The Seattle Seahawks are already reaping the benefits of their first pick of the 2023 draft, cornerback Devon Witherspoon. So far, Jaxon Smith-Njigba hasn't come close to that kind of impact. There are plenty of reasons for you to put your worries aside, 12s. Well, most of your worries, anyway.
The Seahawks struck gold again and again with the 2022 draft. Charles Cross and Abe Lucas won the starting tackle jobs on day one. Riq Woolen did the same at cornerback, and after Rashaad Penny was lost for the season in week five, Kenneth Walker III stepped in without missing a beat. Other rookies made major contributions as well, most notably Coby Bryant and Boye Mafe. So the Seahawks and the 12s have come to expect breakthrough talents like these to ball out in their rookie years.
2023 hasn't exactly disappointed, either. While the aforementioned Devon Witherspoon played well in his first two starts, he was electrifying versus the Giants in Week 4. Yes, remember, that was just his third NFL game. Witherspoon has been the only rookie to push his way into a starting role, but several others have shown they've got NFL-level talent in limited roles.
Olu Oluwatimi allowed zero pressures in Monday's win over the Giants. Jake Bobo pulled in a beautiful TD pass at the very back of the endzone versus the Panthers. Zach Charbonnet has been an excellent complement to Walker, one that Panthers safety Sam Franklin KJr. won't ever forget. Yet Jaxon Smith-Njigba hasn't come close to having a big moment, let alone a big game. So should we hit the panic button?
Seattle Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba will be more than fine
No, it's far too early to worry that JSN isn't going to be a big part of this Seahawks team. For one thing, we have to be realistic and look at the opportunities for these rookies. Witherspoon is certainly going to be a great player - heck, he already is a great player - but the Seahawks absolutely had to get him into the lineup after Week 1. Both starting cornerbacks, Michael Jackson and Tre Brown, were atrocious against the Rams. Both have bounced back since then, but they looked like they weren't even worth carrying on a practice squad in that game. Seattle had a lot of reason to trust the fifth pick in the draft, sure, but at that point, I'm surprised they didn't ask DeShawn Shead to grab a helmet.
Smith-Njigba doesn't exactly have the same opportunity. He's the third wide receiver on a team that over the past four seasons has featured a wide receiver with 4,218 yards and 35 scores on one side - DK Metcalf - and a receiver with 4,319 and 35 scores on the other in Tyler Lockett. Last year the Hawks tight end trio - Will Dissly, Noah Fant, and Colby Parkinson - caught 109 balls. That same group is on pace for 90 catches this year. If you throw out the dismal Rams game - like, could we, please - they're on pace for 102 catches. Add that with the current offensive line woes, Seattle often plays two or even three tight end sets, and there simply aren't that many opportunities for JSN to shine.
So far, Smith-Njigba is seeing 52 percent of all offensive snaps. He's never had less than 44 percent, never more than 59 percent. He's been on the field for 132 plays. He's been targeted 20 times and made the catch 12 times for a catch rate of 60 percent. All stats are from pro-football-reference.com, in case you were wondering. Sixty percent isn't great, but Metcalf has been under that for two of his stellar seasons. Yes, his catch rate should be higher, but a four-game sample is pretty small. He caught five of six balls against the Lions, so it's not like he's Chase Claypool out there.
Okay, so what happens when the Seahawks do throw his way? Well, for one thing, they aren't exactly setting him up for success. On average, they look his way when Seattle needs 10.4 yards to pick up the first down. Cool, you think. They look for the rook when they need the big play. Except they don't give him the chance to make it. The average depth of target is just 3.2 yards. Okay, so that's not terrible, you're thinking. Make the catch, make a play or two, pick up the first. Except when you look at the catches actually made, the average depth is negative .3 yards.
No, you weren't imagining all those dump passes in the flat and screens on third and long. Yes, he has had some of the more typical slot receiver routes, but not nearly enough. Of his 20 targets, three had a distance of 0-6 yards to make the first, 12 were between 7 and 10, and five passes were needed over 11 yards to move the chains. So how often are you going to do that throwing two yards behind the line of scrimmage? Dee Eskridge knows all about that little game, and it's not for the faint of heart.
Yes, he's had two drops, and that needs to be cleaned up. He also had wrist surgery on September 23rd and was back on the practice field a week later. Maybe it's taking him some to get his confidence back after surgery. Or maybe it's taking a little time to adjust to the speed of regular season games.
You have to consider, too, that with receivers like Lockett, Metcalf, Dissly, and Fant on this team, Geno Smith is more likely to throw to the guys he's seen make the catch year after year. Shane Waldron is more likely to call their number in those situations, too. I know this much; it's much too soon to freak out about Jaxon Smith-Njigba.