Not often do you leave a stadium and hear a chorus of fans lamenting a starting quarterback who just threw for 484 yards with three scores as well as an interception, but such was the case at Ohio Stadium last Sunday.
Not only do the Buckeyes have the best receiving duo in college football, but they also have the two best receivers in college football, period. Against an Oregon secondary that features multiple quality draft prospects, Olave and Wilson were borderline unstoppable. Olave caught 12-of-17 balls for 126 yards, while Wilson hauled in 8-of-14 targets for 117 yards and a score. Both could have added 15-plus yards to their totals were it not for an uncharacteristic drop from each. If you’ve watched either over the past year and a half, this is no surprise.
There’s no debate as to whether Wilson and Olave are WR1 and WR2 in this draft class. PFF, ESPN’s Todd McShay and the Athletic’s Dane Brugler both have them as such. The ordering of the two, however, is going to be in the eye of the beholder. While this isn’t as stark a contrast as Henry Ruggs III versus Jerry Jeudy coming out of Alabama, the two Ohio State receivers will fill two different roles in the NFL.
So, what exactly are you getting from each? And who is PFF’s WR1? I’m glad you asked…
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Chris Olave is far from an imposing specimen. At 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, he’s not going to intimidate anyone getting off the bus. What the senior does do, though, is spin cornerbacks around like a top downfield. He pairs exceptional top-end speed with crafty route pacing to consistently get that step needed on opposing defenders. It’s why he’s still averaged over 3.0 yards per route for his career and maintained a 15.3-yard average depth of target.
Chris Olave. WR 1. pic.twitter.com/DSz5ONvghu
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) September 11, 2021
If I had to use one word to describe his game, it would be “smooth.” He’s almost too smooth, which has led some to question his speed. Truthfully, I have no concerns in that regard. He’s not Tyreek Hill, but he’s got more than enough to continue his downfield prowess in the NFL.
— THE Bunch of Nuts Podcast (@bunch_nuts) March 23, 2021
Ask former Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick — a potential top draft prospect — if he thinks Olave is fast. In the playoff semifinals last year, Olave cooked the now-Georgia corner for a massive 56-yard score.
JUSTIN FIELDS WHAT A DIME! DERION KENDRICK CAN HOLD CHRIS OLAVE’S NUTS ???? pic.twitter.com/9nMEDRAo5F
— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) January 2, 2021
That’s been a familiar sight for Buckeyes faithful. Olave’s 21 deep receptions since the start of 2019 are the most of any receiver still in college football, and 13 of those 21 resulted in scores.
Ohio State lived in FIB (Formation Into (the) Boundary) and then picked their matchups. Had split zone, PA boot, sprint-outs, three man strong combos all from this look.
Clemson busts up top *and* Chris Olave has 10 acres to run a gorgeous post. SPEEEEEEEEEED. G'night. pic.twitter.com/V3LnlGtbC6
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) January 2, 2021
Olave’s route-running prowess isn’t solely limited to the far reaches of the football field, however. He can separate pretty much anywhere. Whether it’s on intermediate routes…
Chris Olave shows off his body control and smooth route running with this Out route.
See how he gets to his depth and maintains his path after his break (no drifting!). Good stuff. pic.twitter.com/bS82JUFQd5
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 11, 2021
Or in the red zone…
— San Diego Football (@Daygofootball) January 2, 2021
Olave gets open in his sleep. The problems arise when he’s not particularly open. Olave has caught only nine of the 21 contested targets in his career. He can struggle with physicality, and if he hasn’t packed on more strength by his senior season, it’s likely never happening. That rears its head the most after the catch. He’s adept at making decisive cuts and getting upfield with the ball in his hands, but he’s rarely going to make guys miss or run through arm tackles. He’s broken only eight tackles on 127 catches in his career. That’s an exceedingly low rate for a top-flight receiver. If you want to throw someone a lot of receiver screens, I’d look elsewhere.
While the limitations are there, Olave could very easily fill a Calvin Ridley-esque role in the NFL where he’s prioritized on longer developing routes downfield. That might not be your traditional No. 1 type of receiver, but it’s an incredibly valuable role still.
Garrett Wilson has “it” — the kind of know-it-when-you-see-it ability to make plays no matter the role he’s in. Unlike Olave, Wilson doesn’t necessarily have limits to his game that will pigeonhole him in the NFL. X, Z, slot and even taking handoffs — you name it, Wilson can likely do it at a high level.
Garrett Wilson: Certified playmaker
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 31, 2020
And he’s done all those things at Ohio State with 359 snaps out wide and 221 from the slot in his career.
While he doesn’t possess Olave's pure speed (Wilson is likely a 4.5 to Olave’s 4.4 in the 40-yard dash), that hasn’t stopped Wilson from being productive downfield. He’s racked up 11 deep receptions in only 10 games since taking over as a starter in 2020.
Garrett Wilson ???? of separation
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 3, 2021
As shown in the clip above, Wilson has that way of moving that others simply can’t replicate. The bounce and acceleration out of breaks are eerily reminiscent of Jerry Jeudy coming out of Alabama. You’re either capable of that or your not, and Wilson has proven time and time again that he can do things others simply can’t.
GO DEEP GARRETT WILSON????
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 21, 2020
That’s not to say he’s the perfect prospect. Wilson is still only 6-foot and 192 pounds and not near the dominant physical specimen who goes in the top five in an NFL draft. The true junior has had some balls go through his hands at times, with seven drops on 63 catchable targets since the start of last year. At the same time, though, with his explosiveness and body control, Wilson can get to balls you’d never expect a 6-foot receiver to reach.
Garrett Wilson made this unreal catch as a TRUE freshman ???? pic.twitter.com/x0hh5l7l4F
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) May 27, 2020
While Olave may be a more polished and accomplished deep threat, Wilson boasts far fewer weaknesses than his teammate. Anything you want to ask Wilson to do, he’s fully capable of. That will be invaluable at the next level. That’s the deciding factor between him and Olave on the PFF board, but depending on the offense, I won’t argue if an NFL team has them flipped.