Attempting to predict or hypothesize future NFL success is an exercise in futility. I know that, you know that, and every expert who tells you otherwise... guess what? They know it too. Draft prognosticators are a dime-a-dozen, with very few garnering Mel Kiper-esque respect and admiration from the football community. I could go into all the reasons why it is so difficult to try and guess which college players will transition well, but the truth of the matter is, it’s just really, really hard. There is no way to state it elegantly.
So with all of that being said, I’m going to take a stab at it! What a novel idea, right? And I’m going to try my hand at NFL player comps. But I only want to focus on three players and one position. Three former OSU wide receivers are expecting to hear their names called – all on Thursday night, according to mocks and projections – and all three could be viewed as having different, varied skillsets.
I think that there is plenty of overlap in their respective games, but to generalize (unfairly so): Garrett Wilson is the playmaker, Chris Olave is the technician, and Jameson Williams is the burner. How will these guys perform at the next level, and who should they look to as pillars of NFL success?
Yes, we still get to claim him as Buckeye... within reason. I had a difficult time deciding between Williams and Chris Olave, and predicting which player has the higher NFL ceiling. Fair or not, I used past precedent against Jamo, dropping him to the bottom of this extremely short list. But do not mistake my ranking for like/dislike or a prediction that Williams is not going to be a terrific NFL player. I think he is going to be a legitimate weapon. I’ve just seen more consistency from the guys who finished their college careers in Columbus.
Williams suffered an unfortunate injury during the CFP National Championship game, putting his immediate availability into question. Perhaps just as significant is the fact that it wiped out his ability to physically test in front of NFL talent evaluators at a combine or pro day. But here’s the good news: he is not the only one, and the injury will likely not drop him out of the first round. It would be crazy if it did, because he is a special talent.
The former Ohio State Buckeye and more recent Alabama Crimson Tide star has a specific calling card, and that is speed. Jamo might even be Tyreek Hill-level fast, as least while moving in a straight line. But Williams also displayed a well-rounded skillset once given the opportunity at Bama. He is nearly as quick as he is fast, can go up and make a contested catch, and showcased serious footwork for the Tide.
Any knock against Williams’ one-year production is debatable. Even if you do consider him to be a one-year wonder, you cannot argue that he was not one of the most dangerous players in college football last year. However, it is worth pointing out that we have seen plenty of guys put one great season on tape, only to fall off the map later. And he was behind Wilson and Olave (and JSN) on the depth chart for a reason. Playing for Alabama has a way of occasionally making a player look better than he really is.
I believe that Jameson Williams will eventually be a certified NFL stud, but it may take him some time. His rookie season will be impacted by the ACL injury. From there, he will need to prove that he can run all routes and beat sophisticated coverages. I found a comparison tough to come by, but eventually settled on a more-skilled version of Will Fuller or (much) smaller DK Metcalf. Sorry, I promise they will get better.
Admittedly, I do not know exactly what is going to happen for Olave in the NFL, but I have a very hard time believing that he will not be productive. He strikes me as a more-accomplished Terry McLaurin (college), but foreshadowing: Scary Terry is not my NFL comp. Olave is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but he is among the elite WR’s in this class when it comes to footwork, route running, and football IQ.
Similar to McLaurin, Olave initially made a name for himself by playing special teams. Although expected to perform by the staff, the Ohio State record-holder for career TD receptions put in extra time and became more than an active participant — Olave excelled in the third phase of the game. Over time, he honed his skills as a receiver and would go on to etch his name in the OSU history book. Olave’s work ethic directly influences my belief that he will succeed in the NFL.
I would describe Olave as a jack of all trades, master of none. Maybe that’s underselling his ability. Or overselling, I’m not sure. My point being, that he can do damage underneath and in short yardage situations, work himself open on a deep post or sideline route, and/or take the top off a defense. He is not Deebo Samuel with the ball in his hands, but he can do enough, and more importantly, he can produce from anywhere on the field and run any route.
All of the above are reasons why I think Olave will find success regardless of where he ends up. I see him as a No. 2 WR who eventually becomes a No. 1 or 1B. The NFL comp I settled on was another Chris: Chris Godwin. Godwin is not most athletic guy in the world, but he knows how to play the position, and he plays well in the presence of other weapons. Similar to Olave, both can play the 1B role, but also take over a game on occasion. If the former Buckeye were to end up in New Orleans or Kansas City – with a proven star WR/TE – he could settle into a complementary role right away. If Olave is not an 8-10 year player, I will be surprised.
Wilson, according to many, is the safest bet and has the highest ceiling among this trio of stars. I do not disagree. While he might lack the top-end speed of Williams and/or the polish of Olave, Wilson is a dynamic do-it-all weapon. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with great footwork and his ability to make athletic, highly-contested catches. Similar to Williams, Wilson has a history of taking over games and appearing un-guardable. What seems to set him apart is the consistency with which he performed and made highlight-worthy plays. All of this should translate well to the next level.
Wilson stepped in as a freshman at Ohio State, and contributed right away. And then he just kept getting better. His year-to-year improvement is likely what excites many of the NFL teams looking for WR help. Williams went from 0-to-60 in his third year, whereas Wilson showed consistent, gradual improvement over time. Not to say that one is worse than the other, but consistency often creates a greater sense of comfort or confidence.
In today’s NFL, teams are looking for versatility, and that is another trait Wilson brings to the field. He can take reverses or screens and make something happen, or he can do significant damage running routes from either the slot or the outside. Wilson can also makes plays in the return game, although that seems to be a bit of a dying art. Whatever you need, this former Buckeye can do it all.
I compared Wilson to NFL superstar Stefon Diggs. Similar in size, Diggs gets it done in a variety of ways. He also lacks extreme size and elite speed, although both he and Wilson have plenty of NOS in the tank. Both 6-footers are just naturally-gifted receivers, capable of running through any opposing defense. Lastly, and why I really like the comparison, is that Diggs and Wilson both had room for improvement after college – despite being so dangerous on the field already. Diggs did not receive a ton of hype at Maryland, and was a 5th-round pick. He improved his game and grew alongside Adam Thielen, eventually achieving stardom.
Wilson probably needs to get stronger and work on his anti-jam techniques, but he is already leaps and bounds ahead of where Diggs was coming out of college. If he can improve in a similar manner, I believe he’s a 1,500-yard receiver before the age of 25.
That’s it, folks. Pick it apart. I did my best to prognosticate, and if I’m wrong, at least I won’t be the only one.