The Jaxon Smith-Njigba and C.J. Stroud connection returned to the indoor turf at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center Wednesday.
Third-year wide receiver Smith-Njigba showed off his familiar route-running prowess and caught passes from third-year quarterback Stroud during Ohio State’s Pro Day, which featured more than 118 NFL representatives among 30 teams.
It marked some of Smith-Njigba’s latest steps in his return from a hamstring injury that cost him most of last season, including the final six games and College Football Playoff semifinal. He’s around one month from likely hearing his name called in the NFL Draft.
“It’s a blessing,” Smith-Njigba said. “I’ve just been enjoying it. Last year, I wasn’t able to enjoy the season, so I just try to sit down and enjoy the process. Enjoy every moment that I can.”
Smith-Njigba, who measured at 6 feet 1/2 inch and 197 pounds, said at the NFL Combine he feels 100 percent after injuring his hamstring in the season-opener last September. He said he’d reached that point less than one month before the combine.
Like at the combine, Smith-Njigba was Stroud’s receiver, and the duo joined together once more resulting in catches down the field, over the middle and a stray incompletion.
“I felt good on pretty much most all the routes,” Smith-Njigba said. “Wish I could have some back, but I think I did a pretty good job.”
Smith-Njigba also ran the 40-yard dash, clocking in at 4.48 seconds, according to Ohio State’s measurements.
He ran it once and said he didn’t feel the need to run it again at Pro Day.
“I’ve hit better times,” Smith-Njigba said. “I hit a 4.46 in training, 4.47. But we’ll see. I’m just blessed I get to walk off this field healthy, first and foremost.”
Among those impressed by his performance included head coach Ryan Day, who said it’s “great for everybody” to see Smith-Njigba back on the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“You can see his quickness. You can see his ball skills, his speed,” Day said. “It’s just great to see him back on the field, and I think I heard a bunch of great feedback from the coaches and some of the personnel as they were watching.”
Flashes of Smith-Njigba’s skill set were on display and reminiscent of what led to 1,698 receiving yards across 110 receptions, 10 touchdowns in 23 games during his career.
It was all part of what the Rockwall, Texas, native wanted to show in front of NFL coaches and scouts. Smith-Njigba is projected to be picked in the first round of April’s draft, going No. 8 overall, according to Wednesday’s USA Today mock draft , and No. 11 overall in Daniel Jeremiah’s mock draft 3.0 at NFL.com .
“I feel like my elusiveness, my shiftiness, played a big part,” Smith-Njigba said. “That’s what I tried to really show [Wednesday]. I don’t think I was able to show that a lot in the combine, so I just tried to get jiggy I guess they say.”
Smith-Njigba zigzagged across the field alongside a host of his former teammates, from graduate wide receiver Xavier Johnson to fourth-year tight end Cade Stover and others.
Second-year wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., whose first start of his career came during his three-touchdown Rose Bowl performance in which Smith-Njigba’s 347 receiving yards broke the bowl record, rotated in after Smith-Njigba and also caught passes from Stroud.
Lining up near Smith-Njigba reminded Harrison of what it felt like to play with him.
“Jaxon is a tremendous player,” Harrison said. “One of the most naturally talented players that I’ve seen in my life.”
Come April’s NFL Draft, Smith-Njigba will begin the next chapter of his football career at the professional level.
However, Wednesday’s Pro Day reminded him of how sweet it was to be a Buckeye.
“Coming back here especially, just love being here,” Smith-Njigba said. “Love being surrounded by great friends, great coaches, great training staff, so I’m just blessed that I went to a university like this, and I get to call this place home.”
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