In back-to-back drafts a pair of receivers from the same school went in the first round, and we’ll probably get the previous rare occurrence again in 2022, except those wideouts will be from Ohio State, not Alabama.
Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson enter this imminent college football season — man, it feels glorious typing that — as the nation’s premier pass-catching tandem. Let’s dive into what exactly has made them marquee prospects with a distinct chance to be picked together in the first round in April.
Wilson has been an alpha on the football field for quite some time. The No. 2 receiver recruit in the country in the class of 2019, according to 247 Sports’ Composite Rankings. As a true freshman he popped on film with 30 receptions for 432 yards and five touchdowns.
Then, logically, he built on that impressive debut season with a 43 snags for 723 yards and six more touchdowns as a 20-year-old sophomore who mostly resided in the slot.
Stylistically, Wilson is an emphatic mover, a twitched-up, powerful route runner with power-forwardian rebounding ability to snatch the ball outside his frame on back shoulders or, fortunately for his quarterback, simply when the pass isn’t in ideal position. Here’s a sparkling example of that against Northwestern.
That slot wheel is everything. Burst off the ball, subtle step inside to set up his direction for the natural rub, acceleration through the intermediate portion of his route, ball-tracking brilliance, and phenomenal body control to high-point the football and get his feet in bounds.
Altogether, that play was of NFL veteran receiver caliber.
While probably not a low 4.3 sprinter, Wilson can scoot and understands how changing speeds can make him play faster. Notice how he purposely began this slot seam slowly before stepping on the gas and, again, effortlessly contorting his body to make a relatively difficult grab look like a walk in the park.
The end of that play happily brings me to my next point. Wilson’s a problem after the catch, and it’s mostly due to his urgent footwork he routinely demonstrates as a route runner. Because the NFL has mimicked college to become a spread league, YAC has become vital.
Here’s a monster gain on a jet sweep against Penn State. Note how Wilson hardly loses velocity when cutting early on in the play.
Wilson has supreme athletic gifts. As of the 2020 season, he leaned more on his physical superiority to get open and create once the ball is in his hands than with route-running intricacy. But with Brian Hartline coaching receivers in Columbus, it’s safe to expect Wilson to be a polished specimen before the 2021 draft.
Olave is a rare cat in the Ohio State program. He was only a three-star recruit in the high school class of 2018. Ironically, he produced immediately as a true freshman with 12 catches for 197 yards and three touchdowns catching passes from Dwayne Haskins on an offense with Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell, and K.J. Hill. And the sharpness and complexity he displayed from the jump at Ohio State masked any athletic deficiencies he had — which likely played into his three-star recruit status.
In 2019, Olave upped his yards-per-reception average from 16.4 to 17.6 while hauling in 48 catches with 12 touchdowns. Everyone, including myself, thought he was a goner. Seemed like a second-round lock who could’ve crept into Round 1. But Olave returned.
And now he enters an ultra-hyped senior year as one of the most squeaky clean route running prospects in recent memory — Jerry Jeudy and Calvin Ridley instantly come to mind in that regard.
What I’m about to show you is classic comeback route. Olave ran it like it’s coached.
Acceleration off the ball to devour the cushion, a quick skip to freeze the corner, then an eruption out of the top of his stem to return to the football. The YAC was the cherry on top.
Here’s another crispy route from Olave, a rather famous touchdown against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Fake speed out and up, then a lightning-fast snap to the front pylon. Six points.
Olave’s genuine specialty is how capable he is on the vertical route tree. He’s deceptively fast — think: long strider — and the change of speeds make him like a crafty, breaking-ball pitcher making it work on the mound in the twilight of his career.
This long-ball touchdown against Penn State was a masterful out and up. I love how he slow-played the first move toward the sideline.
Olave feels like a mid 4.40 receiver who plays faster on the field. And he can track it too. This snag in that same game against the Nittany Lions had the highest degree of difficulty. Keep an eye on the subtly in his route to get a quarter step on the corner down the sideline.
For a split second, Olave was hindered by contact but ultimately used it as a catapult down the field. And of course the catch was downright stupid.
Now, after the catch, Olave’s been boring. And that could be because he’s not the most explosive, light-footed athlete, and he’s lanky. The power element of his game is lacking, so his contact balance is average at its very best. How high Olave goes in the first round will mostly be contingent upon how much more dynamic he proves to be after the catch in 2021.