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Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba will not play in the College Football Playoff Peach Bowl semifinal vs. No. 1 Georgia after missing much of the season with a lower-body injury, the school announced on Monday. Smith-Njigba will begin preparations for the 2023 NFL Draft

"I want to thank Jaxon for all he has done for our Ohio State program," Ohio State 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 put together one of the great seasons in program history during a breakout sophomore campaign in 2021; his 95 catches for 1,606 yards broke both program records, and his 347-yard performance against Utah in the 2022 Rose Bowl also stands as an Ohio State record. 

Smith-Njigba left the No. 4 Buckeyes' season opener against Notre Dame with a hamstring injury. He appeared in only two more games -- wins against Toledo and Iowa -- while trying to recover from the injury. Ultimately, he was unable to return for most of the season.

"I want to be out there competing with my brothers more than anything," Smith-Njigba told ESPN. "The decision to turn pro was made after I was unable to come back on multiple occasions during the season and the doctors determined I would be unable to participate in the playoffs."

Smith-Njigba is projected as a first-round pick at wide receiver by CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson, who mocks him to the New York Giants with the No. 16 pick. He is expected to participate fully in the 2023 NFL Draft Combine. 

"Smith-Njigba has been battling injuries all season, but that shouldn't take away from his game-changing talents when he's healthy," Wilson said. "The Giants are a different team under Brian Daboll, but they're still in search of a No. 1 wide receiver."

Playmakers ready to step up for Buckeyes

Ohio State missed Smith-Njigba's playmaking ability out of the slot this season, especially during a painful 45-23 loss against No. 2 Michigan. However, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud still has plenty of weapons to work with heading into the College Football Playoff. Top receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka both cleared the 1,000-yard plateaus after their teammate went down while former five-star prospect Julian Fleming also emerged as an option. The 15 bowl practices should also give some of Ohio State's young receivers -- including four true freshmen who were top-151 recruits -- a chance to catch up in time to play Georgia. 

Difficult evaluation

Smith-Njigba is a unique case as an NFL Draft prospect after missing so much of the season immediately prior to his draft entry. The unanimous preseason Biletnikoff favorite posted just 43 yards receiving during what should have been his crowning moment. Once a projected top-10 pick, JSN slipped after missing the season. Workouts and testing will be incredibly important for Smith-Njigba to reassert himself as a top half first-round prospect.  

Former LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase found himself in a similar position after opting out of the 2020 college football season following the Tigers' 2019 national championship run. Missing the pandemic season ultimately did not cost Chase anything as he was selected No. 5 in the 2021 NFL Draft and went on to set the NFL rookie record with 1,455 yards receiving in his first year.