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Mike Macdonald: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba to be 'massive piece' of Seahawks' offense

The Seahawks are set to enter this upcoming season with a wide receiving corps that looks largely unchanged on paper, but the second-year growth of Jaxon Smith-Njigba is expected to heighten Seattle's passing attack in 2024.

"He's a guy that we can focus our offense around, along with other guys," head coach Mike Macdonald said of Smith-Njigba this week, via ESPN's Brady Henderson. "Tyler Lockett is still a great player. DK Metcalf, phenomenal player. The runners, Noah Fant. But he's definitely going to be a massive piece of what we're trying to do offensively."

Smith-Njigba produced 63 receptions for 628 yards and four touchdowns during a rookie season that saw adversity out of the gate. The first-round pick suffered a fractured wrist in his second preseason game, but still managed to return in time for the season opener and went on to appear in every game in 2023.

Admitting this week it took a "couple games" to get comfortable following the injury, Smith-Njigba saw parallels of his transition into the NFL to that of his freshman year at Ohio State. After all, it was his sophomore season that showcased his true NFL potential when posting 1,606 receiving yards (95 receptions; nine TDs) as a slot WR alongside fellow eventual first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.

"I felt like it was a good foundation," Smith-Njigba said of his rookie season. "I can grow from it. A lot of growing pains, a lot of ups and downs, but kind of similar from first years of college and in high school. Kind of the same thing."

Smith-Njigba did get experience lining up at both the slot and the outside as a rookie, but entering Year 2 he's looking to further exploit his athletic ability in every which way he can.

"Being on the outside, I feel like it's more of a one-on-one matchup and I love one-on-one matchups," Smith-Njigba said. "Being on the inside, there's some one-on-one matchups, a lot of zone and just reading the defense and sitting in the zone, which I feel like I'm pretty good at, but when it's one-on-one or being on the outside, it's more playground a little bit and that's what I like. I like the challenge."

How the Seahawks use their talented trio of wideouts remains to be seen as they transition to working under first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who directed one of the most explosive offenses in college football last year at the University of Washington. Geno Smith recently said Grubb's system features "plays that I have never seen before," which is quite a thing to say for a 12-year veteran.

"[Smith-Njigba]'s just a hard cover, man," Macdonald said. "He can play outside, inside, and Grubb does a great job of kind of moving guys around and finding some matchups. His lower body power and flexibility and being able to accelerate and obviously just having great hands and being able to track the ball is pretty impressive."

Building on expectations is how Smith-Njigba has approached his second season, and as Macdonald attempts to successfully follow-up Pete Carroll's legendary tenure in Seattle, the rookie head coach is counting on a breakout season that could take Seattle's offense to another level.

"JSN's a great player and [we're] expecting big things out of him," Macdonald said. "He's had a great offseason, works his tail off. His practice habits are awesome. Moving ability is pretty elite. I think we got a really cool plan for him."

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