The Chicago Bears are going to be having an in-house visit with one of the top playmaking wide receivers in the 2023 NFL draft class.
According to college insider Dan Hope of Eleven Warriors, Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba says he has a top 30 draft visit scheduled with the Bears, among others, as he prepares for a likely first-round selection in next month’s draft. He is also scheduled to have in-house visits with the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints.
Smith-Njigba has been one of the top pass-catchers on the 2023 draft boards since lighting things up with 95 receptions for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore for the Buckeyes in 2021. He also further strengthed his case for being the top receiver taken off the board in April with an impressive pro day workout on Wednesday in front of NFL scouts — including Bears general manager Ryan Poles.
The Bears would most likely only get a crack at drafting Smith-Njigba if they planned on targeting him in the first round, either with the No. 9 overall pick or a later selection in the event they decided to trade down again deeper into the opening round. That said, even with the Bears’ blockbuster No. 1 pick trade landing them star wideout D.J. Moore, it isn’t out of the question to think Poles might be interested in adding an offensive playmaker with elite potential on an affordable rookie contract.
The Bears are currently scheduled to have 10 total selections in the 2023 draft — which begins April 27 — with double picks in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds.
Jason Smith-Njigba Eager to Reunite With Justin Fields
Smith-Njigba might have missed out on the majority of the 2022 season at Ohio State due to a hamstring injury, but he left an elite impression on NFL teams in 2021 when he managed to outshine Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — both 2022 first-round picks — in the Buckeyes’ top pass-catcher. He is a smooth, refined route-runner and better than just about any other receiver in the 2023 class at getting separation despite not having top-level speed. Even with Moore, Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool dotting the top of their depth chart, the Bears would be a better offense with Smith-Njigba in the fold.
What’s more, Smith-Njigba has already built chemistry with Bears quarterback Justin Fields from their time together at Ohio State. He told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in early March that he and Fields are like “brothers” and have talked regularly about the possibility of them reuniting in Chicago ever since Fields was first drafted.
“It would mean a lot,” Smith-Njigba said at the Combine, via NBC Sports Chicago. “I would definitely appreciate that there in Chicago, Justin Fields, playing with an elite quarterback, I think it would just be good for both of us to be there, to have that support on and off the field, would definitely mean a lot to me.”
JSN Could Fit Right Into Ryan Poles’ Vision for Bears
Admittedly, the chances of the Bears taking Smith-Njigba outright with the No. 9 overall pick seems to be low at this point. He is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the 2023 class, but Chicago also has bigger needs on their offensive and defensive lines that will likely guide their decision-making when it comes to their first-round choice. A “blue-chip” defender such as Jalen Carter or a rock-solid pass protector — such as Smith Njigba’s former Ohio State teammates, Paris Johnson Jr. — would make much more sense based on how they have constructed their roster in free agency.
Then again, if Poles did take Smith-Njigba with the ninth pick, it wouldn’t be too hard to see where he was coming from.
The Bears currently have a solid trio of starting receivers set to be featured in their 2023 offense between Moore, Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney, and two of them — Moore and Claypool — are guys Poles has traded for in the past five months. That’s a promising amount of investment in a position that was lacking talent in 2022. And yet, Mooney and Claypool are both set to become unrestricted free agents during the 2024 offseason and will both be seeking pay-raising extensions at the same time. If even one of them doesn’t re-sign, the Bears will need another weapon for Fields’ arsenal.
Drafting Smith-Njigba, however, would gift the Bears with the ultimate negotiating leverage. It is much easier to draw a line in the sand with contract-chasing receivers when you have a verified No. 1 receiver (Moore) and a starter-quality rookie on a long-term affordable contract locked into place for the foreseeable future. Realistically, Smith-Njigba’s presence on Chicago’s roster would even allow them to let both Mooney and Claypool walk in free agency if it ever came to that point.
That’s not to say Poles will sink his biggest draft asset into another receiving weapon, but he is a big-picture thinker when it comes to the construction of the Bears’ roster — and the big picture dictates that Chicago could have a receiver problem in 2024 as is.