camp, he's going to be a factor."
Take a look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett from the 2022 season.