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Devon Witherspoon & Jaxon Smith-Njigba Have Formed "A Really Cool Relationship" As Rookies

Seahawks first-round picks Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba have become each other’s biggest supporters as they go through their first NFL season together.


A day after the Seahawks selected Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round of the 2023 draft, DK Metcalf was at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and saw his two newest teammates hanging out in the office of Maurice Kelly, the team's vice president of player affairs.

"Right after they got drafted, those were the first two people I saw my first day back up here in the building, and we were just sitting in Mo's office, and they were sitting right beside each other talking," Metcalf said.

On a whirlwind day that included their introductory press conference, Seattle's first-round picks also took a boat ride around Lake Washington, visited the Space Needle, and most significantly, began forming a bond that has grown throughout a pair of successful rookie campaigns.

Throughout the 2023 season, if Smith-Njigba scored a touchdown or made a big catch, the first player to greet him coming off the field would be a fired-up Witherspoon. And when Witherspoon comes up with a big play, be it a sack or a pass breakup or an interception, Smith-Njigba is there to return the favor. On social media, both are quick to sing the other's praises when an opportunity arises.

In addition to being great additions to the team in 2023, Smith-Njigba and Witherspoon might be forming the Seahawks' best first-year friendship Pete Carroll and John Schneider joined forces in 2010.

"They have a really cool relationship," Carroll said. "They battle against each other in one-on-ones when we get a chance, and it's a fierce competition, and they take a lot of pride when beating the other guy. It's really healthy. I think it's nice for both of those guys to have kind of a partner in this deal as they're going through the first time around, with all the notoriety and the pump and the hype and all that kind of stuff. I think they're very fortunate to have each other."

As Carroll noted, the friendship includes not just a lot of support for each other, but some pretty fierce competition thanks to the fact that they happen to play positions that frequently face off in practice.

"We fed off of that a lot," Witherspoon said of the competition between the two that began in camp. "We push each other to be great. When he'd make a play, he'd talk a little crap to me, then when I'd make a play, I'd talk smack to him. That just fueled us. We're competitors, neither of us want to lose. We took what we did in training camp, and we're displaying it in season."

Smith-Njigba called it "super fun and super challenging" competing with Witherspoon, noting, "He's a great player, and he's going to get me ready for looks for a long time, and I plan on doing the same for him. We know that we're going to grow off of each other. That's how we built our relationship. It's been cool."

The work Witherspoon and Smith-Njigba did against each other in camp carried over into what have been productive rookie campaigns for both players. A fractured wrist limited Smith-Njigba's production early in the season, but after a quiet first four games, he has gained at least 40 yards in nine of his last 12 games, scoring four touchdowns, two of which were game-winners in the final minute of wins over Cleveland and Philadelphia. Smith-Njigba has also proven clutch time and time again on third down, and for the season, 28 of his 60 receptions have resulted in first downs. With one game left to play, Smith-Njigba has 614 yards on 60 receptions, the second most receptions by a Seahawks rookie in franchise history behind Joey Galloway's 67 in 1995.

"It's been dope, sitting back and watching him play," Witherspoon said. "I watched him play at Ohio State, but I didn't get a chance to face him. To see him in person, live, it's just dope, man. A lot of people counted him out early on because he wasn't having the production everybody thought he was going to have, but they were underestimating talent, and I just don't like that. So to see him thrive and do well, that just made me happy."

Witherspoon, meanwhile, overcame his own injury prior to the season, missing time in camp and the preseason, as well as the regular-season opener, to become one of the top candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Despite missing three games due to injury, Witherspoon's 16 passes defensed rank fifth in the NFL and first among rookies, and he also has 68 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 4, and NFL Defensive Player of the Month for October. And on Wednesday, Witherspoon was one of three Seahawks selected for the 2024 Pro Bowl Games.

Smith-Njigba and Witherspoon never faced off in college despite playing in the same conference, and the two first met, briefly, when Smith-Njigba was working out in Witherspoon's hometown of Pensacola, Florida during the pre-draft process. Neither thought much of the quick introduction last winter, but as it turned out, it was just the beginning of a friendship that has helped both players thrive in their first NFL season.

"It's just grown naturally, just two competitors competing, starting when we first got here," Smith-Njigba said. "We want to see each other win, and we see ourselves being here for a long time. He's just a smart guy, a smart guy to listen to and be around and connect with. Our bond has just grown naturally, he's a good dude, I'm a big fan of how he plays, he gets the team going. I'm a huge Spoon fan. I'm just excited to see where he goes and where we go. It's awesome. I'm happy we have him on our team."

Witherspoon, who is routinely one of the most fired-up, animated players on the field or on the sideline, a contrast to the more mellow, even-keeled Smith-Njigba, has saved some of his best sideline celebrations for his fellow first-round pick, and that's not about to change going forward.

"That's my dog, for sure," Witherspoon said. "I'm supporting him in whatever he does. I'm just happy to see him balling, man."

Witherspoon and Smith-Njigba will occasionally talk about the future, about the roles they may someday take on as leaders, or about the heights they hope to lead the Seahawks to in years to come, but for the most part, they're just a pair of rookies making the most out of exciting rookie campaigns while also going out of the way to support each other.

"I think they just built a bond that is going to carry them throughout the next few years of their career," Metcalf said. "They're always competing and they're always genuinely happy for each other because they were the two first-round draft picks that we picked this year. I think they're going to be great players in this league as you all have seen them do this year."

Said Witherspoon, "I'm playing through him, and he's playing through me when he's out there. It's just dope to see him balling."

Seahawks practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash. on Jan. 4, 2024.

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