Former Local Stars Entering NFL Draft


Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba | Image by Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders (Denton Ryan) and Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Rockwall) have both announced their intentions to skip their teams’ respective bowl games and enter the 2023 NFL Draft.

Sanders just finished his junior season and became a pivotal player on the Razorbacks’ defense — leading the team in tackles (103) and sacks (9.5) in what will end up being his only season in Fayetteville. He also displayed a unique ability in pass coverage that appeals to NFL scouts.

As a five-star recruit and the No.1 high school player in Texas in the 2020 recruiting class, Sanders began his career at Alabama but transferred to Arkansas after two seasons in which he played a limited role as a reserve linebacker and key contributor on special teams.

After announcing his decision, Sanders told ESPN, “It’s always been a dream for me to play in the NFL, ever since I can remember. There’s an opportunity for me to take, and I want to take it.” He also acknowledged that football careers do not last a lifetime, so the opportunities need to be taken when they come.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba has had a phenomenal college career at Ohio State, which has become known for producing elite wide receivers. In 2021, he set the program’s single-season records in receiving yards and receptions while playing alongside first-round NFL Draft selections Garrett Wilson (10th overall to the New York Jets) and Chris Olave (11th overall to the New Orleans Saints). His 1,606 yards were also the most in a single season in the history of the Big Ten Conference.

Smith-Njigba has played in just two games this season because of a hamstring injury, which will sideline him for the upcoming College Football Playoff. He was a top 50 player in the 2020 recruiting class.

He made the announcement on Twitter saying, “I have decided to focus on getting 100% healthy and commit to my training for the next chapter of my football journey. I am officially declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft.”

Arkansas plays Kansas in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Wednesday, December 28, while Ohio State faces No.1 Georgia in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on December 31, as part of the College Football Playoff.

Both players are currently projected as first-round picks by most draft experts.

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