Football: Opinion: Casey’s Callouts: Should Smith-Njigba hang ‘em up for 2022?

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Ohio State third-year wide receiver Jaxon Smith Njigba (11) suffered an injury during No. 3 Ohio States 21-10 win over then-No. 5 Notre Dame on Sept. 3. Credit: Katie Good | Asst. Photo Editor

On Tuesday, head coach Ryan Day’s latest update on third-year wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s injury-plagued season was the lack of a definitive timetable for his return.

He was held out of the 52-21 thumping of Wisconsin, and, quite frankly, the Buckeyes didn’t need him. Second-year wide receiver Emeka Egbuka hauled in six passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, while third-year wide receiver Julian Fleming had 67 yards and fourth-year tight end Cade Stover added his first two career touchdown receptions.

The Buckeyes offense is back up to the prominence of a season ago, ranking second in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 558.8 yards per game and third with 48.8 points per game.

The question becomes: is it a necessity that Smith-Njigba’s on the field?

I know you’re probably thinking this is asinine, and there is no logical explanation for why he should sit out.

But Smith-Njigba is a projected first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and for his health and future career, there’s no sense he should risk further injury — something that’s clearly bothering him and preventing him from playing at 100 percent.

He has just four catches and 36 yards — 33 of which came against Toledo Sept. 17 — nowhere near the production of his record-breaking 2021 season.

The country is on notice when he is on the field at full strength, and he showcased that at the Rose Bowl Jan. 1.

Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave both opted out — smartly preserving their health — for the “Granddaddy of Them All,” and they went No. 10 and 11 in April’s NFL Draft, respectively.

We have seen it before in college football.

Former LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 season, prioritizing his and his family’s health and safety during the pandemic season. He was the No. 5 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and now is one of the premier receivers in the league.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Buckeye has sat out the season to rehab an injury, either.

In 2018, former defensive end Nick Bosa tore a muscle in his core and left the program to focus on his recovery ahead of the NFL Draft. He went No. 2 overall and has had a solid career so far, notching 106 tackles and 28.5 sacks in 38 games.

There was outrage when Bosa left due to the state of the 2018 defense. The same defense that allowed 51 points to Maryland, and resulted in former defensive coordinator and current Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano getting fired.

Ohio State’s current receiver situation is lightyears better than the 2018 Buckeyes’ defense.

Smith-Njigba on the field obviously adds tremendous value to Ohio State’s already Death Star-level offense, but if he were to opt out, how much worse off is the Buckeyes offense?

In the two games he hasn’t played, they have scored 97 points and totaled 1,079 yards of offense. Ohio State has the weapons around the Heisman Trophy-leading candidate in third-year quarterback C.J. Stroud, in addition to a two-headed monster in the backfield between running backs second-year TreVeyon Henderson and third-year Miyan Williams.

Egbuka and second-year wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. have proven to be one of the best pass-catching duos in the country, and with the emergence of Fleming’s presence as a solid third option, the Buckeyes’ offense still presents a matchup nightmare for the opposition.

Smith-Njigba has shown one of the most tenacious competitive spirits on the Ohio State roster since his freshman season and talked on numerous occasions this season about how the goal is for the Buckeyes to play 15 games — which would ultimately mean a national championship appearance.

However, opting out wouldn’t be the worst thing for his future.

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