Justin Fields to Jaxon Smith-Njigba? Chicago Bears pick Ohio State WR in 2023 NFL mock draft

Colin Gay
The Columbus Dispatch

In CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli's latest 2023 NFL mock draft, the Chicago Bears are returning to Ohio State football to find an offensive weapon for quarterback Justin Fields.

Fornelli has the Bears trading down twice with the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 1 pick and with the Atlanta Falcons at the No. 4 pick to come in at No. 8, picking Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba — the second of three Buckeyes selected in the first 11 picks of the 2023 NFL draft.

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"The Bears move down twice, add further draft capital in the process, and then draft the player Justin Fields said he wanted them to draft," Fornelli wrote. "The Bears could also address the line of scrimmage here, but my theory is they'll use their cap space to bolster their lines and use this pick to give Fields another weapon. JSN didn't run at the combine, but his performance in the drills was an excellent reminder of how polished and talented he is."

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) runs on the sideline after taking a hard hit during the NCAA football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

Smith-Njigba and Fields' paths at Ohio State crossed in 2020, where the then-freshman wide receiver brought in 10 receptions for 49 yards including a 5-yard pass against Nebraska for his first collegiate touchdown.

Before missing the majority of his junior season with a hamstring injury, Smith-Njigba set single-season Ohio State records with 95 catches for 1,606 receiving yards as a sophomore, becoming the focal point of the Buckeyes offense with first-round receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave on the roster.

Fornelli has Smith-Njigba as the first of three first-round wide receivers in the 2023 NFL draft along with TCU's Quentin Johnston and USC's Jordan Addison.

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Nov 26, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) attempts a pass during the first half of the NCAA football game against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

In this mock draft, Smith-Njigba is not the first Ohio State player off the board.

After a trade with the Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts selected quarterback C.J. Stroud as the No. 1 overall pick, Ohio State's first since Orlando Pace in 1997.

Fornelli has the Colts taking the player who "had the most impressing combine performance" of any quarterback available.

"Stroud's anticipation, accuracy, and ability to understand what he's seeing are not all that dissimilar to what Peyton Manning used to display in the same uniform," Fornelli said.

Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones find homes in first round of 2023 NFL draft

Nov 19, 2022; College Park, MD, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Dallan Hayden (5) runs into Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. (77) and still stays up and scores a rushing against Maryland Terrapins in the fourth quarter in their Big Ten game at SECU Stadium.

With Stroud and Smith-Njigba selected in the first eight picks, Paris Johnson Jr.'s home comes at No. 11.

The Ohio State offensive tackle is listed as the second offensive lineman off the board behind Northwestern's Peter Skoronski, and finds a spot with the Tennessee Titans, calling Johnson the "best bet to be a solid left tackle in this class."

After strong performances at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine, Dawand Jones also sneaks into the first round at No. 28 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

"One of the biggest human beings on the planet," Fornelli wrote. "He measured in at 6'8 at the combine with an 88-inch (7'4) wingspan. Simply having to get around him will lead to pass-rushers being late to reach the quarterback, and the Bengals could use another player capable of keeping opponents away from Joe Burrow." 


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