Wideout is considered an especially strong position group this year. And with the help of our advanced data, we’re ranking the 2024 NFL wide receiver draft prospects.
The NFL Combine is approaching at the end of February, meaning that mock drafts and positional rankings will be dominating the post-Super Bowl headlines for months to come.
We’ll be the latest to contribute to that trend, starting with wide receiver prospects for the 2024 NFL Draft class. Wideout is considered an especially strong position group this year, with rumors going around that this group could break the record of seven receivers going off the board in the first round (set in 2004).
Based on a combination of conventional stats and our advanced metrics, we’re ranking the best of the best of this year’s WR contingent.
1. Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
Given that college football’s reigning Biletnikoff Award winner has been referred to as a “generational” prospect by pundits, it’s no surprise that he takes the top spot on our list.
It will be a tall order for Harrison to be the best pro receiver out of a recent Ohio State alumni population that includes the likes of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But if his college production is any indication, he has more than a puncher’s chance.
As it pertains to Harrison, who is projected to be the first wideout off the board in most NFL mock drafts, his most impressive trait is the year-to-year stability of his dominance. He was one of five FBS players with 1,200 or more receiving yards and 10+ receiving TD in 2023, joining Washington’s Rome Odunze, LSU’s Malik Nabers, Oregon’s Troy Franklin, and Arizona’s Tetairoa McMillan. And of that quintet, he was the only one who also accomplished the feat in 2022.
Harrison ranked in the top five of the FBS in receiving touchdowns and the top 10 in receiving yards in both years, making it unsurprising that the playmaker was named an AP First Team All-American in both seasons.
Once we dive into the advanced stats, it becomes even more apparent that Harrison’s game truly has no weaknesses. He certainly displayed the ability to create separation, finishing in the top 10 in the FBS in “burns” (a metric for when a receiver wins his matchup against a defensive back on a play in which he’s targeted) in both 2022 and 2023.
He was consistently elite at the catch point, leading the nation with 16 contested catches in 2022, and tying for seventh with nine in 2023. The Buckeyes relied on him more than ever this most recent season, as he was targeted on 36.4% of his routes (the second-highest rate among Power Five WRs with at least 200 routes, behind Virginia’s Malik Washington). He responded by having a strong total of 3.91 yards per route run – the fourth-highest total in the Power Five.
The cherry on top? Even with such high volume, Harrison dropped only seven passes combined over the past two seasons. No matter what trait you look at, the Philadelphia native has no holes, as he’s about as close to a “lock” to be a successful NFL player as you’ll see from any prospect.
2. Malik Nabers, LSU
There were many factors behind Jayden Daniels’ record-setting season that ended with a Heisman Trophy, but Nabers’ breakout junior year has to be right up there with any of them.
The LSU offense led the FBS with 45.5 points per game in 2023, and Nabers’ 14 receiving touchdowns were tied for second among Power Five WRs, trailing only teammate Brian Thomas Jr. (whose name will show up later on this list). He also led the FBS with 120.7 receiving yards per game, though he finished ranked second in total receiving yards with 1,569 (due to playing two fewer games than Washington’s Rome Odunze).
And while there may be other route runners who have a bigger catch radius (such as the aforementioned Odunze), there may be no one better in this class at creating separation from cornerbacks. Nabers finished with an average of 7.4 burns per game, which was the nation’s highest total among WRs who played at least 10 games.
As a result, Nabers finished the season with a remarkable total of 4.46 yards per route run. That’s the third-highest average by a Power Five WR in his final college season since 2016 (trailing DeVonta Smith and Elijah Moore – both in 2020).
And one more nugget of note: Nabers doesn’t even turn 21 until July 28, 2024. When you combine that youth with the aptitude he’s already shown, the pro potential is sky high.
3. Rome Odunze, Washington
As alluded to in the previous section, Odunze’s remarkable 2023 season was built around his prowess in one key trait: “see ball, get ball.”
A centerpiece of the Huskies’ thrilling 14-1 season, Odunze had a staggering 19 contested catches – seven more than the next-closest FBS player (Pittsburgh’s Bub Means, 12). Furthermore, he converted on a ridiculous 95.0% of his contested catch opportunities, comfortably the highest rate in the nation among WRs with at least 10 chances.
Odunze’s 19 contested catches were the fourth most by any FBS WR in his final college season since 2016 (behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Texas Tech’s Dylan Cantrell and Syracuse’s Steve Ishmael). As a matter of fact, Odunze became the first FBS WR to have at least 90 burns and at least 15 contested catches in his final college season since Clemson’s Mike Williams in 2016:
Add all of that together, and it’s no surprise that Odunze had a nation-high 1,640 receiving yards in 2023 (albeit, boosted by Washington playing 15 games). Odunze’s FBS-leading 105 burns were the most by any Power Five WR in his final college season since DeVonta Smith had 113 in his Heisman-winning 2020 campaign.
Odunze was the definition of a player who got better each year, as his 1,640 yards in 2023 were more than he had in his other three college seasons combined. If that trend continues, some NFL team is going to be getting a superstar.
4. Troy Franklin, Oregon
Sticking to the conference formerly known as the Pac-12, Franklin was another standout from the Pacific Northwest who dominated in 2023.
When Franklin gets going in space with his gargantuan strides, he’s a tough man to catch – as Caleb Williams and USC found out during his memorable two-reception, 147-yard game this season.
Indeed, speed and quickness kill, and Franklin demonstrated plenty of them during his breakout junior season. His big-play ability led to him finishing the season with 14 receiving touchdowns, tied with Harrison and Nabers for second among Power Five players. He also finished with 1,383 receiving yards, good for sixth in the FBS.
As a key part of an Oregon offense defined by its ruthless efficiency (finishing with 44.2 points per game, second nationally behind LSU), Franklin certainly fit the theme. His 3.94 yards per route ranked third among Power Five WRs with at least 200 routes, trailing only Nabers and USC’s Tahj Washington.
Contested catches weren’t a specialty of Franklin’s, but given how he excelled at getting open (85 burns, tied for fifth in FBS) and creating after the catch, they didn’t need to be. Nonetheless, Franklin finished with a 0.915 “catch rating” (a rating from 0-1 that indicates how well a receiver successfully catches throws that are considered catchable), which was above the FBS average of 0.906.
5. Brian Thomas Jr., LSU
Partially due to sharing the field with Nabers, Thomas was only targeted on 24.2% of his routes in 2023 – well below any of the four draft prospects listed above. But when the ball was thrown his way, he managed to shine.
Thomas’ 17 receiving touchdowns were two more than any other FBS player, but his efficiency wasn’t limited to the end zone. Thomas averaged a very impressive 13.3 receiving yards per target, which was the sixth-highest rate among FBS WRs. Additionally, he had a 80.9 burn percentage that was the second-highest rate in the Power Five behind Oregon’s Gary Bryant Jr.
Though his counting stats were somewhat harmed due to Nabers’ presence, Thomas still managed to finish 13th nationally with 1,177 receiving yards. We’ll never know what those numbers would’ve looked like if he was a college team’s undisputed No. 1 option.
But what we can say is that, with a 6-foot-4 frame, elite ball skills, body control, athleticism and a pedigree of production against elite competition, he has the skill set to excel as a pass catcher at the next level.
The Next Tier
- Jacob Cowing, Arizona (tied for sixth in FBS with 13 receiving TDs in 2023)
- Brenden Rice, USC (3.82 yards per route run in 2023, ninth in FBS, min. 200 routes)
- Roman Wilson, Michigan (tied for seventh in FBS with 77.3% burn rate in 2023)
- Keon Coleman, Florida State (tied for 11th in FBS with 11 TDs in 2023)
- Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky (ninth in FBS with 35.2% target rate in 2023)
- Adonai Mitchell, Texas (11 TDs, only one dropped pass in 2023)
- Jermaine Burton, Alabama (Led FBS with 14.7 yards per target in 2023)
- Xavier Legette, South Carolina (eighth in FBS with 3.88 yards per route run in 2023)
- Malik Washington, Virginia (Led FBS with 110 receptions in 2023)
- Tahj Washington, USC (second in Power Five with 4.02 yards per route run in 2023)