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2024 NFL Draft: WR Primer — which wide receivers are most likely to make a fantasy football impact in Year 1?

In Sports
April 17, 2024

Fantasy football analyst and wide receiver expert Matt Harmon breaks down the deep class of pass-catchers set to hear their names called during the 2024 NFL Draft.

CONSENSUS TOP 3

Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

Marvin Harrison Jr. has been an elite player at the college level and has every skill you want to see from a transformative wideout in the league. He’s wildly polished for a draft prospect with all the advanced nuance you expect from a veteran route-runner. His work against press coverage is pristine and he gets in and out of his breaks with fluidity to earn separation at all levels.

The most impressive part of his profile is that he’s been the key focus for defensive coordinators at a uniquely high level for years and still, no one could stop him.

There aren’t many landing spots where Harrison wouldn’t reach his ceiling. He’s a foundational type of talent you build the plan around the moment he arrives. Harrison projects as a high-volume X-receiver from the jump.

Rome Odunze, Washington

Ultimately, I ended up slotting Marvin Harrison Jr. as the class’s top wide receiver, but that came after a long internal debate between him and Rome Odunze. I just can’t say enough good things about this player.

Odunze is a fantastic route runner with an excellent set of release moves off the line against press coverage. He catches everything, too; from routine layups to combative downfield tight coverage clashes. He’s rugged after the catch and routinely makes the first tackler miss. You can say, “In any other class he’d be in the WR1 conversation,” but it doesn’t do Odunze justice. He’s flat-out a special prospect in his own right. I like him as a high-floor player who should be good at some level in the league but he has the ceiling to be a 30% target share X-receiver you can funnel your offense through and never lose a minute of sleep.

Malik Nabers, LSU

Falling in love with Malik Nabers is easy. He’s an ankle and angle destroyer in the open field and brings so much speed to the table. Nabers is an explosive play waiting to happen. He is the least refined of the big three at the top of this draft and played the most out of the slot. That doesn’t have to be a glaring negative and Nabers did show he can beat press coverage when asked. He might need the most time to reach his ceiling but the traits are wildly impressive and should provide immediate value with his ability to gain yards after the catch.

THE NEXT GROUP

Brian Thomas Jr., LSU

Thomas is the consensus WR4 in this class after the big three. I’m boring, and I agree with that widely-held view. Thomas has the necessary skills and developed the technique as 2023 wore on to defeat press coverage. That will be critical to his pro projection because he fits well as a vertical X-receiver. Thomas only ran a handful of routes at LSU but DK Metcalf’s rookie year provides a quality deployment plan for this type of wideout.

Ideally, I’d like to see Thomas drafted by a team with a strong target-earner in place at the slot or flanker spot. This allows for Thomas to continue growing as a full-field player and technician while getting the most out of his flashes early on. The Colts, Jaguars or Cowboys stand out as examples. Thomas should provide some massive statistical weeks as a rookie but could be a volatile option.

Adonai Mitchell, Texas

Mitchell is a high-ceiling prospect asked to run vertical routes from the boundary. His production profile doesn’t look great because of the role he played and the lack of consistent quarterback play at Texas.

In my player comparison video series for Yahoo, I gave out DeAndre Hopkins as an aggressive comp. Both have the same “lull you to sleep” route-running style. Those plays often get lumped into the reps where he takes plays off and makes this issue appear worse than reality. Mitchell’s game would be best exploited on a team with an aggressive downfield passer who isn’t afraid to work with a ball-winner. Mitchell’s cautious comp in that video series was George Pickens. And I could see his career playing out like that.

Ladd McConkey, Georgia

McConkey doesn’t boast the production profile often held by early-round picks at the position, but his film is excellent. He’s not the typical bunnyhop slot receiver you’d typecast a player with his frame. McConkey shows you he can win big-boy downfield routes as a flanker.

He’s also a chore to bring down in the open field. McConkey brings plenty of burst to the table and breaks tackles. Even with some size limitations, his full-field ability should make him the ideal running mate to a strong No. 1 X-receiver in the league. I compare him to Tyler Lockett.

Ricky Pearsall, Florida

Pearsall is a rock-solid receiver. He runs great routes in the short to intermediate areas and is athletic enough to rip defenses on big post and corner routes. You can see him play all three positions on film, even if his best home is probably as a flanker/slot receiver in the NFL. In addition to high-level separation, Pearsall has some of the best hands in this class. I see him starting out in the “quarterback’s best friend” role in the offense as the primary short read in high/low concepts in the passing game and eventually developing into a 120-target earner.

Xavier Worthy, Texas

Worthy shined at the NFL Scouting Combine and cemented his blazing speed with a record-breaking 40-yard dash. However, he’s been on a mission to show teams he is more than just a speedster.

The film would back that up. He is much more of a “real receiver” than some of the other combine 40-yard-dash warriors. His size does show up on film though, as he struggles to beat the press and win in contested situations; physical play can reroute him. However, he’s coming into the league at the perfect time for someone of his skill set, with all the sharp offensive minds expanding pre-snap motion packages. Pure speed could push him up the board but he’s someone I’d be comfortable taking in Round 2.

DIFFICULT EVALUATIONS

Troy Franklin, Oregon

Franklin’s film is quite the journey. If you watch him closely, you’re liable to change your opinion of him as a player on a route-by-route basis. As a route runner, he shows an advanced understanding of timing and tempo and knows how to weaponize his speed by stacking outside corners in off-man coverage. But he’s a wiry-thin player who is too often redirected by physical coverage both in route and at the catch point. His separation doesn’t carry to base over the middle NFL routes and if that holds in the league, he will not be a high-volume player. He profiles quite similarly to Jalin Hyatt in last year’s draft but is a much better route runner. This archetype of receiver can often fall into the “better for real life than fantasy” bucket.

Xavier Legette, South Carolina

Legette has one of the strangest production profiles you’ll ever see from a college prospect as a fifth-year breakout player who only played at one school. That final season, while a clear outlier, was excellent. He displayed freaky moments in the open field and is a menace on contested catches. Legette is raw as a man-coverage route runner and he’s still developing as a technician. The flashes of high upside are there and it’s easy to imagine a coaching staff falling in love with the size/athleticism combination. I can see his career going either direction and don’t have a bullish lean one way or another.

DEPLOYMENT MATTERS

Keon Coleman, Florida State

You can’t watch Keon Coleman’s film and get around the separation issues against man and press coverage. This is not my flavor of wideout to work as a team’s X-receiver because it invites volatility and low-percentage throws. However, so much of Coleman’s game as a zone-beater on in-breaking routes cleanly transitions to a big slot receiver role.

Most of the Coleman Round 1 hype cooled after he ran a 4.60 40-yard dash at the combine. That’s fine. I think he’s a good Day 2 prospect who, in the right situation, can be a useful if not downright pivotal piece to a quality passing game. I just need to know what coach will employ him before saying how I envision his pro projection.

Coleman will either shoot up my post-draft fantasy rankings or end up someone I preach caution on depending on what organization drafts him.

Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky

To cut to the chase, I think Corley is a better “real receiver” prospect than some of the gadget types who have captivated the attention of dynasty analysts in the past few classes. He understands zone coverage and can work well underneath. His run-after-catch and tackle-breaking ability are obvious on film and through advanced metrics. Corley won’t be for everyone and typically, players in this bucket need to be big-time outliers to garner significant volume but he can have a role. The right team just needs to get their hands on him.

POSSIBLE GEMS

Javon Baker, UCF

Baker is a physical perimeter wide receiver with better release chops than credited. He could be a Day 1 impact player as a downfield ball-winner who can line up as the X-receiver. As he develops on the job, his volume and role can grow.

Baker will be pretty landing spot-dependent. It’ll take the right kind of quarterback for him to hit but his game reminds me a good bit of Michael Gallup coming out of Colorado State in 2018.

Malik Washington, UVA

Washington transferred from Northwestern to finish his college tenure at Virginia last season and responded with a massive output. The coaching staff essentially built the entire offense around Washington, and he broke multiple school records. He’s an electric slot receiver who works well in space and can win in isolation as a technician. It helps that he catches everything, as well. I can easily see Washington going in the late third or early fourth round of this draft and out-producing several more volatile receivers taken ahead of him.

Jermaine Burton, Alabama

Let’s get this out of the way: Burton has character concerns. Talk to anyone in the league or with connections; that’s the first response you’ll get. I’d wager he’s off multiple teams’ boards altogether. That said, the film is fantastic. Burton is an aggressive player who separates extremely well and demolishes man coverage at all levels of the field. His route running is precise, the ball skills are there and he plays with great on-field speed. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where he’ll be drafted but if he lands with the right spot and jives with the coaching staff, he could be a mega sleeper.

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