"I want to be out there competing with my brothers more than anything," Smith-Njigba told ESPN on Monday. "The decision to turn pro was made after I was unable to come back on multiple occasions during the season and the doctors determined I would be unable to participate in the playoffs."
Smith-Njigba entered the season as one of the most decorated players in college football and the country's top wide receiver draft prospect, but he dealt with a lingering hamstring injury all year. He broke the Big Ten record with 1,606 yards last season, including a transcendent Rose Bowl performance in which he caught 15 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
The 2022 season never took off for Smith-Njigba. He injured the hamstring early in Ohio State's opener against Notre Dame and played just parts of two more games against Toledo and Iowa. Smith-Njigba caught just five balls this season for 43 yards, as the hamstring issue lingered.
He said the entire season was frustrating.
"More than you could imagine," he said. "The season was tough, and I did everything I could to help my team and get back on the field. Sometimes things don't work out how you planned, but my faith in God has given me the strength to focus on my health and the next challenge."
He said he's disappointed he won't get a chance to compete with his teammates in the College Football Playoff. No. 4 Ohio State plays Georgia on Dec. 31.
"Ohio State means the world to me," he said. "Watching from afar will be difficult, but I will be cheering my guys on and praying we get that natty."
Smith-Njigba will continue to be engaged in rehab and said that he is "absolutely planning" to participate in the NFL combine. He said he looks forward to reminding scouts what made him the country's top receiver prospect going into the season.
Smith-Njigba is a 6-foot, 197-pound receiver who shows a great knack to get open, body control and the ability to get in and out of breaks. ESPN NFL draft analyst Matt Miller said that a comparable NFL player is Dallas Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb.
"I'm going to have an even bigger impact in the NFL than when I played at OSU," he said. "I'm a playmaker who helps my team win and nothing has changed. My game both physically and mentally has only improved. The NFL is going to get a better version of me, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to show everyone that I still am WR1."