C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba Excel in NFL Scouting Combine Throwing Session

By Dan Hope on March 4, 2023 at 7:31 pm
C.J. Stroud
Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Stroud described himself as a “ball-placement specialist” during his interview session at the NFL Scouting Combine on Friday. That’s exactly what he was during his throwing session inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

While Alabama’s Bryce Young did not work out on Saturday, Ohio State’s quarterback made his case for being the best passer in the NFL draft with a sharp throwing workout in which he delivered accurate throws to all areas of the field, drawing rave reviews from just about everyone who watched the workout in Indianapolis.

Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba also made his case for being the best wide receiver in the draft during the same workout session, catching every single throw that came his way and looking as smooth as ever to remind everyone how good he is when healthy.

Stroud had no shortage of supporters in attendance on Saturday, including Ohio State quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis and Stroud’s mother Kimberly, as well as local fans who hope to see Stroud be the next quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. He drew a huge roar from the crowd when he took the field for his first passes of the session and continued to win over the crowd with his picturesque throws throughout the afternoon.

Just as he was at Ohio State, Stroud was particularly sharp on intermediate throws. While his deep balls were a bit more inconsistent, he was just about flawless during the early portion of the workout, as none of his first 18 throws of the day hit the ground and most of them were right on the money.

While Florida’s Anthony Richardson was the quarterback who stole the show early in the afternoon by putting up spectacular workout numbers including a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, a 40.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-9 broad jump, it was Stroud who had talent evaluators buzzing most by the end of the day with how well he threw the ball. He didn’t prove anything about his athleticism on Saturday, as he opted not to run the 40-yard dash or participate in any of the other measurable drills, but he’ll have another chance to do that at Ohio State’s March 22 pro day.

Stroud didn’t have many opportunities to throw the ball to Smith-Njigba during the workout, but it looked like 2021 all over again the one time they were paired up in the rotation, as Stroud completed a 20-yard sideline throw to JSN that looked comfortable on both ends.

Smith-Njigba also bailed out his former teammate on one of Stroud’s few bad throws of the day, spinning around to make a hands catch on a ball thrown behind him by Stroud on his second run through the gauntlet drill.

In his first on-field work available for public viewing since his brief appearance in Ohio State’s seventh game of the 2022 season against Iowa, Smith-Njigba looked like his old self on Saturday. There were no signs of the hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire 2022 season as he ran crisp routes, was explosive in and out of his breaks and showed excellent body control to turn multiple off-target throws into highlight-reel catches.

Like Stroud, Smith-Njigba did not run the 40 on Saturday, leaving lingering questions about his straight-line speed that he’ll still have to answer at pro day. He left no doubt about his health and his agility, however, by running blazing-fast times of 6.57 seconds in the 3-cone drill and 3.93 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle – both best among all players at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine – in addition to his excellent receiver workout.

Despite catching just five passes for 43 yards in 2022 due to his injury, Smith-Njigba said during his interview session Friday that he believes he is a top-five player in this year’s draft, saying his “playmaking ability is second to none.” He backed up those words with a performance on Saturday that certainly made his case for being the top pass-catcher in the 2023 draft class, which could ultimately mean joining Stroud as an early first-round pick on April 27.

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