Jaxon Smith-Njigba‘s Ohio State career is over.
Ohio State announced Monday that the Buckeye wide receiver will not return for the College Football Playoff, instead opting to turn his focus to the 2023 NFL draft as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.
“I want to thank Jaxon for all he has done for our Ohio State program,” Ryan Day said in a statement. “He has had such a major impact here in Columbus, on and off the field, in a relatively short period of time. We all know he has a very bright future ahead of him and we all support him as he moves forward with his career.”
Smith-Njigba released a statement confirming his decision shortly after Ohio State’s announcement, saying he was not cleared by his doctors to return for the College Football Playoff.
“I did everything possible to put myself in a position to get back on the field this year. I wanted it as much, if not more than anyone else,” Smith-Njigba wrote. “After consulting with my doctors, it has been determined that I will not be able to participate in the playoffs. Having prayed on it with my family, I have decided to focus on getting 100% healthy and commit to my training for the next chapter of my football journey. I am officially declaring for the 2023 NFL draft.”
Love Go bucks pic.twitter.com/VHx8oUKPH4— JSN (@jaxon_smith1) December 5, 2022
Smith-Njigba played in only three games this season due to a hamstring injury he suffered in the season opener against Notre Dame. His final game appearance came in Ohio State’s seventh game of the year against Iowa, in which he did not return to the game after pulling up while running a deep route. Over the course of the three games he played, also including the third game of the year against Toledo, Smith-Njigba caught just five passes for 43 yards.
That wasn’t the junior season anyone envisioned Smith-Njigba would have after he broke Ohio State’s school records with 95 receptions for 1,606 yards as a sophomore, highlighted by a record-setting 15-catch, 347-yard, three-touchdown game in Ohio State’s season-ending win in the Rose Bowl. Entering the 2022 season, Smith-Njigba was widely regarded as college football’s best wide receiver and a candidate to win the Biletnikoff Award.
Smith-Njigba is still widely projected to be a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft despite missing nearly all of his junior season.
With Smith-Njigba moving on to focus on his health and his NFL preparation, Ohio State will have to move forward without him as it prepares for its College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Georgia in the Peach Bowl. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka have both stepped up in Smith-Njigba’s absence this season, becoming the second Ohio State duo in as many years to both top 1,000 yards in the same season. Julian Fleming has started alongside them, catching 29 passes for 462 yards and six touchdowns.
Still, the Buckeyes’ offense hasn’t looked quite the same this year without JSN, scoring only two touchdowns in their regular-season-ending loss to Michigan. But the Buckeyes now know they will be without him for the rest of the year, allowing them to game plan accordingly over the next four weeks leading up to their Dec. 31 meeting with the Bulldogs in Atlanta.