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Grading Bears first-round pick: Rome Odunze

Grading Bears first-round pick: Rome Odunze originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bears selected Rome Odunze with the No. 9 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on Thursday night. At first glance, the Bears made the most of their No. 9 pick to add a great talent and fill a big position of need.

Odunze projects to be an explosive deep threat who can challenge defenses vertically alongside DJ Moore and Keenan Allen. Odunze is not just a one-trick pony however. He’s a well-rounded receiver who finds ways to win no matter what route he’s running.

Even though Odunze was the third wide receiver off the board in the draft, few pass catchers can match his 2023 output. Check out his resumé from last season among WRs with 100 targets: 1,639 yards (1st), 74 first downs (1st), 21 contested catches (1st), 75% contested catch rate (1st), 15.5 yard average depth of target (2nd), 13 TDs (t-4th), 3.2% drop rate (6th).

Neither Marvin Harrison Jr. nor Malik Nabers– the other WRs considered the cream of this class’s crop– match up to Odunze in that full group of categories.

The Bears haven’t had a consistently reliable deep threat in many years. Poles has tried to fill the void with draft picks like Velus Jones Jr. and Tyler Scott, but neither guy has performed convincingly in the role, in an admittedly small sample size. Either guy still has time to develop into the deep threat that the Bears imagined when they picked them, but Odunze becomes the best young vertical option on the team, immediately.

Part of the reason Odunze succeeds as a deep threat is because of his great concentration and hands. No matter what’s going on around him, Odunze does a great job of focusing to make a play on the ball. Another reason he does well downfield is because he’s got great size, and he knows how to use it. At 6’3” and 212 pounds, he’s now the biggest target among the Bears’ top wide receivers.

Again, Odunze isn’t just a “go ball” guy. In fact, Reception Perception says he’s successful running every single route on the tree. That's uncommon.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Hey the Bears just traded for Keenan Allen to join DJ Moore. They’re set at wide receiver, so why use a premium draft pick to add another?” It’s true that having three dynamite wide receivers is a luxury in the NFL, but Odunze allows the Bears to have all their pass catchers play to their strengths, while future-proofing the position at the same time.

Moore is great in pretty much every part of the field, but he’s at his best when he catches the ball with space over the middle so that he can rack up yards after the catch. Allen thrives in the slot where he can use his size and incredible route running to create separation. Meanwhile, Odunze primarily worked on the outside at Washington. The Bears can keep Odunze on the outside in three-WR sets, which frees up Allen to move inside whenever needed. Further, if Odunze can challenge defenses vertically as he did in college, defenses will have to respect his big-play ability, which can in turn open up the intermediate areas of the field for Moore.

Picking Odunze also gives the Bears an opportunity to develop a wide receiver alongside Williams for the duration of his career. Allen is 32 years old and given his route running prowess, he could have several solid seasons still ahead. But he can’t be considered a long-term option for the Bears. Adding Odunze now gives him the opportunity to learn from both Allen and Moore, so that when the team needs him to move up the depth chart, he’ll be better prepared. In the short term, Odunze gives the Bears extra depth in case Moore or Allen get hurt this season. Without a premium rookie wide receiver, the Bears would have to rely on either Jones Jr., Scott, Dante Pettis or a lesser-heralded rookie to step into a WR2 role if either Moore or Allen suffer an injury. That could be a tall order for any of those guys. Odunze, however, would be a clear WR2 on many NFL teams and a WR1 for others.

Grading a player before he’s taken a snap in the NFL is an inherently unfair thing to do. Given what we know, and how Odunze can help the Bears, here's the immediate letter grade we’re handing out.

Grade: A+

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