The work never seems to end in the NFL player evaluation world, which means front offices have already turned their attention toward the upcoming college football season in advance of the 2024 NFL Draft. With that in mind, let's continue our CBS Sports summer prospect series -- July 13 was the -- with one of the most highly coveted positions: the wide receivers.
Just like the 2023 wide receiver class, which saw four players come off the board in Round 1 -- Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba (20th overall to the Seattle Seahawks), TCU's Quentin Johnston (21st overall to the Los Angeles Chargers), Boston College's Zay Flowers (22nd overall to the Baltimore Ravens) and USC's Jordan Addison (23rd overall to the Minnesota Vikings), there are at least four in the 2024 class with first-round evaluations at the moment.
"I think this class will be comparable to what we saw from last year's class except I do think that there are two, which we will get into here that, are above the class from last year that came out [in the 2023 NFL Draft]," former longtime Minnesota Vikings general manager and current CBS Sports HQ NFL analyst Rick Spielman said July 13 on an episode of the "With the First Pick" podcast.
However, Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr., a 2022 consensus All-American and the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, projects as a cut above everyone in the last draft class at the wide receiver position. He rates as one of the best non-quarterback prospects to come out of college in at least the last 10 years, and essentially has no holes from an evaluation perspective.
"Just watching him on tape, I thought that this guy is as polished of a route-runner as I've seen," Spielman said. "His savvy, his smarts in knowing how to beat man coverage, and knowing how to get open versus zone. The one thing I've never seen a college receiver do that he did exceptionally well was when the quarterback scrambled, he was unbelievable at getting open and giving his quarterback a [new] target downfield. He just has an unbelievable feel and instinct [in that area], whether it's taking off deep or or coming back to the quarterback to become available as a target.
"People may knock him because he might not be a 4.3-[second] [40-yard dash] receiver, but he plays more than fast enough. Harrison Jr. has excellent body control, great with contested catches and had a big game in the playoff against Georgia. He's one of the best receivers I've graded coming out. It's really hard to poke a lot of holes in his game. He would be the Rookie of the Year favorite once he gets drafted."
This summer series will examine where things stand entering the upcoming 2023 college season, but the order could look a little different come next April, with the exception of Harrison Jr. being a surefire lock to be the first receiver selected as a top-five pick. Here's an in-depth look at the current top five wide receivers with some pro comparisons from Spielman and CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson, plus some names who could rise through the ranks in the season to come. The wide receivers are ranked by their readiness for the NFL entering the 2023 college football season.
Honorable mentions: Jalen McMillan (Washington), Brian Thomas (LSU), Adonai Mitchell (Texas), Johnny Wilson (Florida State), Troy Franklin (Oregon), Ladd McConkey (Georgia)
5. Rome Odunze (Washington)
- Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 211 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 AP third-team All-American; 2022 All-Pac-12 first team; led Pac-12 in receiving yards in 2022 (1,145, 10th-most in FBS)
Rick Spielman's comp: Cedric Tillman
"He did a great job in the Apple Cup against Washington State, a nice job setting up defensive backs with a double-move to get open down the field. Very strong hands, extends to catch. OK with the 50-50 balls, but with his size, I would like to see him win more consistently than he does. Not real electric with the ball in his hands after the catch. I wish he would break more tackles since he's not as sudden as some other guys. He reminded me of Cedric Tillman from Tennessee last year, a healthy version of him."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Cody Latimer
"He is a big-bodied wide receiver, he's fast enough. Gets in and out of breaks smoothly. Soft hands and catches the ball away from his body. Needs a stutter-step to separate and get deep downfield. Runs through arm-tackles after the catch. I thought he was a long-strider, but he doesn't create as much separation as you would like. He's more physical than Cody Latimer, but they have similar size."
- Games to circle: at USC (Nov. 4), vs. Utah (Nov. 11)
- Draft range: Second or third round
Rome Odunze has an NFL body that allows him to win when going up for jump balls, but his win rate could stand to improve. Odunze's body control and fluidity for a player his size is impressive, especially when he hits defensive backs with his patented stutter-step before going vertical on a deep route down the sideline. He runs like a high-end sports car, adeptly gear-shifting from fast to slow and then back to fast in a hurry. Odunze's release off the line of scrimmage is solid and how he gets into his shorter routes off the line is multifaceted. Carving the inefficiencies out of his game -- like body-catching (which can hurt his jump-ball win rate at times), standing too tall when breaking in and out of routes, and grip strength at the point of attack -- could cause him to soar up draft boards next April.
4. Xavier Worthy (Texas)
- Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 172 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 All-Big-12 second team; led Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2022 (nine); 2021 first-team All-Big 12; 2021 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year; 2021 Freshman All-American
Rick Spielman's comp: Devonta Smith/Jordan Addison
"I thought he looked rail-thin on the tape. This guy is very quick, very fast. He has a little shake and step on his routes. Soft hands. The one thing that bothered me most was the drops [seven last season]. He had way too many [three] in the bowl game against Washington. He had an opportunity to really shine, but he didn't. He can lack strength in contested situations down the field. He can run and has speed to elude after the catch, but he won't break many tackles. With a productive year, he will be a first-round pick. I see DeVonta Smith and Jordan Addison in this guy."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Mike Wallace
"Mike Wallace is a bigger receiver than Worthy, but don't misunderstand: he's a nine-route, go-it guy. He didn't break a lot of arm tackles. Wallace is a go-ball receiver. Worthy is a better athlete getting in and out of his cuts than Wallace is."
- Games to circle: at Alabama (Sept. 9), at TCU (Nov. 11)
- Draft range: Lower first or early second round (Rick Spielman); second or third round (Ryan Wilson)
Xavier Worthy has eye-popping speed. It's so noticeable on tape that defenders appear like they are running in slow-motion in comparison to him. At times, Worthy can make himself open with his route-running polish more so than his speed, but it would be nice to see those route-running wins more frequently. Worthy has some of the best speed in the country, so the next step for him is making the most of it by trimming the fat, aka the drops. Re-watching clips of the Alamo Bowl against the Huskies is painful because two of Worthy's three drops were on plays where he blew past the entire defense and just needed to fundamentally secure the catch to run away for an easy six. Worthy's speed gives him a high ceiling, but he now has to use the 2023 season to prove he can put the tools all together to be greater than the sum of his traits.
T-2. Malik Nabers (LSU)
- Height: 6-foot | Weight: 199 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: Led SEC in receptions in 2022 (72); ranked second in SEC in receiving yards (1,017) in 2022; 2023 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl MVP (nine catches, 163 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown; 2-for-2 passing, 50 passing yards, one passing touchdown in LSU's 63-7 win against Purdue)
Rick Spielman's comp: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
"I really like this kid. Explosive athlete, quick. Good speed, but he usually has to set up his route with a double move. Quick twitch in-and-out of his routes. What really stood out was his route-running savvy. I thought he can separate in man coverage out of the plant. I thought he had good hands, he extends and catches the ball. He's courageous going inside, knowing he's going to take a hit. He needs to be more consistent in down-the-field situations. He's a quick-twitch athlete with the ball in his hands after the catch. He finished the season very strong. His comp to me is Jaxon Smith-Njigba."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Miles Austin
"I thought he was a burner, he can consistently run by guys. I thought he was tough in the middle of the field. He ran a lot of slants and made contested catches. Good contact balance almost like a running back. You hit him, and he stays on his feet. Great yards after the catch. He flashed a lot and consistently. I went with someone who mostly plays in the slot but can play outside, so I went with Miles Austin with my comp. Austin was a touch bigger and slightly less twitchy than Nabers.
- Games to circle: at Missouri (Oct. 7), at Alabama (Nov. 4)
- Draft range: First round (Rick Spielman); second round (Ryan Wilson)
Malik Nabers is a killer after the catch. His blend of speed and lateral quickness in the open field leaves defenders laying down wondering where their ankles went. Nabers' 21 forced missed tackles led all SEC wide receivers and ranked as the fifth-most among all Power 5 wide receivers in 2022. He seems to almost never go down on first contact, and Nabers is a master at finding the hidden yards each play. His ability to stop and cut on a dime downfield after hauling in a deep ball is special. Nabers' acceleration is high-end and makes it seem like he's being fired out of a cannon. Nabers' speed, agility, and tenacity with the football in his hands make him one of the best receiving prospects in the entire country. It's likely he'll hear Roger Goodell say his name on Day 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft.
T-2. Emeka Egbuka (Ohio State)
- Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 205 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 second-team All-Big Ten; ranked fourth in Big Ten in receptions (74), third in receiving yards (1,151), and third in receiving touchdowns (10) in 2022; led Big Ten in kickoff yards per return (29.0) in 2022
Rick Spielman's comp: Ja'Marr Chase
"Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. are a better combination than when Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave came out in the draft [in 2022]. I am going to put them up there with the [LSU] combo of Justin Jefferson and my comp, Ja'Marr Chase. I thought [Egbuka] was faster than Harrison Jr. [last season]. I didn't think he was as crisp of a route-runner. I think he has excellent hands. He had a few concentration drops, but that did not bother me. His acceleration after the catch is very good. He can weave and make people miss in the open field. Big-play ability written all over him. He's a notch below Harrison Jr., but this is the best receiver combo coming out of college in awhile. This guy has the potential to be a top-10 pick next year."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
"I think he's a better version of [former teammate] Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Jaxon Smith-Njigba's short-area quickness at his Pro Day was off the charts, and Egbuka checks that box. He also seems to be fleet of foot in a straight line. Egbuka is faster than Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but he's not as crisp getting in and out of his routes. I'm not willing to say he's a notch below Harrison Jr.; that's a bridge too far for me. I think he's a better player [than Jaxon Smith-Njigba]. That's not a slap in the face [to Egbuka]; Smith-Njigba went 20th overall and was the first receiver taken."
- Games to circle: vs Penn State (Oct. 21), at Michigan (Nov. 25)
- Draft range: Top 10 (Rick Spielman); first or second round (Ryan Wilson)
Emeka Egbuka has the silky smooth ability to accelerate at the last possible second while the football is coming down, making what appears to be a contested catch an effortless-looking breakaway. He ended up moving to the slot after Jaxon Smith-Njigba's early-season injury in 2022, which only enhanced Egbuka's ability to create openings in small spaces. He turns the five-yard gains into 10-yard gains and the 10-yard gains into house-calls. His route-winning movements can become more refined, but that's mostly nit-picking. Egbuka is in the running for one of the best Ohio State receiving prospects of the last few years, in a class with Harrison Jr., Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Chris Olave. He's a first-round lock.
1. Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State)
- Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 205 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 consensus All-American; 2022 first-team All-Big Ten; 2022 Big Ten Richter-Howard Wide Receiver of the Year; led Big Ten in receiving touchdowns (14, fourth in FBS) in 2022; ranked second in Big Ten in receiving yards (1,263, sixth in FBS)
Rick Spielman's comp: Justin Jefferson
Note: Spielman drafted Jefferson 22nd overall in the 2020 NFL Draft as the Vikings general manager.
"The reason I'm saying Justin Jefferson is because of the route-running ability. Also, his ability to torque his body to catch off-target throws. His ability to win in contested situations as well. Justin Jefferson wasn't as good as Marvin Harrison Jr. is now, but if you look at Justin Jefferson today, that's who Marvin Harrison Jr. reminded me of when I watched his college tape."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Randy Moss
"I think his change-of-direction is insane for someone of his size. He moves like a much smaller wide receiver --some bigger wide receivers feel stiff -- but there is no stiffness there with Marvin Harrison Jr. I think he's top-five pick all day long. There doesn't have to be anything wrong with players. That feels like the case with Marvin Harrison Jr. Randy Moss is faster and separates better downfield with his vertical speed. Marvin Harrison Jr. coming out is a more crisp route-runner than Moss was. Most of Moss' success in the NFL came vertically, down the field. Harrison Jr. isn't as fast, but he can make plays at all levels of the field. Both are game-changing, impact players."
- Games to circle: vs Penn State (Oct. 21), at Michigan (Nov. 25)
- Draft range: Top five
No prospect is perfect since perfection is essentially impossible to find in this human life, but Marvin Harrison Jr. comes within striking distance of it when playing the wide receiver position. His footwork, change-of-direction, and ability to win at the point of attack on jump-balls and contested catches are what you would use in a lab if concocting an ideal receiving prospect from scratch. Even if a defensive back gets luck enough to stay with Harrison Jr. step-for-step, his length and strong hands allow him to corral the football even when it's thrown well away from his body. All defenders can do is pray and hope Harrison Jr.'s quarterback makes a mistake. Otherwise, the wideout makes the play. As of now, Harrison Jr. is a near-lock to be the first non-quarterback selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.