From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’m profiling a player who used the 2022 Senior Bowl to launch himself onto everybody’s radar, and who would provide any team in the NFL a physical and gritty presence along the back line of a defense.
#5 Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State (Jr.) — 5116, 183 lbs.
— Really sells fakes and hesitations while running routes, employs jab step to help sell it and set up defenders to be turned.
— Cerebral in how he attacks man defenders, reads them along routes and attacks as they bite on fakes to turn them or burst by them.
— Stays aware of his defender’s eyes and focus, capitalizes when they look to the QB or another route and delivers a move to create separation.
— Excels at creating separation on shorter and intermediate routes like curls, comebacks, digs/flats, when not engaged physically along entire stem.
— Settles in against zone coverage, quickly reads and finds open areas to sit in.
— Notices when his QB is scrambling or under pressure, will relocate to give him a target.
— Stays aware of his QB throughout plays, quick to call for the ball when he recognizes he is/will be open off the line.
— Poetic in the air, possesses elite body control and acrobatic ability when going up to try for a catch. Seems to just stay suspended effortlessly.
— Elusive in tight spaces, employs spin moves and starts/stops to olé defenders and make them look foolish. Can deliver some vicious cuts.
— Willing blocker who will put up a fight and sustain blocks downfield on longer runs.
— Doesn’t possess an elite athletic trait that will win matchups consistently down-to-down, limited in speed, size, physicality.
— Lacks higher-end speed, needs to really deliver his moves along routes to gain an edge on his defender, and make moves as a runner to gain chunk yardage after the catch.
— Struggles against physical defenders off the line and along stem, not able to win battles or gain separation, particularly when facing a press.
— Can be out-muscled and beaten physically in the air, doesn’t win fights for favorable position and has to contort around defenders to make plays.
— Can’t stay separated as well on longer plays, defenders can catch back up and aren’t easy to beat with a move again. Needs to continually improvise to maintain advantage.
— Limited ability to adjust to throws delivered off-target, will drop some passes that are difficult but should be brought in.
— Spent two seasons as Ohio State’s starter, making 19 starts in 2020 and 2021. Over three seasons, appeared in 33 of a possible 35 games.
— Appeared on 2020, 2021 Biletnikoff Watch Lists (Best Receiver), 2021 Maxwell Watch List (Outstanding Player), 2021 Hornung Watch List (Most Versatile Player).
— 2020 All-Big Ten first team, 2021 second team. Second Team Preseason All-American in 2021.
— Career stats: 143 receptions, 2,213 yards, 23 touchdowns.
— 2021 stats (11 games): 70 receptions, 1,058 yards, 12 touchdowns, all were career-highs.
— 43 receptions, 723 yards, six touchdowns in shortened, eight-game 2020 season. Had 30 receptions as freshman backup in 2019.
— 5-star prospect, ranked top 20 nationwide across all positions. Chose Ohio State over Texas, which he grew up 20 miles from. Had over 30 offers.
— Received Division I offers to play basketball.
Looking at all the receivers in the 2022 class, and even receivers from past classes, and few look(ed) as NFL-ready coming out of college as Garrett Wilson does after leaving Ohio State following his junior year. After a three-year career where Wilson was an instant contributor and worked his way into the starting lineup in one of the nation’s deepest receiving rooms, Wilson entered the draft early with an all-around skillset that has him competing to be the first receiver off the board.
Wilson is one of the smartest players on the field, and succeeded at Ohio State out of the slot or lined up wide by playing a cerebral game where he could read coverages and his man defenders and attack them at the right times to get free, something he has to do to win along routes given that he plays at a speed disadvantage against faster defensive backs. When he is lined up against man coverage, tight off the line or off-man, he is aggressive in delivering fakes with a jab step or hesitation, and attacks at the right time to break away from his man or turn him around.
Wilson thrived against off-man coverage his final season, absolutely feasting when defenses chose not to challenge him off the snap. Two plays where Big Ten opponents found that out are these, first against Michigan State for a touchdown and second against Penn State.
Against the Spartans, Wilson is facing off-man coverage from MSU’s Angelo Grose out of the slot. Wilson sets up Grose with a jab step to the left, getting Grose to begin to turn and shuffle for the left half of the end zone. Something Wilson excels at is recognizing exactly how to set his man up and then when to capitalize on it, so as soon as he sees Grose bite left, he cuts in over the middle and has the easy touchdown catch.
That move, faking one direction before breaking the other, is one of Wilson’s go-to moves to turn his man and get free. He sets up Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. the same way in the second clip, and makes a good adjust to an errant throw from C.J. Stroud to bring it in. Porter even tapped his chest after the play, acknowledging he got beat for the catch.
Helping Wilson is his route running, which is crisp and something else Wilson does well enough to succeed with immediately at the next level. He ran a variety of patterns for the Buckeyes out of the slot and out wide, and was his best when getting short and intermediate routes like curls, comebacks, and digs. Here is a comeback catch against Michigan State.
Wilson has freshman corner Marqui Lowery with him step for step, but shifts his momentum and gets a lot of space from Lowery to catch the throw from Stroud. Wilson also shows off his ability to make defenders miss badly in tight spaces, avoiding a couple tackles as he transitions upfield. That skill allows Wilson to be a YAC threat, despite lacking top-end speed.
For another example, here is Wilson making a play on a dig route against Oregon.
Wilson (lined up at the top of the video) is dealing with tighter man off the line from Oregon’s Dontae Manning, and gets himself to Manning’s inside. Once he reaches his break point, he makes a hard plant step and cuts inside, getting plenty of room to make an uncontested catch for the first down. Flip this play toward the sideline, and it’s the same type of result when Wilson is sent on out routes.
Wilson’s awareness and intelligence on the field helps when he isn’t facing man coverage. He is able to find windows in zone coverage, and sits in those open areas to give his quarterback a target. And on longer plays, against both types of coverage, Wilson stays alert of when his QB is scrambling and needs a safety valve, and is active to come back and improvise into open space to give his guy an outlet to pass to. Overall, he is a player who is cognizant of what’s going on at all times and uses that to make plays, like this touchdown against Oregon.
Wilson catches Oregon corner Mykael Wright checking his wrist as the play begins, so he launches downfield quickly and calls for the ball from Stroud. From there, it’s just an easy touchdown catch with a good reach up to bring in a throw that was just a little too far ahead of him, with the safety unable to get over to help in time.
Wilson’s mental skill playing the game is one of his biggest selling points. But where Wilson really stands out above his classmates is how effortlessly he moves through the air. His body control when he gets airborne is a thing to behold, and is in a rare tier that not many prospects can get to. He looks natural flying off the ground, and can contort himself to make some acrobatic, highlight reel plays, like in this quick clip of a touchdown against Michigan.
Wilson, working against Vincent Gray, gets airborne and seems to just hang at his spot in the air as the throw arrives. Gray gets a hand in his face to contest the catch, but Wilson stays focused up there and brings it in, while controlling his body to get a foot down in-bounds, and get inside the pylon for the score.
He is willing to go up to bring in high passes or make big plays, and that gives him some extended range for what throws he can bring in. If a throw is delivered high, like this one is against Oregon, Wilson is someone who can still go up and bring it in.
Wilson’s section of “negatives” to illustrate on film is very thin compared to other receivers in this class, or prospects in general. There are very few negatives to point in Wilson’s game because he executes much of what he does on the field well and to an NFL-ready degree. Wilson’s biggest negative isn’t anything he doesn’t do well as a player, it is just that he lacks an elite physical trait aside from his body control in the air that could allow him to be a game-breaking weapon at the next level. He doesn’t possess top-end speed to burn most NFL corners, and despite using every inch and pound of his 6’0″, 192-pound frame to its maximum, he isn’t big enough to have a physical advantage over NFL defensive backs.
In fact, if there is an area where Wilson struggles, it is against physical defenders. When defenders engage him off the line and either tie him up in hand-fighting or keep jabbing at him along routes, Wilson struggles to separate enough to become a target for his QB, and can be taken out of plays. When throws do come to him on plays where his man is constantly engaging him, he also can’t break free enough to complete the catch. An example of this came in his game against Michigan.
Wilson (lined up on the bottom of the screen) is pestered right off the line by Gray, and Gray continues to battle him along the route as they run off-screen. Wilson is not able to win physically and separate himself, and Gray is there as the throw arrives to help encourage the incompletion.
Those struggles are also there when Wilson is challenged in the air, too. When defenders get up with him and apply some physicality in contested catch situations, Wilson can be fought out of favorable position, and has to contort his body and make acrobatic catches around his defender, instead of fighting him off for the spot. He still makes a lot of those plays given his proficiency at controlling himself airborne, but they come with a higher degree of difficulty and won’t be caught as frequently in the NFL.
If your NFL team needs an immediate starting wide receiver in this year’s class, Garrett Wilson’s name is at the top of their list. Not many receiver prospects are this NFL-ready after only three years in school, and whoever drafts Wilson should immediately slot him in as one of its starters.
Despite lacking elite size or speed, Wilson maximizes what he does have in both regards, and his ball skills and ability to soar through the air with absolute control should lead to some jaw-dropping plays at the next level. His intelligence is something that will make him productive from Week 1 of his rookie season, and can help him pile up the catches in a pass-heavy offense. With how talented of a route runner he is, he is someone who can eat up the short and intermediate levels of the field against off-man and zone coverages, and when he is at his peak, he is the type of player who could challenge for the top five in the NFL in receptions in a season if utilized in a high-volume, shorter-field role.
Wilson’s big question mark is whether he can become a more physical player who can win against aggressive defenders in tight man coverage. Opposing college programs for some reason allowed him to chew them up in off-man coverage, but he will face a lot more contact in the NFL, both along routes and in contested catch situations in the air. Improvements in hand-fighting and winning battles against physical defenders will increase his ceiling from where it is now (a quality starter with some Pro Bowl potential) to potentially becoming more of a game-changing WR1. No matter what, Wilson is still a long-term NFL starter and productive NFL receiver, with room to grow to more than that.
Projection: Day 1 (Somewhere in the 20s of Round 1)
Depot Draft Grade: 8.7 – Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)
Games Watched: 2021: at Minnesota, vs. Oregon, vs. Penn State, vs. Michigan State, at Michigan