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Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze: How the big 3 WRs in 2024 NFL draft can help the Bears

Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze: How the big 3 WRs in 2024 NFL draft can help the Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Would the Bears be able to resist the opportunity to pair Caleb Williams, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, with a premier pass catcher in the first round? That’s one of the big questions that surrounds the team with the draft just over three weeks away.

The Bears have several needs and several options to consider with their No. 9 pick. If a big run on offensive players comes, as expected, they could have the opportunity to take the first or second pass rusher off the board to pair with Montez Sweat. Maybe they draft an offensive tackle for the second year in a row to help ensure Williams is well-protected. Or perhaps they pick a dynamite wide receiver in the hopes that he works with Williams for a decade.

The last question is especially intriguing, because draft experts believe there are three wide receivers in this year’s draft who are so talented that they would all have a chance to be the first WR drafted in other, less WR crowded, classes. Those guys are Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze, and they’ve come to be known as the “big three.”

If you’re just beginning to dig into draft analysis, we’ve got you covered. Here, we’re going to dive into what makes each of these three players special, why the Bears might want to draft them, and what it would take for the team to have the chance to do so.

MARVIN HARRISON JR. - OHIO STATE.

Harrison Jr. entered the 2023 season as the presumptive WR1 in this year’s class, with some draft experts calling him the most talented player overall. He didn’t disappoint over the course of the year.

Harrison Jr. can do it all and beats defenses in a variety of ways. He’s great off the line, he’s a wonderful route runner and boasts phenomenal hands when catching the ball.

What makes Harrison Jr.’s playmaking even more impressive is that he moves the way he does despite being a big dude. He’s listed at 6’3”, 209 lbs., which would make him the tallest target on the Bears and just two pounds shy of Keenan Allen. Yet he moves like some of the smaller receivers in the draft. Experts say Harrison Jr.’s can run every route on the tree and his technique is advanced compared to most prospects.

Over the past two seasons, Harrison Jr. caught 144 passes for 2,474 yards and 28 touchdowns– fantastic numbers in each category. He won the Biletnikoff Award in 2023, which recognizes the best wide receiver in the nation and finished fourth in Heisman voting. Beyond the raw talent, technique and production, Harrison Jr. has also been lauded for his top-notch work ethic and supreme competitive drive.

Even as some reports surface that some teams might favor Nabers over Harrison Jr. due to Nabers’ incredible explosive ability, it would be stunning if Harrison Jr. was still on the board by the time the Bears’ No. 9 pick rolls around. One way that happens is a bigger run on both QBs and offensive tackles than most expect. The other way is if something unexpected occurred to scare NFL teams away. There’s no reason to believe anything like that will happen, so I’m reluctant to even mention it, other than to squash fringe thinking on the topic. Most likely, someone will seize the opportunity to add an incredibly talented player at an extremely premium position.

If the Bears want Harrison Jr., they’ll probably have to move up to get him. And if they want to do that, they’ll have to hope there’s not much competition. As things stand, the Bears’ next pick after No. 9 is No. 75. The Bears do have an extra second-round pick next year thanks to the trade they made in 2023 to send the No. 1 pick to Carolina, but there are many other teams who can cough up more this year to outbid the Bears.

In short, a lot would have to go right for Harrison Jr. to land in Chicago.

MALIK NABERS - LSU

When folks talk about a wide receiver supplanting Harrison Jr. as the top pass-catcher in the draft, it’s almost always Nabers. That’s because he’s considered the most explosive receiver of the big three.

According to PFF, Nabers’ 3.81 yards/route run topped the group in 2023, with Harrison Jr. at 3.44 and Odunze at 3.09, despite garnering just 10 more targets than each of them. That’s also despite having the shortest average depth of target among the big three. On average, Nabers was targeted 12.5 yards downfield while Harrison Jr. was targeted 13.1 yards downfield and Odunze was targeted 16.2 yards downfield.

The explanation: Nabers did more after the catch than the other two. That’s in large part because his 30 missed tackles forced greatly overshadowed the 12 missed tackles forced by Odunze and the five from Harrison Jr., per PFF.

Further, NFL teams can already project more ways to use Nabers from his college experience. According to PFF, Nabers split his time nearly evenly between lining up the slot and out wide in 2023, and he thrived in each scenario. Harrison Jr. only spent 19.4% of his snaps in the slot in 2023 and 13.7% of his snaps there in 2022. Odunze was lined up inside 17.4% of the time in 2023 and 15.8% of the time in 2022. In 2021, Odunze was the slot receiver 54.7% of the time in 2021 but was not nearly as prolific as he became later.

That’s not to say Odunze and Harrison Jr. can’t get the job done in the middle, they just don’t have the same track record as Nabers. Accordingly, a team that really needs a slot receiver to complement their outside pass catchers could be more interested in him than the others.

One reason folks argued that the Bears might not be interested in Nabers is that one of his common NFL comps is DJ Moore. The thought was that the team might want to diversify the skillsets with their WR2, but now that Allen is in the fold as a second outside receiver, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to have another Moore-type in the offense. Allen can fill the role of the bigger-bodied target.

As mentioned earlier, however, recent reports say some teams believe Nabers is the WR1 over Harrison Jr., so there’s a chance he’s gone before the Bears pick at No. 9. If Ryan Poles has Nabers circled as his guy, the best way to ensure he becomes a Bear is to trade up for him. Otherwise the Bears will have to hope a run on quarterbacks, offensive tackles and maybe a couple of defensive players pushes him down the board.

ROME ODUNZE - WASHINGTON

If Harrison Jr. is the most polished overall receiver and Nabers is the explosive YAC-attack man, then Odunze is the contested-catch, deep threat standout.

Check out his resume from 2023 among WRs with 100 targets through the postseason: 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 Harrison Jr. nor Nabers match up to Odunze in that full group of categories.

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 would be the biggest target among the Bears’ top wide receivers.

If Odunze lands in Chicago, his track record on the outside would allow the Bears to play Allen more in the slot where he thrives. He could also take the top off the defense so that Allen and Moore can work the intermediate and short parts of the field where each man is great at getting open.

Of course 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 would become the best young vertical option immediately.

None of this is meant to imply Odunze is a one-trick pony, however. In fact, Reception Perception says he’s successful running every single route on the tree. That's uncommon.

Again, there’s a chance Odunze isn’t available when the Bears pick at No. 9. If a team picking a WR likes his deep threat capability more than Nabers’ yards after catch specialty, it could be Nabers who falls. Or maybe the NFL isn’t as high on a pass rusher like Dallas Turner and only offensive players come off the board with the first eight picks.

It’s too early to tell how things will play out, and there will be surprises along the way as there are every year. But if the Bears want to pick a top-10 wide receiver, it will likely be one of these three guys.

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