“Last year, Garrett Wilson wins offensive rookie of the year,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “There was Drake London, Chris Olave and Jameson Williams, who’s going to be fully healthy (after knee surgery) this year. In 2021, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle (and) DeVonta Smith were the first few off the board. In 2020, CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson. … We’ve had such an influx of young wide receivers from the draft the last few years. It’s kind of hard to keep up with that pace.”
Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba is considered the top receiver in the 2023 draft, which is set to be held April 28-29 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Boston College’s Zay Flowers and TCU’s Quentin Johnston also are considered solid candidates who could be taken in the first round.
“This class doesn’t have a true top-10 receiver,” McShay said. “But there is still depth and still good players. I think you’re going to see a run (late in the first round).”
McShay believes Smith-Njigba, a skilled route-runner, could go to the Titans, who hold the 11th overall pick.
Smith-Njigba suffered a left hamstring injury and played in only three games last season for the Buckeyes.
“Very frustrating last year,” Smith-Njigba said. “Never really had an injury that set me out for games or even practices or stuff like that. But I feel like I’m going to come out a better person, better man, better player.”
He did not face Georgia in their College Football Playoff semifinal in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
“The information that I was given at the time, I wouldn’t be back for the national championship (game),” Smith Njigba said. “So, at that point hearing that, I just had to close the door and move on.”
In 2021, Smith-Njigba played in 13 games and caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns.
Smith-Njigba believes he’s worthy of being the top receiver selected in the draft.
“I just think my playmaking ability is second to none in this draft,” Smith-Njigba said. “I see myself as a top-five player, not just receiver. I see myself as a top-five player in this draft. … (If) you throw me the ball seven to nine times, I can win you the game.”
Flowers was productive on a weak Boston College team. He was named first team All-ACC and set the BC single-season record in receiving touchdowns with 12.
“I love this guy,” McShay said. “I’ve got him as receiver two, and there is not a big gap between Smith-Njigba and Zay.”
The Eagles were devoid of weapons and most teams knew the ball was going to Flowers.
“The offensive line play was terrible,” McShay said. “There was no other really legit receivers, and the quarterback was injured all year. Zay still found a way to produce at a really high level.”
Flowers had 78 catches for 1,077 yards last season.
“To me that is so impressive,” McShay said. “When you know there is only one guy and they’re trying to track him down, and he still finished with 78 receptions and over 1,000 yards, that, to me, says a lot about his competitiveness and his ability to (get open).”
Johnston helped TCU reached the CFP Championship game, where the Horned Frogs were pummeled by Georgia. He had a catch for 3 yards in the 65-7 rout.
“I didn’t have as many targets, we weren’t always on the same page that game,” Johnston said. “Mentally as a team, we weren’t all the way there. We weren’t ready for that stage, for that matchup at that time.”
While he was slowed by the Bulldogs, Johnston believes he can produce in the NFL.
“Over and over again, week in and week out, for sure,” Johnston said.
Johnston is a bigger receiver at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
“Being a taller receiver, my ability to get in and out of my breaks,” Johnston said. “Usually, unless you’ve already been in the league, it takes taller receivers more time to get in and out of breaks. I feel like that’s something I’ve worked on a lot, playing like I’m 5-10.”
The knock on Johnston is that he catches the ball against his body.
“I get that a lot, but it’s not because I don’t trust my hands,” Johnston said. “They’re only going off a few plays. If you look at the rest of my film, it’s hand-catching.”
However, Johnston is working to eliminate the catches against his body.
“I’m catching a couple hundred balls a day outside of my body,” Johnston said. “It’s not like I can’t catch. It’s something that’s a natural instinct. But I’m going to work as hard as I can to eliminate that part of my game as quickly as possible.”
Former Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson has a 5.64 grade from NFL.com, which translates to a player who has a chance to make the bottom of a roster or a practice squad.
Former Georgia Tech wide receiver Malachi Carter, who played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl All-Star game, is not projected to get drafted by NFLDraftScout.com.
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