Jaxon Smith-Njigba Still Thinks He “Can Get Way Better” After Record-Setting Sophomore Season at Ohio State

By Dan Hope on March 13, 2022 at 8:35 am
Jaxon Smith-Njigba

It won’t be easy for Jaxon Smith-Njigba to have a bigger season in 2022 than the one he had in 2021. After all, no Ohio State wide receiver has ever had a better season – at least not statistically – than Smith-Njigba had last year.

Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards in his sophomore season at Ohio State, breaking single-season records in both categories. He was especially spectacular in the Buckeyes’ final five games of the season, in which he caught at least nine passes and topped 100 receiving yards in all five games. He accentuated that season with the greatest single-game receiving performance in Ohio State history when he caught 15 passes for 347 yards – both school records – and three touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 48-45 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl.

As a result, Smith-Njigba isn’t only Ohio State’s clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver entering the 2022 season, he’s also widely considered to be the best wideout in the country. He’ll be a staple of preseason All-American teams, a favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award and perhaps even a Heisman Trophy candidate.

But Smith-Njigba isn’t about to get complacent with the success he’s already had. Going into his third and likely final season with the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba still believes he can take his game to new heights.

“I'm not where I want to be,” Smith-Njigba said Thursday. “I feel like my ceiling is way higher. I feel like I can get way better in all aspects of the game.”

There isn’t one specific area where Smith-Njigba feels like he has to get better more than any other, but he still believes he has room for improvement in every area. He says he goes into every offseason trying to get bigger, faster and stronger, and that hasn’t changed in his third offseason in Columbus.

“My mindset is I want to get better at everything I did last season,” Smith-Njigba said. “Just tweak it, level up just one or two notches.”

He may need to be better if he’s going to put up monster numbers like he did last season. Now that Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are pursuing NFL careers, Smith-Njigba will certainly draw the attention of every defense, which will likely mean more double-teams coming his way as opponents game plan to try to stop him.

Smith-Njigba won’t be surprised if defenses make a concerted effort to try to limit his touches.

“Honestly, yeah, I would expect that,” Smith-Njigba said.

Of course, Smith-Njigba has already proven he can dominate a defense without Olave and Wilson after both of them opted out of the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes still have plenty of other talented offensive weapons who opposing defenses will have to account for this year, and even if opponents do try to take Smith-Njigba out of the game, his coaches expect him to find ways to make plays anyway.

“At the end of the day, (Ryan Day) and (Brian Hartline) will do everything we can to figure out a way, because that dude's got a way of getting open, too,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said last week. “So it ain't like we're just gonna say, ‘Okay.’ We'll try our darndest. He's pretty good.”

Ohio State’s offensive coaches are likely to utilize Smith-Njigba in different ways than they did last year to keep opposing defenses on their toes, and one way they could do that is by moving him outside more frequently than they did in 2021, when he played primarily in the slot. Smith-Njigba still expects to line up inside on most plays in 2022, but he is looking forward to the opportunity to get more snaps as an outside receiver, as well.

“I'm definitely excited to get on the outside and get some one-on-one opportunities, hopefully, with some corners. I feel like that's a piece of my game that I'm ready to show also this year,” Smith-Njigba said. “I'm just ready to showcase that I can do that at an elite level, too.”

Smith-Njigba said he has been talking to Day and Hartline about different ways they could use him this season and that they have given him more input, as well as C.J. Stroud, on what Ohio State will do offensively. Ultimately, though, Smith-Njigba trusts the coaches to draw up plays that will put him in positions to continue to succeed, whether that means continuing to play mostly in the slot, lining up outside more or even coming out of the backfield.

“We just have great offensive people around us that just try to put me in great situations where I can use my best stuff, my best ability to make people miss,” Smith-Njigba said. “I feel like they're gonna use me real well like they did last year, and definitely try to get the ball in my hands to help the team, for sure.”

“I'm not where I want to be. I feel like my ceiling is way higher. I feel like I can get way better in all aspects of the game.”– Jaxon Smith-Njigba

While Smith-Njigba wants to continue to improve individually, he says his biggest goal for the 2022 season is to win a national championship, so he’s prepared to do whatever the Buckeyes need him to do to help them achieve that goal.

“My number one goal is to win the national championship, and for me to do that, I'm going to have to step up even more,” Smith-Njigba said. “So that's my challenge to me is how can I step up even more, be a leader to these young guys and see if we can make a run at the natty this year, for sure.”

Smith-Njigba says he’s trying to be more vocal this year and help the younger receivers elevate their games, too, and Marvin Harrison Jr. is among those younger receivers who have taken notice of his leadership.

“He wants to be the guy that's gonna lead the receiver room and things like that,” Harrison said. “So Jaxon, he's locked in, he's coming back and training with me, Emeka (Egbuka), we’re throwing with C.J. and Kyle (McCord), we're all getting extra work in, so, I mean, he's leading for sure.

“He's put so much pressure on himself and he's motivated more than anybody here, probably. So I mean, Jaxon, he's a great player. He's gonna continue to do great things.”

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