With both NFL and college football right around the corner, it’s the time of year that everyone begins looking forward to kickoff and the excitement that comes with it. For draft analysts, this is where they begin formulating opinions on players, team needs, and position groups for next year’s draft.
Matt Miller, an NFL Draft contributor for ESPN, has worked as an insider for the draft for over 10 years. He just released his very first 2023 mock draft using a draft order determined by the 2023 predictions in ESPN’s Power Football Index.
Miller has the Bears slotted with the 2nd overall pick in the draft, and making a risky selection of Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba:
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State*
The Bears have not surrounded second-year quarterback Justin Fields with much in terms of a supporting cast, but that will change via free agency and the draft following the 2022 season, once they have more cap space. The electric Smith-Njigba left us with a statement game in the Rose Bowl when he caught 15 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns as the entire Utah defense failed to stop him. This would be the highest a wide receiver has been drafted since Calvin Johnson in 2007, but Smith-Njigba is the type of talent Fields needs.
Drafting Smith-Njgiba at second overall would certainly be a considered a risk…but not because of anything that has to do with him as a player. Wide receivers rarely go at the top of the draft and are often viewed as too unpredictable to burn a top pick on.
If Smith-Njigba were to go second overall, it would be the first time a wide receiver was selected that high since Calvin Johnson. It would also be just the fourth time in Bears history that they drafted a receiver in the top 10. Kevin White (2015), David Terrell (2001), and Curtis Conway (1993) being the others.
As for Jaxon Smith-Njigba as a player, Matt Miller is entirely correct. He is the exact type of weapon the bears need and will be looking to surround Justin Fields with given the opportunity.
Last year at Ohio State, Smith-Njigba was splitting targets with both Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in the Buckeyes offense. Despite those two players getting selected 10th and 11th in the 2022 NFL Draft, Smith-Njigba was by far the most dominant pass catcher in Ohio State’s offense.
Smith Njigba posted 95 catches for 1,606 yards in 2021 as a Sophomore. That was good for nearly 600 yards more than Wilson, who was Ohio State’s second leading receiver (1,058).
Smith-Njigba is the ultimate weapon, with a dynamic skillset that allows him to threaten a defense deep, or burn them with his legs after the catch. He’s a polished route runner with reliable hands and the demonstrated ability to single-handedly take over a game (Rose Bowl).
There’s no other way to put it. He has been historically good, and it may warrant a historic draft selection if he repeats it this season.
Highest passer rating generated when targeted in their career at Ohio State— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 27, 2022
1️⃣ Jaxon Smith-Njigba: 142.1
2️⃣ Garrett Wilson: 140.6
3️⃣ Terry McLaurin: 137.7 pic.twitter.com/iSgGWCmDFw
My #1 WR prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft:— Jared Tokarz (@JaredNFLDraft) June 27, 2022
Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
6’0 197lbs 4.4 40
A polished route runner with serious after the catch playmaking ability.
Get this… 94 catches 1,606 yards as the #3 WR behind Olave and Wilson last year..
As for his fit on the Bears, Smith-Njigba’s arrival in the league directly lines up with the Bears window of contention and needs. With money coming off the books and a clear hole at wide receiver, it would make sense for the Bears to target the best receiver in the draft and make a big play for weapons. Smith-Njigba also has history with Justin Fields from the 2020 season at Ohio State.
All that said, I have a hard time seeing the Bears picking second overall. I believe in the new coaching staff and I believe in Justin Fields to make drastic improvements in year two. If the Bears have the second worst record in the league, something went horribly wrong and the team’s problems are likely bigger than a wide receiver can fix.
I love the player, and I hope by some miracle he finds his way to Chicago. But if Smith-Njigba is the slam dunk prospect he’s currently being touted as, I’m not sure he’ll be on the board when the Bears make their next draft pick.
Image via Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports