Jaxon Smith-Njigba won't return for Ohio State in CFP semifinal, to enter NFL draft

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the star Ohio State receiver who has missed most of this season with a hamstring injury, will not return for the College Football Playoff.

The school announced Monday that Smith-Njigba will not play in the Buckeyes’ semifinal game against top-seeded Georgia in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve as he continues to rehab from the injury and prepare for next year’s NFL draft. The announcement marked an abrupt end to Smith-Njigba’s college career.

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Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba has caught only five passes for 43 yards this season.

“I want to thank Jaxon for all he has done for our Ohio State program,” coach Ryan Day said in a statement. “He has had such a major impact here in Columbus, on and off the field, in a relatively short period of time. We all know he has a very bright future ahead of him and we all support him as he moves forward with his career.”

Smith-Njigba injured a hamstring in a season-opening win over Notre Dame and aggravated the issue when he attempted to return for games against Toledo and Iowa over the following months.

The rout of the Hawkeyes on Oct. 22 marked his last appearance with the Buckeyes, leaving in the second quarter after he pulled up on a route. He remained sidelined for the final five games of the regular season.

A year after he broke out as a sophomore to set school single-season records for receptions and receiving yards, returning as a preseason All-American candidate and expected to be the focal point of a passing game following the departures of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, he caught only five passes for 43 yards, playing limited snaps over the three games.

“I did everything possible to put myself in a position to get back on the field multiple times this year,” Smith-Njigba wrote in a statement published on social media. “I wanted it as much, if not more than anyone else.”

Smith-Njigba, who is declaring for the draft, said the decision not to participate in the playoff was reached after he consulted with his doctors.

“Having prayed on it with my family,” he added, “I have decided to focus on getting 100% healthy.”  

Signs pointed in recent weeks to Smith-Njigba moving on to the NFL as Day had offered little optimism for a potential return.

Following the Buckeyes’ selection in the playoff field on Sunday, he was noncommittal on Smith-Njigba coming back for the postseason, deflecting questions about his status. A few weeks earlier, Day said also that he was only hoping, not expecting to have Smith-Njigba available for the season.

DDespite the setbacks, Smith-Njigba had pushed to return to the lineup this season.

His father told The Dispatch a month ago that the best-case scenario was a return for the rivalry game against Michigan, but he remained sidelined, but that optimism never materialized as he remained out for the stretch run, and now the playoff.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.

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