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Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be a dual threat like rookie Tyler Lockett

He’s their highest pick at WR, but still makes sense returning kicks this year.

NFL: NFL Draft Play Football Clinic Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the very sad news that Godwin Igwebuike has joined the Atlanta Falcons, the Seattle Seahawks are forced yet again to find a new kick returner.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba offers intriguing potential as the first high-level receiver who could double as kick returner since Tyler Lockett.

It is well within our rights to say that Seattle has struggled in this area. Last season, the Seahawks were 25th in the NFL in punt return average. They’re far better at kickoff returns, with their 24.3-yard average putting them at ninth in the NFL. Much of that was boosted by the departed Igwebuike. Igwebuike didn’t return a single punt last season but posted a ridiculous 308 yards on just 11 kickoff returns.

Besides him, and especially including punts, Seattle has struggled mightily.

The question, then:

  1. Can Jaxon Smith-Njigba improve this phase of the game?
  2. Would the Seahawks allow him?

When Tyler Lockett was drafted in 2015, the initial thought was that he might be a kick return specialist in the NFL. To that degree, he did not disappoint.

Lockett had a ridiculous 40 punt and 33 kickoff returns his rookie year, and his 9.3-yard average on punt returns was wickedly better than the team’s 6.8 last season.

But the team traded up in the third-round to draft him, and while nobody knew he’d be this good, he had 664 yards on 69 nice targets, meaning they clearly thought of him as a valuable receiver early on as well.

Yes, JSN indicates even higher capital at pick No. 20, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the running here. As big a deal as it is to have someone of his caliber at WR3 on this roster, that shouldn’t preclude him whatsoever from returning kicks. Lockett and DK Metcalf are still the engines of this offense, and no one would say he’s expendable, JSN’s still worth exploring returning a punt or two.

Unlike a few predecessors, like Lockett or Rashaad Penny, this wasn’t actually a specialty of Smith-Njigba’s in college. In 2021 he only returned seven punts, for a 9.0 yard average.

But when I attended training camp on Friday, the first drill out of the warmups was punt return, and the first player to receive the ball was JSN, and the first player to make me go “whoa who was that?” was...yeah.

It’s a truth as old as modern NFL that many, many players cut their teeth on special teams. Even occasionally the high picks. Even as good as JSN looks to be, don’t be surprised in the least if he gets a serious look at both receiver and punt returner throughout the preseason games.