After standout spring, JSN primed to be ‘massive piece’ of Seahawks’ offense

Jun 12, 2024, 8:21 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2024, 8:07 am

Seattle Seahawks Jaxon Smith-Njigba OTAs 2024...

Seattle Seahawks receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba catches a pass during an OTA practice on June 3. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

While reflecting on his up-and-down rookie campaign last year, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba said it felt a bit like his freshman season at Ohio State.

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“I feel like it was a good foundation,” Smith-Njigba said prior to Wednesday’s minicamp practice. “I can grow from it. A lot of growing pains. A lot of ups and downs. But you know, kind of similar (to my) first years in college and in high school – kind of the same thing.”

If that’s the case, watch out.

As a freshman at Ohio State during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Smith-Njigba had just 10 catches for 49 yards and a touchdown in seven games, while taking a back seat to fellow first-round NFL Draft picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.

The following year, with Wilson and Olave still in the fold, Smith-Njigba exploded onto the scene as one of the nation’s best receivers. Smith-Njigba finished third in the FBS with 1,606 yards receiving, including a Rose Bowl-record 347 yards and three TDs in one of the more spectacular individual performances in recent college football history.

Could he be headed toward another Year 2 breakout – this time at the NFL level?

“JSN is a great player and expecting big things out of him,” new Seahawks coach Mike Macdonald said during OTAs last month. “He’s had a great offseason, works his tail off, his practice habits are awesome, movement ability is pretty elite. So I think we have a really cool plan for him.”

With a brand-new scheme under first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb and a full season of pro experience under his belt, Smith-Njigba has been a prime candidate to make a second-year leap. And during the Seahawks’ offseason program, he’s certainly looked the part.

The 6-foot, 202-pound wideout has been one of the stars of OTAs and minicamp, where he’s showcased his smooth route-running, great hands and a seemingly growing rapport with veteran quarterback Geno Smith. During one OTA practice, with star receiver DK Metcalf not in attendance, Smith-Njigba hauled in a handful of touchdown passes from Smith during red-zone drills.

“I think just having a whole season with Geno, going into year two, our communication is better,” Smith-Njigba said. “… Just our communication and what he wants from me is more clear than ever. And me, being a year two guy, we had a talk yesterday where I can use my voice and tell him, ‘Hey, this is what I’m seeing.’ And I just think that comes with time and growth. And it’s been great so far. Just want to build on that and be the best we can.”

After a hamstring injury limited him to just three games with Ohio State in 2022, Smith-Njigba was also limited for part of last year’s OTAs. He then suffered a fractured wrist during the preseason, which led to him playing with a brace for the first four games of the regular season last fall. He got off to a slow start, totaling just 62 yards receiving in those four games.

Smith-Njigba rebounded to have a decent rookie campaign, finishing with 63 catches for 628 yards and four TDs. He came through in a pair of big moments, hauling in game-winning TDs in the final minute against the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. But he never quite had a big breakout performance, with a season high of just 63 receiving yards.

“Last year, just not making the playoffs and not winning as many games as we wanted to, that didn’t sit well with me,” Smith-Njigba said. “And so I’m looking for change this year.”

One big change is Grubb’s scheme. Grubb comes across town from Montlake after a success-filled two-year stint as the offensive coordinator at UW, where he oversaw a high-flying passing attack that featured a trio of wideouts who were top-100 picks in April’s NFL draft.

The Seahawks, of course, have a talented receiving trio of their own in Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Smith-Njigba. With the new scheme, there’s optimism that Grubb can unlock Smith-Njigba and the offense as a whole.

“It’s looking explosive,” Smith-Njigba said. “I love it so far. … A lot of motions, a lot of just putting us in the right position to make plays. We’re rocking and rolling right now.”

Smith-Njigba played predominantly in the slot last season, but he also had success when lined up outside – most notably when he caught his game-winning 29-yard TD pass against the Eagles in Week 15.

“He’s just a hard cover, man,” Macdonald said. “He can play outside (or) inside, and Grubb does a great job of moving guys around and finding some matchups. His lower-body power and flexibility and being able to accelerate and obviously just having great hands and being able to track the ball is pretty impressive.”

Smith-Njigba left Wednesday’s final minicamp practice early with a shoulder issue. “He nicked his shoulder a little bit, so we just played it safe,” Macdonald said. But after what Smith-Njigba has shown in recent weeks, it appears that will only be a blip in a standout spring.

The hope is that it carries into the fall.

“He’s a guy that we can focus our offense around, along with other guys,” Macdonald said. “… He’s definitely gonna be a massive piece of what we’re trying to do offensively.”

More Seattle Seahawks coverage

• Are LB injuries a concern for Seahawks? A look at where things stand
• Jake Bobo: New Seahawks OC Grubb is moving all the WRs around
• DK Metcalf excited for Seahawks’ future under Mike Macdonald
• An update on Seahawks injury news as minicamp begins
• Seattle Seahawks to have rare joint practices with another NFL team



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