As the 2024 NFL Draft approaches, all eyes are on the deep and talented wide receiver class. While Marvin Harrison Jr, Keon Coleman and Malik Nabers are the headline acts, the real excitement lies in the potential first-round surprises.
In this brief overview, we'll delve into the rising stars beyond the top trio, exploring the prospects who could make an unexpected but compelling case for a coveted spot in the first round.
Note: The numbers on each Route Tree will not add up to 100 percent because of the lack of video for some routes and screen passes not being on the Route Tree.
Wide Receivers Who Could Sneak Into First Round
Rome Odunze, Washington
Measurements: 6-foot-3, 215 lbs
Rome Odunze shines on contested catches, showcasing a knack for securing receptions under tight coverage. His speed makes him a constant threat downfield, and 30 percent of his routes are patterns like Corner, Post and Vertical routes, where he consistently excels.
Even at his size, Odunze can move into the slot, be utilized on screens and create after the catch. Odunze has run more than 30 percent of his routes in the slot and has been successful in that role. He has an average depth of target of more than 12 yards and averages 5.36 yards after the catch per reception.
Odunze’s catch technique (he used to body catch a lot) and quickness out of his breaks have improved tremendously this season. These things still have room for improvement; at his size, they are far more advanced than most coming out of college.
Odunze must improve his release against press coverage, which is crucial for an outside receiver. He tends to engage in unnecessary hand-fighting at the route stem, and we’d love for that to be a quick move and use that speed to run by players.
Leading up to the draft, don’t be surprised to see a fast 40-yard dash time from Odunze. In high school, he was a track star, and that straight-line speed is obvious on the field. He has a great combination of size, arm length and speed and understands how to use these to his advantage.
Xavier Worthy, Texas
Measurements: 6-foot-1, 172 lbs
Xavier Worthy, despite lackluster measurements, is a compelling late first-round draft pick. He was a standout as a freshman at Texas, leading the team in receiving and notching 12 touchdowns. Worthy showcased speed and consistent separation from defenders.
Digging deeper, Worthy excels at creating leverage against defensive backs; he has a notable 7.25 yards after the catch in his career. Since 2018, he's been among an elite group with an average depth of target of more than 12 yards while getting more than seven yards after the catch. That puts him alongside names such as CeeDee Lamb and Ja’Marr Chase.
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian strategically deploys screens and quick passes, contributing to Worthy's diverse route tree.
Despite his smaller stature, more than 60 percent of his routes are out wide. Multiple release packages help him against press coverage, and he excels in tracking the ball with precision, leveraging his speed.
While Worthy has areas to improve — like refining how he gets in and out of breaks and reducing drops (22 in three seasons) — his adaptability is evident. Drawing comparisons to Marquise Brown, Worthy's style aligns closely, making him a promising prospect with the potential for immediate impact at the next level.
Xavier Legette, South Carolina
Measurements: 6-foot-3, 227 lbs
Coming out of high school, Xavier Legette was a quarterback, and his entire film was him throwing it deep or being a dynamic rusher. He took the full five seasons to develop, but the prospect he is today is someone who can immediately impact an NFL roster.
Hitting 22.3 mph on any play at his size is top-level speed, making him a perfect fit for any offense needing a field stretcher. He averages more than seven yards after the catch this season and has done so while playing through some minor injuries and inconsistent quarterback play.
Legette isn’t only an outside wide receiver; he has played more than 30 percent of his routes in the slot in his career. He has aggressive hands coming to the ball and hasn’t had many body catches this season.
Legette is still developing, learning to mix up his releases and use his size to leverage defenders. He has a combination that you can’t teach — size and athleticism.
His late breakout highlights his downside, but a great combine showing at his size and speed could sneak him into the late portion of the first round.
Troy Franklin, Oregon
Measurements: 6-foot-3, 187 lbs
Troy Franklin turned heads during the past two seasons at Oregon, positioning himself as a potential first-round prospect. In 2022, his impressive stat line boasted 61 receptions for 890 yards and nine touchdowns.
In 2023, he's maintained this stellar performance with 60 receptions for 1,093 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games.
Despite his slender build, Franklin's physical attributes pose a challenge for defensive backs. His diverse release package helps him navigate press coverage situations seamlessly.
Once down the field, he glides with long strides and has fluidity in and out of breaks on vertical routes. He plays like a sub-6-foot wide receiver but is much bigger.
Franklin's versatility is a standout feature, evident in his ability to excel in the slot and out wide. According to Sports Info Solutions, he has consistently averaged more than three yards per route run in both alignments this season. This versatility will prove valuable at the next level, especially if he continues to exhibit prowess against press coverage.
While concerns could arise because of Franklin's weight and frame, these worries can be mitigated as long as his speed remains a prominent asset. Refining his route-running skills when returning to the football is crucial to further solidify his draft stock.
Additionally, addressing any areas for improvement in hip sinking and breaking back toward the football will enhance his overall game.
Franklin also needs to work on reading coverages and reacting as they happen in front of him. This adjustment will be vital for his success going forward. Despite these areas for refinement, Franklin has a high chance of entering the first-round conversation, given his exceptional performance and potential for growth.
Brian Thomas Jr., LSU
Measurements: 6-foot-4, 205 lbs
Brian Thomas Jr. is the No. 2 wide receiver at LSU, behind Nabers, but is playing like a first-round pick. Through 10 games, Thomas has 51 receptions for 918 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns.
He has the size and speed teams are looking for to win downfield and help other wide receivers have space to win inside.
Since 2018, seven players have had five or more touchdowns against SEC opponents on a Vertical route in a season. This list includes Kyle Pitts, John Metchie III, DeVonta Smith, Jalin Hyatt, Chase and Thomas.
Thomas is a great deep threat who tracks the ball well and has moves to create some yards after the catch. He also sets himself up well on the sidelines to get two feet down while high-pointing the football.
With his size, he will play out wide at the next level, and we don’t see him growing to play inside much. He’s got a lot of fluidity in his hips for his size and has a great feel for where to go after the catch.
Thomas needs to improve against press coverage and at using this size and speed to leverage separation from defenders. These will be crucial for his development at the next level because teams will put pressure on him as a wide receiver to win quickly.