After the first few wide receivers, the 2021 NFL Draft position rankings are somewhat nebulous. There’s an easily identifiable group at the top, but after that, subjectivity takes the reigns. Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave is one receiver who’s received passing mentions as a first-round 2021 NFL Draft prospect, but nothing more. Is Olave worthy of the first-round discussion, and if not, what does he have to do to get there?
Chris Olave NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 188 pounds
Position: Wide Receiver
School: Ohio State
Current Year: Junior
The Ohio State Buckeyes have a long history of producing NFL talent at wide receiver, and in recent years, they’ve hit one of their most productive stretches yet. Since 2015, the Buckeyes have had nine WRs drafted, among them Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, and two-time All-Pro Michael Thomas. They’ve also had several players latch on as undrafted free agents, most recently Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack.
It’s not a stretch to say Ohio State has been a factory for receiving talent in recent years. This season, they only strengthened that reputation. Garrett Wilson is a budding star and is currently a candidate for WR1 in 2022, and Chris Olave, the team’s top receiver, has worked his way into the early-round discussion with his solid play.
Despite joining the Buckeyes as a mere three-star recruit, Olave blossomed earlier than most expected. When Campbell and McLaurin left ahead of the 2019 season, the Buckeyes needed someone to step up. Olave did, catching 49 passes, 849 yards, and 12 touchdowns in 13 games. In the process, Olave became one of Justin Fields’ favorite targets, and this season, he picked up where he’d left off.
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave’s 2020 season
In 2020, despite only playing five games, Chris Olave has been one of the most efficient wide receivers in football. He averaged over 100 receiving yards per game in those five games, logging 36 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns. To close out the regular season, Olave tore apart the Michigan State Spartans, catching 10 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown in a 52-10 drubbing.
Olave sat out the team’s Big Ten Championship game with an apparent injury, and Justin Fields noticeably struggled without his top target. Fields completed less than 50% of his passes and threw two picks. While the Wildcats undoubtedly made life hard on Fields, the absence of his go-to target gave him one less option to explore.
Olave has just over a week to get healthy for the team’s next game — a New Year’s day CFB Playoff showdown against the Clemson Tigers. That game will be huge for Olave. Going up against a secondary with elite talents such as Derion Kendrick and Andrew Booth Jr. will be Olave’s best chance to prove he can be a game-changer at the next level.
Chris Olave’s playoff performance
Olave helped his stock with his play against the Clemson Tigers in the Semifinal round. Olave logged six catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns, including a deep touchdown on which he beat Tigers CB Derion Kendrick with his speed. Kendrick’s speed is a concern for him, so it’s not as if Olave beat a sub-4.4 player. Nevertheless, Olave had the speed to get a safe cushion downfield, thus proving that he has that field-elongating potential.
Olave improved his catch-total against the Crimson Tide in the National Championship, but had barely half the receiving yards, with just 69 on eight catches. His best play came on Ohio State’s first drive. Olave used a quick break at his route stem to find space toward the sideline, then used his body control to corral a precise pass from Fields, while getting both feet in along the sideline.
The Buckeyes offense was stifled by Alabama’s defense, and Justin Fields’ injury made matters worse. But in spite of the prevailing factors, Olave still led the team in receiving, and maintained his presence as a chain-mover for Fields when needed. Olave finished the 2020 season with 50 catches for 729 yards and seven scores in eight games, on pace for over 1,000 yards in a normal year.
Does Chris Olave have the traits to be a first-round 2021 NFL Draft pick?
Although Chris Olave’s production résumé checks out, his NFL Draft profile needs more refinement. There’s a reason Olave’s buzz has hit a proverbial ceiling at the boundary of the first round. It’s because Olave, while solid, doesn’t quite have the traits to guarantee that status.
Olave is good in many areas; he has decent height and length, as well as good speed and athleticism. He’s also a solid receiver in contested situations; in fact, that might be his best trait. But Olave isn’t an overwhelming run-after-catch threat or a consistently dynamic downfield receiver. He can make plays in the deep third, but he doesn’t have the sheer burners that other receivers do, even if his speed is more than enough.
One of Olave’s best traits also raises concerns
One thing that helps Olave is his route running, although he can improve there as well. On film, the biggest thing that stands out about Olave is how smooth and fluid he is. He can effortlessly wiggle into a defender’s blind spot, and while he doesn’t have elite speed, his ability to accelerate and keep his speed through his routes helps him surpass defenders.
Olave’s fluidity can also be a detriment to his game, however. If he wants to attain his consistency at the NFL level, Olave will have to bring more suddenness and urgency as a route runner. There are times when, rather than exploding off his stem, he only veers into his break. He’s flashed that necessary suddenness more than once, so we know it’s there. But he’ll need to show it more consistently against professionals.
Olave possesses some similarities to Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, as some analysts have noted in the past. Although Olave is slightly larger, both come in underweight for their height, and both use solid hands and body control to win at the catch point. Smith, however, is the better route runner and is more consistent in contested situations.
It’s worth noting that Smith sets a high bar in those areas. And Olave can continue to hone his game there. But if he doesn’t test well enough athletically, his upside may be somewhat limited in the eyes of scouts. Tony Pauline is optimistic there: he has Olave ranked 29th on his big board and has Olave’s expected 40-yard dash time listed as 4.41. If he runs that well, it may be enough to vault him into the Round 1 conversation for good.
Chris Olave’s best 2021 NFL Draft fits
Even if Chris Olave doesn’t go in Round 1 of the NFL Draft, it shouldn’t cause concern. On the one hand, he’s not excellent in any area, but on the other, he’s a well-rounded prospect who should be able to contribute right away. Any team looking for a consistent contributor with upside would be grateful to pick Olave in that range.
As is often the case with wide receivers, Olave’s suitors are potentially wide-ranging. Several teams could use rotational depth and long-term upside at the receiver position. Day 2 of the NFL Draft is a good place to acquire it.
In his recent mock draft, A.J. Schulte had Olave go to the Detroit Lions with the 39th pick. That’s a sensible spot for the Ohio State wide receiver. Other potential fits include the Washington Football Team, the New York Jets, the Chicago Bears, and the Cleveland Browns.
If Olave can prove that he has near-4.4 speed, then his stock could skyrocket. The Ohio State wide receiver already has the production profile, and he has the general reliability teams look for. Most of his issues are correctable. Thus, he profiles as a solid investment on the Day 1-Day 2 boundary, with the size, hands, and fluidity necessary to be an NFL weapon.