NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2021. This is the second in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
One of the biggest surprises of the past NFL draft season was that Ohio State's Chris Olave decided not to be a part of it. Many expected him to move on to the next level after he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as Justin Fields' top target last season, but he announced in January that he would be returning to the Buckeyes for his senior year.
I was eager to dig into his game film given the hype he's already generated, and it was easy to see why he's so highly regarded. Here's my initial scouting report after watching tape from three of his games:
Height, weight: 6-foot-1, 189 pounds (school measurements).
2020 statistics: 50 catches for 729 yards (14.6 average), 7 TDs in 7 games.
Game tape watched: Michigan State (Dec. 5, 2020), Clemson (Jan. 1, 2021), Alabama (Jan. 11, 2021).
What I liked: Olave is a silky-smooth route runner. He varies his releases to avoid press coverage and understands how to properly leverage defenders in off coverage. He changes speeds/tempo to keep defenders uncomfortable, which leads to separation down the field. He has outstanding vertical speed and can find another gear when the ball is in the air. He tracks the ball naturally and has reliable hands.
Where he needs to improve: Olave is a polished, instinctive player, but he does need to get stronger. He goes down too easily after the catch. I'd love to see him pull through tackles on occasion instead of consistently allowing the first defender to get him on the ground. I love his effort as a blocker, but he gets tossed around far too often. He doesn't need to morph into Hines Ward, but he does need to get a little stronger in order to effectively shield off defenders in the run game.
Biggest takeaway: Olave's best attribute is his ability to make plays over the top of the defense. His presence is felt in every game I studied, and he opens up the field for his teammates. That being said, he isn't a one-trick pony. He is just as effective running comebacks and curls as he is on posts and go routes. He's a home run hitter who's also capable of winning on third down in the middle of the field. That's a special combination.
He reminds me of: Will Fuller. My first thought was to compare Olave to Jerry Jeudy. They have similar body types, top speed and production. However, I think Olave has better hands while Jeudy is a little more explosive in his release and at the top of the route. Fuller is a better comparison. Both guys are special when they work over the top of the defense and both needed to add strength coming out of college. When healthy, Fuller has been one of the best deep threats in the NFL. I think Olave has the chance to be even better because he's a more polished player than Fuller was at that same point in his career.
I can't wait to watch him play: versus Oregon on Sept. 11. This is one of the best non-conference games on the 2021 college football schedule. Oregon is coming off a Pac-12 title and returns some outstanding players on defense. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is the headliner, but the Ducks' secondary is loaded with NFL talent, too. I'm excited to see how Olave answers that challenge. He's always played his best in big games (go back to his performance against Michigan in his freshman season) and I expect that to continue, even with a new quarterback tossing him the ball in 2021.