Would Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka Have Been WR1 and WR2 in 2023?

Would Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka have been the top two wide receiver prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft? Already, they have a strong case.

Would Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka Have Been WR1 and WR2 in 2023?

Already, the excitement is building for Ohio State WR prospects Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Some have even said that they would’ve been the best wide receiver prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. Is that true? Let’s look at the tape and discuss.

Early Returns Are Positive for Top 2024 NFL Draft WRs

It’s easy to get swept up in the hype early on in a given NFL Draft cycle. That same preseason hype has, at times, contributed to the premature anointing of prospects who’d later slide when April came around.

The most recent recognizable example is former LSU wideout Kayshon Boutte. An explosive true freshman season in 2020 put Boutte on the shortlist for future first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. And heading into the 2022 campaign, Boutte was frequently mocked as one of the first — if not the first — receiver off the board.

Rather than take over an uninspiring 2023 class, however, Boutte failed to produce at an elite level, and off-the-field concerns further eroded at his stock. He ended up lasting until the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft when the New England Patriots finally decided to pull the trigger on his buy-low potential.

There aren’t many examples like Boutte — predestined first-rounders who’d soon fall in drastic fashion. But they’re out there, and they serve as cautionary tales not to overhype prospects early on. Even for players coming off strong seasons, there’s more football to be played, and every season brings unexpected changes.

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That said, there is room for some preseason hype if it’s founded on thorough study and purely diagnostic observations. Don’t hype up receivers just because someone needs to be hyped up. Hype them because their tape shows that they’re worthy of the hype.

This brings me to the next topic — the 2024 NFL Draft WR class. The 2023 WR group was at times criticized for its lack of top-end receiver talent, and early on, it looks like there could be a stark dichotomy between the 2023 and 2024 groups.

Specifically, Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. has been regarded as a potentially generational prospect, and Emeka Egbuka might be a fellow early first-round player alongside him. Early on in the preseason scouting process, there’s already a sense that Harrison and Egbuka both may be better than the WR1 of the 2023 NFL Draft — whether that WR1 was Quentin Johnston, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, or someone else for evaluators.

At least, that’s what the hype train tells us. There ultimately needs to be a fine line — being cautious of making those definitive statements this early, but also being open to the possibility.

Looking at the film, could Harrison and Egbuka both be better prospects than the WR1 of the 2023 NFL Draft? There’s still more football to be played, but we already have a lot of information to go off of.

How Do Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka Compare to the 2023 Class?

Harrison and Egbuka both have incredibly strong profiles heading into the 2024 NFL Draft cycle, even if you just start with their production alone.

Harrison was a Biletnikoff candidate in 2022 — and probably should have won the award — after putting up 77 catches for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns. Egbuka wasn’t far behind with 74 receptions for 1,151 yards and 10 scores.

To adequately compare Harrison and Egbuka to the 2023 NFL Draft class, however, we first need to identify the top WR prospects in 2023 and isolate their strengths and limitations.

Who the WR1 of the 2023 NFL Draft was varied from evaluator to evaluator, but most had one of Johnston, Smith-Njigba, or Jordan Addison as their WR1. Zay Flowers was also an option on the fringe, but his size naturally serves as a limiting factor.

All of the aforementioned WR1 candidates are undeniably talented, but all had notable flaws that kept them from being blue-chip prospects. For Addison, size was not only an issue, but also his frame density and play strength, and he wasn’t quite elite enough in other phases to counteract that, to the degree that DeVonta Smith did when he came out.

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Johnston was closer to the other end of the spectrum. He had all the size and length at 6’3″, 206 pounds, with near-34″ arms. At that size, he also brought elite explosiveness and unnatural short-area twitch and flexibility. But Johnston’s inconsistent hand technique, lack of breakaway speed, and streaky efficiency against press all lingered as questions.

Smith-Njigba was arguably the most complete, all-encompassing WR prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. At around 6’1″, 200 pounds, he has a reasonably strong frame to go along with absurd short-area agility. He applies that agility flawlessly as a nuanced, methodical route runner and a slippery RAC threat, with the elite catching instincts and hand strength to convert in contested situations.

JSN has the clearest path to success at the NFL level, and that’s an important factor in the WR1 discussion. But even he had minor flaws to note — most notably his lack of elite deep speed and explosive range.

He’s explosive enough, and fast enough, to succeed, but Smith-Njigba visibly lacks a vertical element. Fair or not, that weakens his WR1 argument. He’s also still somewhat unproven against press, even if his traits translate there.

All this is to say that the 2023 NFL Draft WR class was notoriously flawed at the top. Traditionally, WR1 candidates can’t have those kinds of flaws. Looking ahead, the 2024 NFL Draft class will be a needed respite in that regard.

Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka Profile as True WR1 Candidates

The full scouting reports of both Harrison and Egbuka will be released later in the offseason. But after scoring their preliminary grades, I can tell you that they would’ve been my WR1 and WR2 in the 2023 NFL Draft, had they been eligible.

Harrison almost goes without saying. You’ve heard that he’s a near-generational prospect, and while it’s too early to say anything definitive, the Hall of Famer’s son certainly looks the part.

At 6’4″, 205 pounds, Harrison already has the size to stand out. At that size, things like route running and spatial manipulation can be unnatural for receivers — but that’s not the case with Harrison.

Forget the uncanny flexibility for his size, and the elite burst into space after stacking DBs. Harrison also has age-defying nuance in his separation ability. He has a full release package, and the searing lateral agility to off-set defensive backs. Harrison consistently presses into stems and manipulates them into poor leverage, and he’s like a pass rusher fighting through contact. His hands are always active as he pries himself free heading upfield.

Harrison is a truly special separator at his size, and he doubles as an acrobatic hands-catcher with a rare sense of timing and coordination at the catch point. He can make highlight-reel grabs over his shoulder, leaning at gravity-defying angles. But with his easy separation ability and football IQ, he doesn’t always need to.

MORE: Top 50 2024 NFL Draft Prospect Watchlist

Take out the checklist, and Harrison has it all: Size, explosiveness, agility, flexibility, route-running nuance, precise applied physicality, and elite conversion ability at the catch point. That’s the mark of a true WR1, and his raw grade could land him the top overall spot on my board.

With his preliminary grade, Harrison already scores as a blue-chip prospect for me. While Egbuka isn’t quite in that range, he still grades as a potential top-10 prospect and is comfortably a notch above my 2023 WR1 (Johnston).

Interestingly, Egbuka has some similarities to Smith-Njigba on the surface. At 6’1″, 205 pounds, Egbuka has a similarly-built frame, with perhaps a bit more length and mass. Like JSN, he’s exceedingly agile and free with his change of direction, and incredibly intelligent and proactive as a route runner. Egbuka’s a natural contortionist at the catch point, who can snare high-difficulty passes in-stride with ease.

But ultimately, the limitations that applied to JSN don’t apply to Egbuka. Smith-Njigba might be a touch more fluid, but Egbuka is visibly faster and more explosive when he’s able to open up his strides. Egbuka is stronger as a RAC threat, with the contact balance and leg churn to stay on his feet. And he appears to have more in-built versatility.

In 2022, Ohio State used Egbuka on the boundary, in the slot, and schemed him touches in motion and off sweeps, where he was able to quickly apply his high-end RAC utility. He’s ultimately the versatile chess piece who blends around Harrison, who serves as the true WR1 in the Buckeyes’ offense. But Egbuka himself has the all-encompassing skill set to be a foundational receiving threat in his own right, in the modern NFL.

It’s Early, but Harrison’s and Egbuka’s High Marks Have Merit

It’s still very early in the 2024 NFL Draft process — too early to lock anything in. But in past years, banking on the development of Ohio State wideouts has rarely been an issue. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave both inspired awe in the 2022 NFL Draft class, and it already looks like Harrison and Egbuka will be an even better tandem.

Brian Hartline knows what he’s doing when it comes to WR talent acquisition and development, and Harrison and Egbuka are two of his best products yet. Provided that they keep following their current developmental trend, or at least maintain their level of production and efficiency in 2022, they should both realize their potential as early first-round picks.

And if both players already grade out as early first-round prospects, then the next conclusion to make is clear: They would have been the top two WR prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. We may very well see that 1-2 combination materialize next April when the 2024 NFL Draft rolls around.

Ian Cummings is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Ian’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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