After fracturing his wrist in preseason, Seahawks rookie receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba had surgery and made a remarkably quick comeback to be ready for the season opener.
It was an impressive comeback, to be sure, but the time Smith-Njigba missed, as well as the fact that he was playing with a brace to protect the injury through Seattle's first four games, were factors in what was, statistically speaking at least, a slow start to his professional career.
No one within the organization was worried about the first-round pick's lack of production, he had shown plenty in training camp to show he is the real deal, but it was still nice for the rookie to be more involved in the offense in Seattle's Week 6 game at Cincinnati. In that game, Smith-Njigba caught four passes for a season-best 48 yards, and he also was on the field for 72 percent of the team's offensive snaps, also a season-high. That solid performance could have looked even better had Geno Smith been able to hit him for a potential touchdown, a play on which the rookie broke wide open, but Smith, feeling pressure off the edge, tucked the ball and ran for a first down instead of making the throw.
"I had more plays, so that always feels good to be out there," Smith-Njigba said. "… I know they have confidence in me to make plays and they believe in me. They tell me a lot, and I can feel that from them, and I have that of myself too. So I know more opportunities will be schemed up for me and more opportunities will come down the road."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted both after the game and again on Wednesday that Sunday's game was "by far" Smith-Njigba's best yet.
"I tried to make a point about it, because I wanted him to hear it too, that he played really well in the running game, he was really clean with his assignments, we moved him around quite a bit, he came through on his catches and his plays," Carroll said. "He did a really nice job in the game. This is six weeks in the season coming up, and he's not wearing a cast anymore, he's not wearing anything on his wrist anymore and he blocked well, threw his hands in there aggressively. I think any passing of judgement up until now was premature. He's just getting going. We love him and he's going to be a really big factor for us."
And again, no one who saw Smith-Njigba in training camp or in the preseason before his injury is at all surprised that he's becoming a bigger factor.
"He's been doing that in practice ever since he's gotten here," receiver DK Metcalf said. "Just really waiting on him to really blossom and just show who he really is out there on the field."
Neither Smith-Njigba nor Carroll used the wrist injury as an excuse early in the year, but it was a factor, Carroll acknowledged.
"I think it's a significant thing, and he was perfect about handling it—admirable and took leadership in that regard early in the season, showing guys that he could overcome and get back out and all of that," Carroll said. "The best is yet to come."
Said Smith-Njigba, "It was a challenge, but we took care of it, and I feel like we made all the right moves. I definitely feel better each week, and can actually do some more stuff with it. So my comfortability is rising every day. I feel close to 100 now."
Smith-Njigba understands that he's still in the very early stages of his career, and that the nature of his position means he won't always get the ball a ton, even if he's doing everything right, especially not when he's in an offense that also features DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett at receiver. Even so, it still felt nice to get going last weekend.
"At the end of the day you can only control what you can control, go out there and play as hard as you can and do your job and get open," he said. "But yeah, it's always good to do good things out there."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seahawks' Week 6 matchup with the Bengals. Eye on the Hawks is presented by Western Washington Toyota Dealers.