Finishing up a summer series for Steelers Depot, highlighting a handful of 2022 NFL Draft hopefuls and options for the Pittsburgh Steelers we could be talked a lot more about nine months from now.
#2 Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State — 6’1” 188 pounds
- Good size, decent build
- Good speed, great acceleration. Quick off the line. Knows how to vary his tempo to keep the DB guessing. Able to accelerate in an instant
- Projects as a Z or slot receiver depending on personnel (slot in 3-WR sets)
- Silky-smooth, efficient route runner. Able to work all areas of the field. Compact and efficient footwork, gets his chest over his toes on tight breaks, fluid hips that sink well, good use of tempo, knows how to get in the DB’s blind spot
- Runs a variety of routes (expanded route tree): go’s, corners, posts, drags, slants, outs, digs, hitches/curls, comebacks, crossers, double moves, “now”/tunnel screens, etc.
- Developed release packages. Has a variety of releases in his arsenal (examples): shimmy, skip/hop, arm pump, hesitation, speed (great accelerator), double moves
- Tracks the ball extremely well. Instinctual hands catcher
- Solid body control in the air and with the ball in his hands
- High IQ. Knows how to get open, even when the play breaks down. Knows the WR position
- Great RAC ability. Has confident hands to make grabs while gaining/without losing speed. Has some shiftiness/wiggle in open space and close quarters. Good open field vision
- Willing blocker who often accomplishes his assignment to the degree that is required. Shows great effort
- Can contribute on special teams (blocked punts in 2018 and 2019)
- Given a lot of free releases in the games I watched. Corners played off and employed a bail or backpedal technique on a lot of reps, resulting in easy, uncontested catches
- Plays with more finesse than physicality. Was unable to secure some catches where the DB played him with tight coverage
- Has room for improvement in his route breaks. Can work on his body usage (shifting his weight violently, getting his arms and head a bit more involved)
- Can work on consistently winning in contested catch situations. Seems to have the ball tracking and leaping ability on tape for 50-50 jump balls, but he needs to ensure he brings the ball to his body when the DB plays physical and gives a last chance effort to dislodge the football, and when he’s going to the ground and makes contact
- Taken down easily at times with the ball in his hands when he doesn’t have built up momentum
- Could add some weight to his frame for the NFL level
- 2020 Stats (7 games): 50 receptions, 729 yards, 7 touchdowns
- 2019 Stats (13 games): 49 receptions, 849 yards, 12 touchdowns
- 2021 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award Watch List, Maxwell Award Watch List, Biletnikoff Award Watch List
- Coaches and Media Third Team All-Big Ten in 2019 and First Team All-Big Ten in 2020
- Currently a senior
- 3.39 yards per route run in 2020 according to PFF, which is first for returning Power 5 outside WRs
- Yards per catch dropped from 17.5 to 14.6 from 2019 to 2020
- Four-star recruit out of high school
- Three-sport athlete in high school. Also played basketball and ran track
- 21 years old – born June 27, 2000
Ohio State’s Chris Olave is one of, if not arguably the best wide receiver prospect in the nation heading into the 2021 college football season. Olave produced over 700 yards and 7 TDs in both 2019 and 2020 as a then sophomore and junior (2019 being a full season and thus better looking statistically). While he only played in seven games in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he went for 100 or more yards in five out of those seven games, and 60 or more yards in all seven. Heading into his senior season, Olave’s draft stock is high. He is a fairly polished technician that understands the wide receiver position, and how to get open. He is a consistent separator that can work all areas of the field. He can win underneath, down the sidelines, and across/over the middle of the field. He tracks the ball well and has confident hands that are needed to haul in pinpoint throws. Olave isn’t a physical specimen that will outmuscle DBs or serve as a consistent jump ball threat (at least at this point in his career, because there are flashes of potential in his leaping ability), but his finesse playstyle and understanding of the WR position allows him to produce. While the 2021 season will reveal how much further he’s developed his release packages, route running, and cutting/breaks, let’s get into the numerous positives he’s shown over the duration of his 2018 to 2020 seasons, and why his draft stock is so high in 2021.
This first clip is from back in 2019, Chris Olave was a sophomore. OSU vs. FAU. It is a perfect example of Olave’s polished route running ability, which is one of, if not his best trait. Olave is in a tight split field side. With a free release, he stems his route to the outside, signaling an out-breaking route to the DB. The DB reacts by opening his hips to the sideline in preparation for a break attempt on a potential throw. However, the DB has done exactly what Olave wanted him to do, which is expose himself to the deep ball inside. So, Olave gives a hard stick/plant with his right foot to propel himself across the face of the turned defender. Olave then turns his head back to the QB in order to look for a throw while running to the goal post. The #11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Justin Fields, puts the throw right on Olave’s chest for a touchdown.
This next clip is from Ohio State’s 2020 season in their game against Penn State. Olave is out wide field side. At the snap, he skips into the face of the defender who waits for Olave to reach him. Then, the DB engages Olave with his hands as Olave tries to sneak past him to the outside. The DB is in good position at this point, having stifled Olave’s attempt at a speed release up the sideline. So, Olave counters with some hesitation and a peek inside, to which the DB chops his feet and halts his momentum with the worry of giving up the inside. Because of this slight hesitation from the DB, Olave is finally able to put his head down and take off up the sideline, demonstrating great acceleration to stack the DB. To finish the play, Olave does a fantastic job of tracking the throw towards the pylon and extending over the defender, then quickly pulling the ball in after making the catch. He gets one foot down with the ball secured. No catch in the NFL, but a touchdown in collegiate play.
Here’s another touchdown clip from Ohio State-Penn State in 2020. Olave is field side again. He accelerates off the line, then slows up as he shifts his body towards the outside. After taking a couple steps angled towards the sideline, he accelerates again to beat the DB up the sideline. This somewhat of an “out and up” look forced the defender in his vicinity to completely turn around towards the sideline, then chase Olave up it. It looks too easy here for Olave as he jogs while tracking the pass into the red zone. However, he then makes a sensationally difficult fingertip grab with immaculate concentration, diving into the end zone to cap off the play.
Moving on, this clip is from Ohio State’s 2020 game against Nebraska. Olave is at the bottom of the screen and runs a crossing route. What stands out in this clip is his acceleration, which is one of the reasons he is a consistent deep threat that teams must defend in a particular way (he sees a lot of off coverage and bail and backpedal techniques, making it easier for him to work the underneath routes). Here, he sees the defenders in front of him backing up, then he spots a gap in the defense. Olave then quickly angles his body towards the opposite sideline and hits the gas to accelerate across the field and away from any defenders. He signals for a target and immediately receives a pass, hopping to secure it before being dragged out of bounds from behind.
Olave does a lot of damage on both shallow and deep crossers as well as seam routes (on top of a variety of other routes). He’s able to utilize his acceleration and spatial awareness based on his immense football IQ, in order to find holes in the defense and pull away from defenders.
Against man, he’ll outrun you, against zone, he’ll find the holes in your defense to pick it apart.
Here’s a clip from Ohio State vs. Indiana in 2020. Again, great spatial awareness shown by Olave. Lined up at the bottom of the screen, he sees defenders eyeing the QB inside as he releases off the line. So, he sits down at the sticks in an open pocket for his QB to put a throw on him. He doesn’t drift into a defender or too far upfield, he sits down right at the sticks and gives his QB a target. Also a good job to immediately turn upfield for the first after securing the catch.
Here’s an example of Olave’s developed release packages and route running ability from the same game. Olave is lined up at the top of the screen field side. He slow plays the release off the line with a rhythmic skip/hop to the outside. Then, he does a tremendous job of changing his tempo by instantaneously dropping his weight and swiveling inside on the dig route. The DB turned his hips to the outside based on the initial look of the release, and he was left frozen when Olave sped up his tempo to break inside. Olave then displays confident hands to pluck the ball out of the air while on the move and facing no resistance.
This clip is Ohio State against Indiana in 2020 yet again. It illustrates Olave’s RAC ability. Lined up as the closest receiver to the sideline in the bunch set, Olave receives the screen pass as his teammates look for defenders to block in front of them. Olave showcases good vision and shiftiness to follow his blocks then spot an open crease to wiggle through for some nice YAC.
Moving on, Olave’s effort as a blocker is another area of his game that stood out when watching him. In this clip vs. Penn State from 2020, Ohio State runs a jet sweep to fellow wide receiver (another top WR prospect) Garrett Wilson. Olave (bottom of the screen) spots the middle of the field safety that diagnosed the run and shot downhill to attempt to make a play. He displays patience to let the safety work his way to him while establishing a fundamentally strong base. As the DB arrives, Olave gets solid engagement with his hands due to good hand placement, and he seals the DB to the inside, giving Wilson an outside lane to scamper through. Wilson gives a free defender a nice juke and it’s off to the races. Olave could’ve been done on this play, he did his job. However, he takes off downfield with his teammate to see if he can assist any further. He gets lost a bit at the end, and Wilson takes a shot, but at least the thought process was there.
Olave displayed consistent fundamentals and effort when asked to run block in the games I watched. He’s also displayed the same effort on special teams throughout his career, making plays in the process.
This clip is from Ohio State vs. Nebraska in 2020. Olave is at the bottom of the screen and runs an out route vs. off coverage. He exhibits a crisp, clean break. He shifts/leans his weight to the outside, then gets his head around to look for a throw, keeping his route flat in the process as he makes his way towards the sideline. After making the catch, he finishes the play by turning upfield and looking to make contact with the nearest defender, wrestling his way out of bounds.
Now, here’s a clip from Ohio State against Penn State in 2020 where Olave could’ve had a cleaner break on an out route. Olave is at the bottom of the screen, again working against off coverage. He keeps his route stem uniform, running a straight path as to not tip his hand to the DB about a potential break. However, the DB just sits on his route and when Olave breaks with a bit of rigid/stiffness, the DB plants and drives on the route, breaking it up (and almost intercepting it). Olave’s lack of urgency and explosion (due to the fact that he didn’t get his body involved much at all) here did him no favors on what was ultimately a great play from the defender.
Lastly, Olave’s tape shows him losing contested catch situations on occasion. He has shown he has the leaping ability and coordination to come down with tough grabs, but a bit of physicality has sometimes resulted in dislodged footballs either due to the DB’s play or contact with the ground. This clip is from Ohio State vs. Indiana in 2020, and while it would have been an exceptional grab had he (top of the screen field side) come away with it, these are the types of situations where I want to see Olave consistently make plays in 2021. He is often given cushion and thus easy catches with no resistance due to his ability to take the top off the defense, and while he has shown the ability to beat press, if he shows the ability to consistently win combative catches down the sidelines, in the middle of the field, and in the red zone, that will only boost his draft stock even more.
A strong 2021 season would firmly cement Chris Olave in the top tier of 2022 NFL Draft wide receiver prospects. Olave has some refinement to his game, and that can be seen in his releases, route running, and overall understanding of the wide receiver position. I believe he can further polish the consistency of his body control in his breaks (rare occasions), as well as develop his physicality/hands in contested situations, and those are areas that he’ll show how much he’s worked on in 2021.
Overall, Olave reminds me a bit of current Dallas Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb (who seems to be primed for a breakout 2021 season). Olave is the type of crafty and nuanced separator that projects well for a slot role in the NFL, but he can also kick outside when his team employs two wide receiver sets. Playing in a predominantly spread system would allow Olave to utilize his route running and spatial awareness to beat both man and zone coverage, and I think that’s his best fit in the NFL. As noted (and like any prospect), he still has some areas of his game to develop, work on, and clean up, but as of now, Olave should be viewed as one of the top wide receivers for the 2022 NFL Draft. His 2021 season and testing numbers will give more clarity as to where he will end up being selected come 2022.
Projection: Day One
Games Watched: Florida Atlantic (2019), Nebraska (2020), Penn State (2020), Indiana (2020)