Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Jaxon Smith-Njigba building momentum as Bears’ 1st-round pick in mock drafts

No player may have helped his 2023 NFL Draft stock at the Scouting Combine more than Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. While many draft analysts had him pegged as a mid-to-late first-round pick, there remained concerns about his athleticism — namely, his straight-line speed — before the week of workouts in Indianapolis.

Smith-Njigba silenced those concerns with his athletic scores and on-field work. As a result, he’s in the mix to be a top-10 selection, with the Chicago Bears a common destination in a trade-back scenario with the Carolina Panthers at No. 9.

In The Athletic’s most recent 2023 mock draft, Kevin Fishbain imagined a scenario where Jaxon Smith-Njigba does become a Bear.

“Just turn on the 2022 Rose Bowl highlights. Smith-Njigba was electric,” Fishbain wrote. “It’s an added bonus that he’s friends with his former teammate, Justin Fields, who has already lobbied for Smith-Njigba, but this is about the Bears getting a dynamic receiver on the field. He proved himself further with a strong combine.”

Smith-Njigba is riding the momentum his former Ohio State teammates Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson created in 2022. Wilson won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Olave was right behind him.

“He’s a playmaker, and that’s something the offense desperately needs,” Fishbain wrote. “I’d rather have Smith-Njigba and his potential and age on a rookie deal than give up premium picks for older, injury-plagued receivers.”

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Fishbain is on the mark here. The only way the Chicago Bears can realistically improve their wide receiver room with a player who has the potential to emerge as a WR1 is through the draft. Whether it’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba or TCU’s Quentin Johnston, the Bears must swing for the fences on a rookie rather than sign a retread veteran in free agency.

Trading for an established star who wants a new contract isn’t the worst strategy; it just depends on the price. If a team with a trade-worthy pass-catcher wants multiple high-draft picks? Ryan Poles should pass and turn his attention to the 2023 draft class.

If the Bears set their heart on Smith-Njigba, a trade back to at least the Panthers’ selection at No. 9 is a must. Using a higher first-round pick on him would be a bit of a reach. In fact, the Bears could trade down even further than No. 9 and still have a chance at snagging the Ohio State star.

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