A year ago when the 2022 draft was over and the Seahawks began looking ahead to 2023, they figured Jaxon Smith-Njigba, fresh off a huge 2021 season and record-setting Rose Bowl performance, was a likely Top-10 pick.
Unfortunately for Smith-Njigba, his 2022 season at Ohio State was limited to just three games because of a hamstring injury. That injury affected Smith-Njigba's draft sock a bit, allowing Seattle to get him with the 20th overall pick in the 2023 draft, and while the injury did make the evaluation a bit more challenging, the Seahawks love the player they added to their offense.
"If we would have sat here last year at this time when we're looking at the 2023 draft, we would have said that guy is easily a Top 5, 10 player, then unfortunately he had the hamstring injury," general manager John Schneider said of a player who in 2021 had 1,606 receiving yards, including 347 and three touchdowns in a Rose Bowl victory.
A workout at Ohio State's pro day last month, as well as Smith-Njigba's overall body of work, was more than enough to convince the Seahawks to make him the first receiver selected in this year's draft.
"We saw him work out about a month and a half ago, he had a great workout," Schneider said. "We're going to take care of him and get him ready to go, but he is extremely talented."
Added Pete Carroll, "He really has a knack for changing direction, he has a really strong lower body. He can get in and out of breaks powerfully. That was really obvious in the workout, it was great that we got to see him in person."
Schneider was later asked if the injury complicated the evaluation and said, "Absolutely. That's why he went where he went. If he plays another healthy season, we're not acquiring him with the 20th pick of the draft. So yeah, it definitely complicated it."
In drafting Smith-Njigba, the Seahawks hope to have a top-end third receiver to join Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, though as always, the rookie will have to earn that role in training camp.
"To come up with Jaxon to get this done—we've got two guys that we love the way they play of course in Tyler (Lockett) and DK (Metcalf), and we need another guy to fit in with them," Carroll said. "The competition with the guys we have here will be wide open, but we see Jaxon fitting in as that third guy with those guys who will complement them and make them better. He could play right now, he'll be able to do everything that we want him to do. He had a marvelous workout at the school when we were there, showed us the type of physical stuff that we needed to see for his style, because he's got a unique way that he plays the game. He's got great catching range, great catcher, terrific feel, excellent competitor, can make all kinds of clutch plays, a come-through guy that I know Geno (Smith) is just going to fall in love with. We're really excited about what just happened.
"He'll fit in, it's not too big for him. He was a big deal in a huge program with great players, and they all respected the heck out of him and the way he approached the game. I think it'll carry over."
While the Seahawks like to move receivers around and prepare all of them to play multiple receiver positions, Carroll said they see Smith-Njigba as a slot receiver first and foremost.
"He's a guy who can play inside in the slot right now," Carroll said. "He's got those kinds of skills, and he's shown us everything that we need to see. We'll still use the flexibility because we love Tyler in there as well, and DK gets inside—we do move our guys—but he really has a chance to be a big factor right there.
"That's what we were in pursuit of in the draft. That's why we were so excited to have gotten him. We thought he was the best guy in this draft to fill that role. That's why we're so pleased about where we are right now going into tomorrow, we nailed it."
From the red carpet to center stage and beyond, take a look at photos from throughout cornerback Devon Witherspoon and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba's draft day in Kansas City.