Fall of Rome
In the spring of 2021, Rome Odunze was finishing his first year as a WR at Washington. He had only seen limited action in the fall. Ahead of him on the depth chart was a redshirt sophomore who was a former 4 star recruit and projected to win one of the starting spots for the 2021 season. In a surprise move, the sophomore transferred to a different school prior to the start of spring practices, saying that he wanted to be closer to home for personal reasons.
After being slowed by injury early in the 2021 season, Odunze came on strong. UW fired their coach in 2021, then hired Kalen DeBoer from Fresno State. DeBoer and his OC brought with them an innovative scheme that had produced explosive statistics at his previous stops, including at Indiana in 2019, where he coached Michael Penix, Jr. (It is worth noting that much of that production didn't come from Penix that season, because he got injured. The biggest statistical passing games that year came from Peyton Ramsey.) DeBoer helped propel Jake Haener at Fresno State into a 4th round NFL draft pick. Ronnie Rivers played for DeBoer at Fresno State.
With a roster stacked with talent, DeBoer and the Huskies are one of the best teams in college football in 2023. They are 11-0 and have rolled up nearly 483 yards of offense per game. They had even better stats in 2022, with nearly 516 yards of offense per game.
The sophomore who transferred out back in the spring of 2021 missed out on this offensive explosion party. If he had stayed at UW, maybe he would have put up monster receiving stats in 2022, just like Rome Odunze did, and become an early round NFL draft pick. Instead, that WR only managed average stats with his new school and struggled with injuries his final year. He wasn't taken until the late rounds of the 2023 draft. Who was that WR? It was Puka Nacua.
Today, Odunze is one of the top ranked WR prospects in the 2024 draft. Mel Kiper recently compared him to Ja'Marr Chase. Sports Illustrated in 2022 compared him to DK Metcalf. Could the Rams create a WR reunion by drafting Odunze and would a pairing of Nacua and Odunze be a powerful receiving duo that could surpass the legendary combination of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt?
Name: Rome Odunze. Turns 22 in July of 2024.
School: Washington. Redshirt junior in eligibility. 1 of 4 team captains in 2023.
Size: Listed 6'3 tall, 215 pounds. Per SI 4.45 second 40 time.
4 star recruit from Las Vegas, NV. Was a sprinter on the track team in HS. Gatorade player of the year in his state.
2020 (4 games): 6 catches for 72 yards
2021 (9 games): 41-415-4
2022 (13 games): 75-1,145-7 (15.3 yards per catch)
2023 (11 games): 66-1,206-11 (18.3 yards per catch)
Career rushing 9-17-2. Has 3 career punt returns and one kick return. Missed first 3 games in 2021 to an undisclosed injury. Had a minor injury in a game in 2023. Missed a game due to injury 2022.
Described by SI in 2021 as having a bright, cheerful and loquacious personality, a natural in front of an audience.
PFF 10th overall prospect
Josh Edwards (CBSSports) 31st overall
PFN Big Board 17th overall
Connor Rogers mock draft 15th overall
AJ Schulte (PFN) mock draft 13th overall (in this mock, the Rams trade out of the 13th slot, with the Bills moving up)
Executes double moves to get by CBs.
Draws penalties against DBs in coverage for yardage that isn't reflected in his receiving stats.
Very good concentration on the ball. Not bothered by CBs being next to him, comfortable and composed making contested catches.
Fights for contested balls.
Can extend arms and catch the ball away from his body.
Lines up all over the formation, on both left and right side, as flanker or split end, in the slot or outside, used in ghost motion and pre-snap motion. Position flexibility to play multiple WR spots.
In GL situations, sometimes asked to block attached to the line like a TE.
Can change speeds coming off the line.
Penix is a wild QB. Targets will be wide open, but Penix sprays the ball all over the place, giving them no chance to make the catch. Odunze was wide open for an easy TD, but Penix missed him badly.
Made a number of clutch plays, including a spectacular game winning TD grab to beat Oregon.
Has a positive personality, might have a future in TV broadcasting. Conversational style in interviews. Confident in himself. Teammates will probably like him.
Productive at a power conference school over multiple seasons. UW has many other talented skill position players, but Odunze is the WR1 on their team.
Average bulk and play strength. Experts talk about him as if he's a big WR, but he doesn't look big on the field. His arms look like they are a little short, his hands aren't big, doesn't have a thick build. Not having longer arms hinders his effective catch radius to make tough grabs and contributes to him not being a better blocker.
Average speed. Not a burner, not explosive. More of a long strider.
Average change of direction. On pivot routes, there is a pause and slight delay, he can't burst in and out of the break to go in the opposite direction.
Doesn't win at the LOS. Not sudden with feet. Shows no advanced release moves. Doesn't have violent or accurate hands to defeat jams, resulting in him getting caught up and delayed coming off the line. Lacks burst coming off the LOS. Scheme helps to cover up this limitation by stacking WRs, bringing Odunze in motion or designing the route in such a way that he doesn't have to go directly upfield through the CB.
Can't create separation off the line or in the middle of his route. CBs often stay firmly and closely attached to him. Allows the CB to crowd him against the sideline on fade routes, not giving the QB enough space to deliver the pass. Doesn't use his body to lean into the CB to carve out space.
Really bad at crafting routes. No subtlety to sell a different route to the CB. Doesn't have a good plan for how to manipulate the CB or to create good leverage. Invites the CB to stay glued to his hip pocket. Clumsily runs into the CB downfield, allowing them to jam him. Didn't widen the CB, so when WR tries to run quick slant, there is no separation or leverage. Drifts on routes, no precision or concrete plan. Early lean gives away break.
His release package sometimes doesn't make sense against the pre-snap coverage look and the CB's technique. For example, one play he manipulates the CB into spinning to the outside, but it is an outbreaking route, so in the end there is no separation, the WR is tightly covered.
Unable to consistently separate, he'll push off the CB downfield to create late separation when the ball is in the air. I think this could lead to offensive PI penalties in the NFL.
Doesn't have elite hands catching the ball. Body catches passes that he could and should catch and control with his hands. Hards are not strong. Doesn't snatch the ball out of the air.
Catches not all clean. Sometimes traps or presses the ball into his body. Caught the nose of the ball, not framed properly in his hands, then had to adjust his grip on the ball in mid-air. Caught the back of the ball, then has to bring it into his body to gather, control and complete the catch. Wildly bobbled one catch.
Ball tracking is just okay. What tends to happen is instead of attacking the ball at the optimum catch point, he allows the ball to fall to him. This makes the catch more difficult and helps the CB contest the catch.
Has average run strength. Finesse style of running after the catch, doesn't power through tackles or get tough yards. Doesn't have great instincts as a runner. He doesn't follow his blockers well, has a habit of trying to run horizontally and cut across the field instead of being direct and getting upfield to pick up yardage.
Limited burst and acceleration as a runner. Transition from catch to run isn't fluid, doesn't have great body control and strength to beat the 1st tackle. Not a great YAC threat.
Effort level and commitment to each play is inconsistent. Frequently lazy blocking, allowing defenders to get past him. Odunze fakes a jet sweep, then the ball is handed to the RB. WR allows his CB to go by and get to the RB, then instead of blocking someone else, also allows the S to run past him, unimpeded and both those DBs help tackle the RB. Crack back block on LB, allows the LB to spin away and LB pursues and tackles the RB to prevent a 1st down. RB run between the tackle, the WR is supposed to cut off the S, but WR has zero hustle, lets S run by him and RB gets slammed hard by the S in the hole. Relaxes on stalk blocks.
Doesn't carry out fakes. Lazy on routes if he's running a clear out and doesn't think he's going to get the pass. His interest level in the play isn't high when he's not getting the ball.
Not enough aggression, physicality, effort or attention to detail and technique as a blocker. Doesn't go out to meet the defender, on a screen block he'll wait and allow them to come to him, which closes down the angle, helping to contain the runner. Can get overpowered on blocks by safeties and aggressive CBs.
Appeared to run the wrong route, in the same area as a different WR. Appeared to make a mistake in his break, causing an INT by Penix. Crossed up Penix on a different play by slowing down and not running hard, relaxing and giving up on the route when he should have kept going and not assumed that the QB would throw it elsewhere, so pass misses WR.
Washington is stacked with talent. Good OL, RB, TEs, a deep stable of WRs who have NFL potential, a QB who is projected to be a 1st round pick. Team has very good offensive coaching. Scheme creates space for the WRs without requiring them to create their own separation.
I don't know what Odunze is in terms of his role and calling card. He's not a true deep threat, because he lacks speed. He's not a sure handed possession WR, because among other things he doesn't run routes well. Why do so many draft experts see him as a potential star and a WR1 in the NFL? In my opinion, he's more like a slightly better version of Josh Reynolds. Why would you draft a WR like that in the top 10? Reynolds averaged 17.4 yards per catch over his final 2 seasons at Texas A&M. Odunze has averaged 16.7 yards per catch his last 2 seasons. Reynolds had 31.3% of the receiving yardage on his team his final season at TXAM. Odunze has 30.6% of the receiving yardage for UW so far this season. So, while Odunze has big yardage totals, some of this is just a consequence of UW's offense being so prolific, creating stats for everyone on the team. Reynolds is the 3rd leading receiver for the Detroit Lions this year, behind Amon Ra St Brown and Sam LaPorta. He's only slightly behind LaPorta, so he's not far off from being the 2nd best guy. He's not totally worthless, but I think he's very mediocre. IMO, Reynolds ideally would be about a WR4 on a good team. Goff keeps throwing to him, because Jameson Williams has been slow to develop and emerge. Reynolds is on pace for 719 receiving yards this season, so if Odunze turns out to be better than Reynolds, it is very possible that he could have a year where he gets nearly 1,000 yards. With a 17 game schedule, it is easier to achieve such milestones. But, that wouldn't make him a franchise WR.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
3rd round grade. Donte Moncrief (3rd round 2014, Colts, Ole Miss)
Moncrief was 6'2 3/8'' tall, 221 pounds, ran 4.40 seconds in the 40 and had a 39.5'' vertical jump. Moncrief had a decent 2nd NFL season with 733 receiving yards. He was also about 50 yards away from being the leading receiver for the Jaguars in 2018, playing with Blake Bortles. Ultimately, however, he never became the big play deep threat he was projected to be when he was in the draft.
I'll never understand the NFL draft. If we did a "blind taste test" and watched Puka Nacua's BYU tape next to Odunze's UW tape, without knowing the names of the WRs and who draft experts liked better, I question whether we'd be able to "correctly" identify which WR was projected by Lance Zierlein to be a 6th to 7th round pick and which WR is projected to be a 1st round selection. How does the draft community and NFL scouts determine which prospects to annoint as the top players and which ones aren't as valuable? Often, it feels arbitrary and error prone.
Nacua was the very last pick in the 5th round, so he was almost indistinguishable from a 6th rd selection. As I pointed out before, it is obvious that the Rams didn't view Nacua as a steal, because they drafted Warren McClendon and Davis Allen within the 3 slots ahead of Nacua. You would never do that if you had a super high grade on Nacua, because another team could swoop in at the slot right before the Rams went back on the clock and could steal him.
There were many well regarded WR prospects who "fell" in the draft and were taken after Nacua. Kayshon Boutte was mocked as a potential 2nd rd pick, but went in the 6th round. He has one catch for 11 yards. Parker Washington was often projected in the 4th round. He has yet to catch a pass. Trey Palmer was mocked as a possible Day 2 pick. He has 210 receiving yards. AT Perry also was a potential Day 2 pick. He has 2 catches for 38 yards. Andrei Iosivas was a training camp and preseason star, much like Puka. He has 4 catches for 23 yards. Xavier Hutchinson has 4 catches for 44 yards. The next most successful WR after Puka was also lightly regarded. Demario Douglas is a small slot WR from Liberty and has 361 receiving yards. A reason that Snead and his staff deserve credit for drafting Nacua is that there were still several "bigger name" WR prospects on the board when that selection was made, and the Rams passed on all of those other players.
I don't agree with Mel Kiper on this one. I don't think that Odunze is the next Ja'Marr Chase.