Vikings Eyeing No. 1 Prospect Ahead of Draft, Insider Says

Adofo-Mensah, O'Connell, Vikings

Getty General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (left) and head coach Kevin O'Connell (right) of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings are eyeing an ideal running mate for Justin Jefferson, recently inviting Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba to their team facilities a week ahead of the draft.

Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline reported on April 19 that Njigba visited the Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens this week. Njigba’s last-minute visits to Baltimore (No. 22 overall) and Minnesota (No. 23 overall) fit a trend of where he could slip into the 20s of the draft as earlier picks are becoming more concrete a week out from the draft on April 27.

“[Njigba] could be drafted as early as the 12th pick by the Houston Texans, but it’s more likely he ends up with a team selecting in the 20s,” Pauline wrote.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler gave Njigba the No. 1 spot in his wide receiver ranks in his 2023 edition of The Beast.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba Likened to Justin Jefferson By Former NFLer

Similar to Justin Jefferson, Njigba projects as a slot receiver in the NFL due to a college resume where he was asked to play the slot role. That knock of “only being a slot receiver” was how Jefferson fell to the Vikings at No. 22 overall back in 2020.

“A lot of people are falling into the Justin Jefferson trap, where [Njigba] was asked to play in the slot so they’re projecting him as slot-only kind of guy. I don’t see that at all,” former NFL offensive lineman and CBS broadcaster Ross Tucker said on his podcast. “From a route-running standpoint, the way he attacks leverages, his ability to uncover for his quarterback at all three levels of the field… his ability to work after the catch he’s just a really, really sound player. I think his best football is yet to be played as well.”

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Njigba finished the 2021 season averaging 4.01 yards per route run — a better mark than Buckeyes teammates Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, who were both selected within the first 11 picks of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Wilson went on to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, while Olave garnered 20% of votes as the fourth-highest vote-getter. Both receivers finished with over 1,000 receiving yards on offenses that had turbulent quarterback play.

For Njigba to outshine his elders in such a key metric is a reflection of his ability — especially as WRU. He posted 95 catches on 112 targets for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns, compiling a 91.17 PFF grade in the process.

Njigba suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in 2022, which hurt his draft stock on top of not having blazing speed. However, he showed he still has short-area shiftiness at the combine as a master separator that could be the final piece to the Vikings offense.



Smith Njigba isn’t going to blow the top off any defenses but his ability to create separation and make contested catches are plenty of reasons for opposing coverages to not slack on his side of the field. Too many receivers have you seen show blazing speed as a prospect that doesn’t materialize to production the NFL. There’s still room for that and the Vikings have that type of weapon in 2022 sixth-round pick Jalen Nailor.

However, selecting Njigba would force defenses to pick their poison between two elite separators in the Ohio State product and Jefferson.

“Smith-Njigba is a crisp, controlled route runner with the hand strength to focus and snatch the football. Although he doesn’t have the speed to run away from coverage, he skillfully throttles his speeds and uses different sink/body techniques to leverage defensive backs out of position and create pockets of separation,” Brugler wrote in his draft guide. “Overall, Smith-Njigba isn’t an elite size/speed athlete and won’t be an ideal fit for every role, but he is a crafty route runner with smooth short-area quickness and tracking talent to be a surehanded target. He projects as an early NFL starter who is at his best in the slot.”

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