The 2024 NFL Draft was rich in wide receiver prospects, and four of the top five of our pre-draft rankings wound up being first-round picks.

With the draft in the rear-view mirror and teams working through OTAs and toward minicamp and training camp, then the NFL season ahead, we’re instead taking an alternate approach to dive into a more specific trait: Who will be the best in this talented class with contested catches?

Given the defensive schemes and ball-hawking defensive players in the NFL, it’s an inherently useful skill for a player to make catches when he isn’t conventionally open.

As such, we rank which NFL rookie wide receivers are most likely to fight off close defenders, even “Moss” opponents, to reel in contested catches and stand out this fall:

1. Rome Odunze, Chicago Bears

At Washington, Odunze’s defining trait was “see ball, get ball,” and it was impressive enough to vault him into the top 10 overall picks of the 2024 NFL Draft.

A centerpiece of the Huskies’ 14-1, national runner-up squad, Odunze had a staggering 19 contested catches last season – eight more than the next-closest FBS player (but 10 more than the next-highest draftee) and the fourth-most by an FBS wide receiver in his final college season since 2016 (behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Texas Tech’s Dylan Cantrell and Syracuse’s Steve Ishmael).

Furthermore, Odunze converted on a ridiculous 90.5% of his contested catch opportunities last year, comfortably the highest rate among FBS WRs with at least 10 chances.

He became the first FBS WR to have at least 90 “burns,” which measure when a receiver wins his matchup against a defensive back on a play in which he’s targeted, and at least 15 contested catches in his final college season since Clemson’s Mike Williams in 2016.


Thanks to his contested catch prowess, Odunze finished the 2023 season with an FBS-leading 1,640 receiving yards, more than he had in his prior three college seasons combined. If that trait translates to the NFL, the No. 9 overall draft pick will be making highlight-worthy plays for years to come.

2. Marvin Harrison Jr., Arizona Cardinals

The No. 4 overall draft pick is good at just about everything on the football field – especially hauling in contested catches. 

In 2022, Harrison led the FBS with 16 contested catches. Last year, he had “only” eight of those receptions, but that was still good for a tie for fifth among players who went on to be drafted. 

The contested catch ability is part of an outstanding overall body of work, and Harrison’s most impressive trait in college was the stability of his year-to-year dominance. He was one of five FBS players with 1,200 or more receiving yards and 10+ receiving TDs, joining Odunze, LSU’s Malik Nabers, Oregon’s Troy Franklin and Arizona’s Tetairoa McMillan.

But he was the only one of the quintet to also accomplish the feat in 2022. As a result, the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison Sr. was named an AP First Team All-American in both seasons before he became the highest non-quarterback chosen in this year’s NFL Draft.

When Harrison teams up with the Cardinals’ highlight-reel quarterback Kyler Murray, “Maserati Marv” should have plenty of reasons to be all over the field as a rookie.

3. Luke McCaffrey, Washington Commanders

Although Luke is the brother of star San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, his football skill set is more reminiscent of their father, three-time Super Bowl champion wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. 

That wasn’t always the case, though, as Luke McCaffrey began his college career as a quarterback, where he started a combined five games between his time at Nebraska and Rice. But he converted to wide receiver entering the 2022 season, and the rest was history, as he immediately proved to be a natural.

He had a combined 1,715 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns across the last two seasons as a wideout. His final season was particularly impressive, as his 13 receiving touchdowns tied for sixth nationally, and his nine contested catches tied for the second-most among the 35 drafted wide receivers. 


Additionally, his 90.0% contested catch rate ranked second among all FBS receivers with at least eight chances, trailing only Odunze.

Jayden Daniels, McCaffrey’s new QB in Washington, likes to throw the deep ball, so the “other” McCaffrey should get plenty of chances for making contested catches.

4. Ja’Lynn Polk, New England Patriots

Given Michael Penix Jr.’s affinity for putting vertical passes outside the numbers wherever he wants, it may not be too surprising to see a second receiver from the 2023 Washington Huskies featured here. But even the best throw still requires a receiver to go up and get it, and that’s what Polk did often for an offense that was among the nation’s best.

Thrust into a bigger role due to Jalen McMillan missing much of the season with a knee injury, Polk proved himself worthy of it, with career-high totals of 1,159 receiving yards and nine TD catches. As a result of the breakout season, he became the 37th overall pick to New England, one of three Huskies’ receivers to be drafted in the first three rounds.

Polk finished his final season with nine contested catches, tied for the second-most among the drafted players who are now NFL rookie wide receivers. He converted 75.0% of his opportunities alongside Odunze as they served as the biggest receiving contributors to Washington’s robust aerial attack.

Polk should have an opportunity to play right away, already being projected as a starter for a New England offense that was among the sport’s worst last season. If he can develop a quick rapport with the team’s starting quarterback – either journeyman Jacoby Brissett or 2024 third overall draft pick Drake Maye – he’ll have plenty of chances to put his ball skills on display yet again.

5. Bub Means, New Orleans Saints

Means, a fifth-round draft pick who attended three schools – Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Pittsburgh – is certainly not as big of a name as the others featured on this list, but when it came to sheer production on contested catch opportunities, he was among the best last year.

Means’ nine contested catches in his second and final season at Pitt tied for second among the 35 drafted WRs. He converted on 69.2% of his opportunities, leading to career-high totals of 721 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions while he served as a bright spot on Pittsburgh’s 3-9 team.

Given the Saints’ depth chart at the position looks uncertain beyond Chris Olave (Michael Thomas was released in March), it wouldn’t be surprising to see Means get snaps that matter right away and put him right among the top NFL rookie wide receivers.

NFL Rookie Wide Receivers: Honorable Mention

  • Jermaine Burton (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • Keon Coleman (Buffalo Bills)
  • Adonai Mitchell (Indianapolis Colts)
  • Malik Nabers (New York Giants)
  • Brian Thomas Jr. (Jacksonville Jaguars)

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