2023 NFL Mock Draft: Mel Kiper Jr. predicts Patriots take Ohio State star at 14

Mel Kiper Jr. predicts Patriots take Ohio State star in new NFL mock draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots need to upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, and there could be a few exciting prospects at that position available to Bill Belichick and his staff with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

TCU's Quentin Johnston and USC's Jordan Addison are two popular names often connected to the Patriots in mock drafts, but there are other options New England might consider if it wants to target a wideout in the first round.

Perry's 2023 NFL Mock Draft: Patriots trade down, snag WR in Round 1

One of them is Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was projected to go to the Patriots in the first round of ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr.'s new 2023 NFL Mock Draft published Tuesday.

"The Patriots have a new offensive coordinator in Bill O'Brien and could look completely different on that side of the ball in 2023. That's a good thing, because quarterback Mac Jones regressed last season. He'd benefit greatly from Smith-Njigba, a true No. 1 wideout who knows how to get open. Smith-Njigba is coming off a season in which a nagging hamstring injury limited him to five catches total, but he led Ohio State in catches (95) and yards (1,606) in 2021. Assuming his medicals check out and his hamstring won't be an issue, he'll be my top-ranked wideout in this class. There's no consensus within the league on this receiver class at the top."

The Ohio State star's 2022 season was derailed by a hamstring injury. He played in just three games and tallied five receptions for 43 yards.

But in 2021, as Kiper noted above, Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns. He was one of the best wideouts in the nation for an explosive Buckeyes offense that also featured star wide receivers and 2022 first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.

Smith-Njigba gave one of the best bowl game performances in college football history in the 2022 Rose Bowl with 15 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Utah. Olave and Wilson didn't play in that game, though.

Smith-Njigba was mostly a slot receiver in 2021 and is an excellent route runner with impressive athleticism. He could play on the outside in the pros, too. The Patriots offense has had an elite slot receiver for much of the last 15 or so years between Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. It's a position they value quite a bit.

There's always some risk in drafting a wide receiver coming off a hamstring injury, but there's no denying that Smith-Njigba is a very talented player and worthy of being selected in Round 1.