One of the biggest surprises from the 2021 NFL pre-draft process was Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave announcing that he would return to Columbus for his senior year. After dominating in the brief 2020 season, Olave seemed primed to go in the first round. However, he wanted to make one last push for a National Championship. Despite having a whole season still left to play, Olave is one of the prospects we already know a lot about. He may not be a Julio Jones game-changer, but Olave is going to be a very good player for many years.
When you don’t have the ability to out-jump or out-muscle a defender, you have to lean on grreat route running. While Olave has good speed, he wins on his routes with excellent footwork and smooth cuts. Two of his best routes, comebacks and digs, are textbook examples of how to get open. He doesn’t waste any steps or make any extra movements. Instead, gets off of the line quickly and makes the defender play catch-up from there. A defender might think they are keeping up with him within the first five yards, but once Olave cuts, he is free with plenty of room to make the catch.
You can be blessed with all the physical gifts in the world, but at some point you have to develop a football mind and be smarter than your opponent. You might ask “How can a wide receiver show they have a high football IQ?” Great question. You’ll find the answer by turning on Olave’s tape. When his quarterback is scrambling around looking for someone to throw to, Olave is the first guy to come back to the ball and make himself open. Moments like this make you a quarterback’s favorite target. Olave will use tactics that we usually see in the pros, not in college players. He’ll toy with the cornerback by changing his route tempo and attack their blind spot while their back is turned to the quarterback.
Week after week, Olave has provided solid performances for the Buckeyes. He’s had at least 50 receiving yards in every game since Thanksgiving in 2019. That’s twelve games and counting where he has proven he can produce regardless of the opponent. Sure, he’s had the luxury of a very good quarterback in Justin Fields for most of his career, but the Ohio State offense isn’t an offense that wants to throw the ball forty times a game. He also doesn’t drop passes. Olave is one of the more sure-handed college receivers you’re ever going to see.
It’s tough to explain this, but there’s just something about Olave that you can’t teach. He doesn’t have the elite measurables or breathtaking skill, but he gets the job done every week. I don’t think he’s going to be a superstar in the NFL, but I think he’s going to be a very good player for a long time who comes up with clutch catches when it matters most.
The main thing stopping Olave from becoming an elite prospect and pro is his lack of ideal size. Listed at 6’1″ and 188 pounds, Olave doesn’t have the physicality or strength needed to battle with defensive backs at the point of attack. While it is tough to get your hands on Olave, if a corner is able to effectively use his hands against him, he’ll get re-routed. I doubt he’s ever going to be a physical specimen or even a decently strong receiver for his size, so he has to find a way to build some muscle mass. Maybe this will come as he develops his “man body”.
Usually, wide receivers don’t have a case of fumble-itis, but there were a few times where Olave put the ball on the ground. Did it happen enough to the point where it’s a serious problem? No, but when it happens more than once as a receiver you have to start to worry. This is even more of a reason for him to add muscle — particularly in his upper body.
He won’t be the sexiest name in the 2022 draft class, but Olave will likely be the safest and most dependable. Other top receiver prospects like Garrett Wilson or John Metchie may be more explosive big-play options, but they don’t have the experience or consistency of Olave. My player comparison for him would be Robert Woods of the Los Angeles Rams or even 2020 Heisman winner Devonta Smith. All of these guys aren’t the biggest, but they make plays and are dependable targets. I see Olave as a top 20 prospect at the moment, but with another huge season, he could see his stock rise into the top 10.