It seems like it’s every year that Ohio State produces a new superstar wide receiver from the ranks of elite four- and five-star recruits that land in Columbus. Michael Thomas, Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin all rose as elite college wide receivers and eventual top NFL draft picks.
The duo of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson entered the 2021 season as perhaps the top duo in college football, with Julian Fleming and Marvin Harrison Jr. waiting in the wings, but it was Jaxon Smith-Njigba who emerged as the most productive wideout on the roster.
The five-star sophomore, who only caught 10 balls as a freshman, erupted for 95 as a sophomore. He racked up 958 yards and six touchdowns… over his last five games of the season. He finished with 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns to cap off an incredible sophomore season.
So incredible, it seems, that 247Sports’ Top 10 list of returning wide receivers featured Smith-Njigba at No. 1 — ahead of 2021 Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison.
The Top 10 returning wide receivers for the 2022 season 👀
Who should be higher? 🤔
— 247Sports (@247Sports) February 17, 2022
Addison checked in at No. 2 on the list. If you want to argue that he should be No. 1, that’s perfectly fine, but the list itself is riddled with questionable decisions. The No. 1 and 2 spots, however, clearly identify the two best wide receivers in college football.
Addison caught 100 passes for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns and added 56 yards and a score on the ground to lock up Pitt’s third Biletnikoff Trophy in program history — breaking records set by former winners Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant.
Smith-Njigba and Addison finished third and fourth in receiving yards in 2021, respectively, first and second among Power Five players, and JSN’s Rose Bowl performance put him over the top.
JSN’s Rose Bowl performance against Utah, albeit with the Utes drastically undermanned in the secondary and Olave and Wilson sitting out, was a performance for the ages. He hauled in 15 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns in one of the most dominant single-game performances in college football history. In his body control, speed and strength and crisp route running, JSN flashed exactly what makes him an elite wide receiver. It all reminds me of watching Addison play, but the similarities don’t stop there.
Addison is 6-foot-0, 175 pounds. Smith-Njigba is 6-foot-0, 190 pounds. The pair arrived both arrived as 2020 recruits, highly rated as four- and five-star recruits. In watching both play, they use their frames perfectly in terms of body control and positioning to haul in contested throws. Both players are masterful route runners that combined playmaking ability in providing yards after catch, deep threat ability and everything in between. As both operated primarily out of the slot in 2021, it’s uncanny how similar the pair play.
When diving into the advanced stats, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, those similarities are even further highlighted.
JSN caught a remarkable 85 percent of his 112 targets in 2021 while playing 96 percent of Ohio State’s offensive snaps. His work came almost exclusively from the slot, playing 367 snaps (89 percent) from the inside.
With 790 yards after the catch, averaging 8.3 YAC per reception, he was one of the most dangerous receivers in the nation with the ball in his hands. And at four yards per route run, at an average depth of 9.3 yards, he maximized almost every route run.
But perhaps most remarkably, JSN hauled in nine of his 10 contested targets in 2021, showing his penchant for making big plays. And with 19 missed tackles, his speed and strength showcased an elusive yet powerful frame.
Addison caught just under 70 percent of his 144 targets in 2021, playing 96 percent of Pitt’s offensive snaps. While he lined up in the slot on 385 snaps (68 percent), he also showed success in operating out wide (32 percent).
With 655 yards after catch, averaging 6.6 YAC per reception, Addison was just off JSN — who paced college football in YAC. Addison averaged 2.94 yards per route run while operating at an average depth of 12.4 yards, signifying his role as a premium deep threat in college football in 2021.
Addison was often targeted on contested throws in 2021, hauling in 15 on 26 targets — ranking third in college football with 15 contested catches. 20 missed tackles — one more than JSN — showcased his elite blend of speed and strength to force defenders to miss.
Both JSN and Addison were top-tier deep threats in 2021. JSN caught 13 of his 18 deep ball targets (20+ yards) for 424 yards and five touchdowns. He racked up 111 yards after catch, at an average depth of target of 25.6 yards. Which included five contested catches on six targets. Addison caught 22 of his 40 deep balls for 786 yards and 10 touchdowns. With 135 yards after catch, at an average depth of target of 31.4 yards, Addison was a deep threat merchant. With eight of 14 contested targets hauled in, Addison operated on the edge.
Both excelled across all areas of all phases of the game, boasting 90+ grades in receptions at medium length (10-19 yards), short length (0-9 yards) and behind the line of scrimmage, according to PFF. Each operated as complete a college football player as possible in 2021.
So, what’s the point? It’s just kinda crazy how talented yet similar the duo is. You really can’t go wrong with either, and both could enter the 2023 NFL Draft as first round talents or decide to come back for senior seasons. The sky is the limit for each, and it’s worthless to nitpick either.
Appreciate the talented wide receivers for what they are, game-breaking talents. JSN will be catching balls from CJ Stroud (a potential No. 1 overall pick) and Addison will be catching balls from Kedon Slovis (who is looking to rebuild his first round NFL Draft stock).
Both Ohio State and Pitt should, once again, compete for conference titles and national honors in 2022, and it’s clear that JSN and Addison will be the catalysts for their respective teams in the pursuit of team honors.
However, it would be foolish to bet against the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner. Addison has grown exponentially in going through Pitt’s system, and his 2022 season should continue to challenge for the best in program history.