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Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zach Charbonnet bring juice to Seahawks offense

The Seattle Seahawks selected two players in this year’s draft who should help them get into the end zone more frequently in the upcoming season.

First-round receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and second-round running back Zach Charbonnet accounted for 49 touchdowns combined during their college careers. 

Improving the offense’s ability to score points, specifically in the red zone, was an area of need for the Seahawks this offseason. 

After a surprising 6-3 start, Seattle went 3-6 the rest of the way, including a postseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers. One of the differences during that second-half stretch was on offense: After averaging 26.8 points in their first nine games of the year, the Seahawks averaged just 21 points during the final nine games of the season. 

They particularly struggled in the red zone, converting those opportunities into scores just 47.3% of the time during the regular season, No 28 in the NFL

By drafting Smith-Njigba and Charbonnet, the Seahawks should feature a more dynamic offense and should create more explosive plays with the duo.

Smith-Njigba set a Big Ten record with 1,606 receiving yards on 95 receptions and nine touchdowns during the 2021 season. But the 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver played in just three games his final season at Ohio State due to a lingering hamstring injury.

That’s why Smith-Njigba was limited during Seattle’s rookie minicamp last week. Once fully healthy, the Seahawks view the Texas native as a perfect complement inside at slot receiver to Pro Bowlers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett because of Smith-Njigba’s ability to get open in the middle of the field and make plays with his feet after the catch. 

“We really see him as a slot-back guy that we can really do a lot of things with,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters at the team’s facility. “He’s really instinctive, his sense and awareness inside. … He’s got a real feel in the small areas of getting open and spaces and stuff like that. 

“And he’s been a big-play guy, too. That’s why we are so excited to get him. We don’t have any question about him fitting into what we want. He has enough flexibility to move around as well, but he’ll allow us to really move our other guys.”

Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba highlights

Check out Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s 2022 season highlights.

Smith-Njigba also has shown a consistent ability to get in the end zone throughout his playing career, scoring 82 touchdowns during his high school playing days in one of the most competitive state classifications in Texas. 

He says he looks forward to teaming up with last year’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Geno Smith.

“Hopefully I can make his life a little easier,” Smith-Njigba said. “He’s a great quarterback, can sling it, and I’ll be excited to be out there with him when that day comes.”

The Seahawks have had an up-close look at how Rams receiver Cooper Kupp developed into a dominant player in a similar offense to what Seattle runs, and Smith-Njigba offers a similar skill set to that of Kupp.

According to Next Gen Stats, the Seahawks ran 11 personnel — or three-receiver sets — 52.8% of the time last season, so Metcalf, Lockett and Smith-Njigba should be on the field together for significant snaps. 

Seattle also ran the ball 28% of the time out of three-receiver sets in 2022, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Like Kupp, Smith-Njigba is a willing blocker who will help Seattle running backs capture the edge in the run game. 

The addition of Charbonnet could give Seattle the lethal, one-two punch that Carroll had hoped to develop with Rashaad Penny and Ken Walker III. But Penny struggled to stay healthy and then signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. So Seattle added Charbonnet in the second round.

At 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds, the UCLA product is a one-cut, downhill runner who consistently churns out yards in between the tackles, serving as a nice complement to Walker and his ability to get loose on the perimeter. 

A second-round selection in the 2022 draft, Walker led all rookies with 1,050 rushing yards and nine scores. He was especially effective on outside runs, totaling 566 yards and five scores on runs outside of the tackles, according to Next Gen Stats. 

Walker got dinged up during his rookie season, so the addition of Charbonnet, who missed just three games due to injury in four college seasons split between Michigan and UCLA, should help keep the second-year pro healthy and fresh. 

“He’s going to be right in there with Ken,” Carroll said of Charbonnet. “It’s going to take both guys to get the workload, with some help from DeeJay [Dallas].

“I really like the versatility. [Charbonnet] can block, can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s good in the screen game, he makes big plays, and he’s been the workhorse. I think he will be a great complement to Ken.”

Charbonnet has a nose for the end zone, scoring 39 touchdowns in college, which will especially help the Seahawks. According to Next Gen Stats, Walker finished with minus-3 yards and one touchdown on six goal line carries from the 3-yard line or closer last season.  

“At running back, it’s all about competition,” Charbonnet said. “My main focus all the time is to be the hardest worker in the building. That’s something they are going to get. 

“They are going to get someone that is physical as well and being able to run the ball and catch the ball out of the backfield. But, definitely, my mentality is what they are going to get.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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