As pundits continue to compile their big boards and experiment with mock drafts ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft, two wide receivers have landed in Baltimore quite often. While they have contrasting styles — one a 6-foot-4 vertical threat, the other a quick twitch slot savant — the Ravens could use talent in any shape or size to remake their receiver room ahead of next year. Let’s take a look at each.
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
ESPN’s draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Ravens taking the Cinderella TCU Horned Frogs star offensive player with their first round pick in his first 2023 NFL Draft mock up. Kiper detailed Johnston’s fit with Baltimore.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is out, and quarterback Lamar Jackson’s future with the Ravens is uncertain after he and the team haven’t been able to agree to a new contract. Coach John Harbaugh isn’t used to this sort of chaos. Still, I think Jackson will be back — potentially on the franchise tag — in which case he needs someone to catch passes. Baltimore still hasn’t gotten its receiving corps right; it ranked last in the league in receiving yards by wideouts (1,517). Rashod Bateman, a first-rounder in 2021 who has struggled with injuries, has just three touchdowns in 18 career games.
Johnston could help the Ravens stretch the field. He averaged 17.8 yards per catch for the Horned Frogs this season. At 6-4, he’s still developing as a route runner, and he’s a physical mismatch once he gets his body into defensive backs and leaps for the ball. Jackson could use Johnston’s length in the red zone.
Johnston was the second highest rated recruit former TCU head coach Gary Patterson had during his two decades in Fort Worth. A flip from the University of Texas, Johnston made an instant impact as a true Freshman. Kiper called Johnston a field stretcher, and he’s exactly that. His 22.1 yards per catch in 2020 was the highest by a true Freshman in Big 12 history, and the second highest figure by a true Freshman since 2008. Johnston kept up the pace as a sophomore on deep balls, finishing with six receptions of 20 or more air yards in 2021. In 2022, Johnston’s deep ability really broke through, where he finished in the top 10 in receptions, yards and touchdowns on passes that traveled at least 20 air yards among Power-5 receivers.
Quentin Johnston’s speed into stack and track with above the rim ability is so fun. Combined with his YAC ability he’s a unique prospect. pic.twitter.com/4aorJb2YeZ— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) January 26, 2023
The late stacking and tracking here is insane. Brings it down with one paw.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) January 26, 2023
Quentin Johnston has to be one of the best ‘big’ deep trackers to come out in the last few years. Kind of reminds me of a suped up MVS with ++ COD pic.twitter.com/6FvRhihiGJ
The more I watch Johnston, the more I see a MVS/Will Fuller type. Field stretcher with a big catch radius and big time tracking ability. Also highly dangerous after the catch beyond those guys.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) January 31, 2023
Not sure he’s a dominant volume or consistent middle of the field presence. pic.twitter.com/Jhd0jDHKdu
Johnston’s ability to threaten overtop has a role in any offense. There aren’t many receivers that are his size with his deep speed and tracking ability who are also dangerous after the catch. Those skills translate anywhere. Johnston, who entered the draft as a true Junior, played in an Air Raid style offense that didn’t ask him to run a high percentage of in-breaking routes, work over the middle of the field, or handle a ton of volume overall. The 6-foot-4 speedster can be a baby giraffe at times in and out of his breaks and doesn’t possess the most refined transfer of energy between his columns when changing direction at the stem. He also tends to catch the ball with his body far too often, which led to drops which will certainly be magnified when the margin for error decreases at the next level. Overall, Johnston would add an explosive playmaker both downfield and after the catch who may struggle to find rhythm or consistency as he works at the technical aspects of hand placement when catching the ball and becoming more efficient with the way he loads the columns in his lower half to be a more clean mover.
The 21-year-old has elements of Marquez Valdez-Scantling’s ability to stretch the defense and play a finesse game in a big man’s body with a speedier version of Laviska Shenault’s field vision after the catch with more twitchy-ness and burst.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, OSU
A new offensive identity will be seen in 2023 for the Ravens, I believe a deal with Lamar Jackson will be done this offseason, too. That said, improving the wide receivers around him is a high priority. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a route-running savant. He would give Jackson a true separator that he has never had. A trio of Smith-Njigba, Rashod Bateman, and Mark Andrews would give Jackson the best weapons of his career.
Njigba is a polarizing prospect currently for several reasons. The first — he’s been primarily a slot receiver throughout his time at Ohio State, which leads into the second reason. He isn’t a ‘burner’ and lacks long speed that breaks pursuit angles or simply outruns defenses on go-balls. The third polarizing aspect is that he only played in three games to start 2022 before missing the rest of the season due to a severe hamstring injury.
When Parson described the former Texas Gatorade Player of the Year as a ‘route running savant’ he was spot on. ‘JSN’ is a detailed technician who manipulates leverage from his released through the stem to create separation in a variety of ways. The detail he runs with even on underneath concepts is unparalleled in this class. Said detail in his movements isn’t limited to what he does as a route runner. While JSN isn’t going to break defenses with long speed, the biomechanics he utilizes to turn upfield or cut back in one step while maintaining his speed consistently catches defenders off-guard.
JSN is high level in close quarters man.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) January 28, 2023
Split hesi, tells lies with his head and eyes, works a low arm and SINKS his hips. Crazy efficient toes/feet to be sudden.
High level after the catch. Sweet feet angling against his body for efficient path upfield. pic.twitter.com/XIO1Rh1v2U
One of the things you notice right away is how seamlessly he transitions from catch to run. pic.twitter.com/u0ohxcCZqw— MC (@abukari) January 28, 2023
The other thing you see pretty quickly is technical skill as a route runner. Has a plan and executes it. pic.twitter.com/bvhktmZSIb— MC (@abukari) January 28, 2023
JSN is reminiscent of Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Cooper Kupp, all receivers who had question marks surrounding their speed and ability to win on the outside. The 20-year-old’s detail at the stem even on vertical routes, maximizing the speed he has by changing gears once he gets a DB flat-footed, shows high level refined skill that is NFL ready from day one. Smith-Njigba has outstanding ball skills, rarely letting a catchable ball touch the grass, with the ability to stack and track downfield with pro-level body control. His impact in all areas of the field, including in the red zone, end zone as well as behind the line of scrimmage is felt throughout his tape.
YAC ability cont— Dynasty Dad (@Dynasty_DadFF) January 23, 2023
Highest YAC/reception averages among Power 5 WRs with 100+ receptions since 2019 (screens removed):
1. DeVonta Smith (8.1)
2. Tutu Atwell (7.0)
3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (6.7)
4. Justin Jefferson (5.9)
When digging deeper into advanced metrics, you’ll find that Smith Njigba’s numbers put him in elite company. 99th percentile company, to be exact. Let’s take a look at some advanced numbers and the company that surrounded the former Buckeye’s record-setting 2021 campaign among Power-5 receivers who had at least 65 targets over the last three years.
- Points Earned: 3rd. Trailed Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith.
After JSN in order — Justin Jefferson, Isaiah Hodgins, Rashod Bateman, Elijah Moore, Brandon Aiyuk, Jameson Williams, Brandon Arconado, Devin Duverany, DeVonta Smith again, Marvin Harrison Jr, Jahan Dotson, Ceede Lamb and Garrett Wilson.
- Points Earned per route: 4th. Trailed Moore, Smith, Bateman.
After JSN in order— Smith, Chase, Lamb, Jaquarii Roberson, Tee Higgins, Quintez Cephus, Brandon Aiyuk, Jerry Jeudy, Wilson, Hodgins.
- EPA: 2nd. Trailed Smith.
After JSN in order — Jefferson, Chase, Duvernay, Jameson Williams, Smith again, Jalin Hyatt, David Bell, Marvin Harrison Jr., Cedric Tillman, Tyler Johnson, Hodgins, Dontayvion Wicks, Higgins, Rome Odunze, Joshua Downs, G. Wilson, Lamb.
- EPA per target: 1st.
After JSN in order — Smith, Smith, Tillman, Hyatt, Chase, E Moore, Jefferson, Higgins, Wicks, Jameson Williams, Lamb, Duvernay, Treylon Burks.
- Success rate: 1st.
After JSN in order — Smith, Jefferson, Arcanado, E. Moore, Easop Winston, Smith, Dalton Kincaid, Hodgins, Terrell Jana, Hyatt, Duvernay, Lad McConkey, Tyler Johnson, Drake London.
- Boom rate: 3rd. Trailed Higgins and Lamb.
After JSN in order — Chase, Smith, Bateman, Dyami Brown, Smith again.
- Yards per route run: 4th. Trailed Smith, Atwell, and Lamb.
After JSN in order — Higgins, E Moore, Smith, Roberson, Burks, Jeudy, Wilson, Johnson, Chase, Tylan Wallace, London, Bateman, Wan’Dale Robinson, Hyatt, Brown, Williams,
Yards per target: 3rd. Trailed Chase and Lamb.
After JSN in order — Smith, Hyatt, D. Brown, Jameson Williams, Higgins, Wicks, Smith again, Bateman, Tillman, Burks, Tutu Atwell, Marvin Mims, D. Brown again, Elijah Moore, Aiyuk, Jefferson.
In summary, Smith-Njigba’s compares extremely closely, often better, in every major metric to Chase, Smith, Jefferson, Lamb, Higgins, Aiyuk, London, Burks, Bateman, Williams, Moore, Wilson and Jeudy. Considering how advanced he is as a technician in every aspect, dangerous after the catch. . . JSN feels like the clear cut No. 1 receiver in this class. The similarities to Lamb, Jefferson and Kupp in terms of nuance, IQ and ability after the catch combined with the production and how his peers, Wilson and Chris Olave have performed? It feels like a slim chance that Smith-Ngiba fails to be productive in the NFL.
If he participates in the combine and/or his Pro Day, he will have an opportunity to show that his hamstring injury is behind him and that he can regain his 2021 level of play. If he does so, the Ravens may need to trade up in order to land the star Buckeye. One of the traits that makes JSN so intriguing for Baltimore is how well he identifies zone coverage and makes himself available to beat it. No quarterback faces zone coverages at a higher rate than Lamar Jackson, so providing a smart, nuanced zone beater that is dangerous after the catch would fit well into a revamped Ravens passing attack under their next coordinator. Smith-Njigba is capable of becoming a high volume first-down machine that can take pressure off of Rashod Bateman as he gets acclimated from his foot injury. If the Ravens could snag JSN, it would also open things up for Mark Andrews, who started to win in isolated matchups against cornerbacks at the highest rate of his career at the end of the season and into the playoffs. JSN is a perfect fit for what Baltimore needs.
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