Yes, I am quite aware that there are a high number of Chicago Bears fans who would love to see the Bears select Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. I am not going to say here and write that Harrison isn't an obvious high-level talent as that would be ludicrous, but I am going to wrote that there are three or four other wide receivers in this Draft class that are close to being as good and some may say even better than Harrison.
How can I make such a blasphemous statement? Well, first, I have been evaluating football talent for over 40 years, and I know what a great player looks like. I also know that regardless of what many fans want to think, wide receiver is not a priority position that a club still rebuilding takes in the top four picks of any Draft; that is why there hasn't been a wide receiver taken any higher than five in the last 10 Drafts.
Next, there is no way anyone can tell me that there won't be other receivers in this Draft taken lower than Harrison, who won't turn out to be better NFL receivers than Harrison. We can go back to the 2020 NFL Draft and see just that. Right now, the best receiver selected in that Draft was LSU's Justin Jefferson, who has already been a Pro Bowl receiver several times. Jefferson, who was selected by the Vikings at #22, was the FIFTH wide receiver selected in that Draft. Only one of the receivers drafted higher than him has had a career even close to Jefferson's, and that is CeeDee Lamb, who went five slots higher at 17 to Dallas.
There are a few receivers selected after Jefferson who have also been very productive early in their careers, and they are Brandon Aiyuk, who went at 25 to the 49ers, Tee Higgins, who went to Cincinnati at 33, and Michael Pittman, who went to the Colts at 34.
Who was the top-rated receiver in that Draft? Alabama's Henry Ruggs who the Raiders took at 12 and busted, followed by Jerry Jeudy at 15 to Denver. You can't tell me that the first and perceived best receiver is the guy who gets all the pub, and the analysts say is the best guy. Just like in 2020, this same scenario has been played out several times over the years.
As we start to get into Draft season, after Harrison, there are at least two other wide receivers and perhaps three who deserve to be talked about as high-level and potential Pro Bowl wide receivers. The first is who I will write about today: LSU's Malik Nabers.
Nabers is a third-year player who will most likely enter the Draft in the next few weeks. He has been highly productive while at LSU with 180 receptions for 2858 yards and 19 TDs over his three-year career. In fact, Nabers has been MORE productive (in yards and catches) than Harrison who has 150 catches for 2495 yards but with 30 TDs over the same time frame.
Nabers isn't as big as Harrison, as he is listed as being 6000 – 205. In high school, he ran a verified 4.44 and had a verified 38" vertical jump, so I would suspect that now he will run faster and jump higher when he gets to the Combine. Most skill players show drastic improvement from their high school times as they get bigger and stronger.
Watching the tape, five things really stand out to me about Nabers, and all five are very important traits in evaluating a wide receiver. They are his play speed, his route running, his large catch radius, his run after the catch, and his ability to compete and catch the ball in traffic. He is superb in all of those areas.
Nabers plays fast and consistently gets open deep. When I say he gets open deep, it's not by a yard or two, it's like by four or five yards. He blows by defenders regularly. Why? One of the reasons is his quick burst, but the other is his route-running skills. He isn't a good route runner; he is a great route runner who is as good as I've seen in years coming out of college. He makes things look easy with his smoothness and ability to break down at the top of the route and burst out of the cut. He also uses a change of pace very effectively.
When it comes to catching the ball, he has very strong hands and a huge catch radius. He makes the difficult catch look easy and almost always catches the ball away from his body. When in traffic, he shows his jumping skills and toughness as he will win jump balls and can take the big hit and hold on.
After the catch, he is like a running back with the ball as he is fast, quick, instinctive, and elusive. I would venture to say that he is the best run after the catch receiver in this Draft, as he consistently gets big chunks of yardage. In short, Malik is a big play waiting to happen.
If we want to compare Nabers to a current NFL wide receiver, there are two that come to mind right away. As a route runner, he is similar to the Viking Justin Jefferson, and his toughness and route running skills are similar to the Bears' DJ Moore. As both are quality Number-1 receivers in the League, Nabers is in good company.
The question I have is, what would you rather have? A top premium position player with the Bears' first-round pick, and Nabers with the second first-rounder or Harrison and a much lesser premium position player. For me, the answer is simple: it's scenario number one.
The next receiver I will write about Is Washington's Rome Odunze, who is darn good himself, so stay tuned.