2024 NFL Draft Preview: Wide Receivers Are the Cream of the Crop This Year

By Scott Kacsmar

Now that NFL teams have had their share of days to court free agents and come up with trades, the 2024 NFL draft is the next big event on the road to Super Bowl LIX. Surprisingly, wide receivers are the cream of the crop this year.

The draft will still no doubt be focused at the top on quarterbacks with USC’s Caleb Williams expected to go No. 1 overall to the Chicago Bears. We could also see picks No. 2 and No. 3 used on quarterbacks as well.

But the best value picks could come at the wide receiver position as there could be 12 wideouts taken in the top 60 picks alone, including a trio that many analysts have ranked among the top six prospects in the entire draft.

After a free agency period that was a bit weak on the available wide receivers, this draft should be a blessing to the teams still wanting to add to what has become a highly paid premium position in the NFL.

Using the prospect rankings from NFL Mock Draft Database, we are going to look at the top 12 wide receivers this year, how they might fare in the NFL, and which teams would be a good fit for their skills.

Mandatory NFL Draft Disclaimer: The draft is an imperfect science, and some of these players will slide down the draft board in April, and some will be flat-out busts at the pro level. Puka Nacua, a fifth-round pick, was the most dominant rookie wideout last year and he was the 20th receiver drafted in 2023. Mistakes are inevitable, but that’s what makes the draft fascinating every year.

1. Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State) – No. 3 Overall Prospect

The son of the Hall of Fame receiver for the Colts, Marvin Harrison Jr. has a solid 3 inches on his father, who was 6’0”, while still playing with solid speed. He also shares his father’s consistent, elite production as he had over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in each of his last two seasons at Ohio State.

Some have criticized the receiver for skipping the drills at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Still, there is no denying the genes are in his favor for NFL greatness. His college tape also can back him up as he projects well to be a team’s No. 1 receiver at the next level with various skills that should serve him well on passes thrown short, intermediately, and deep.

Most experts agree that Harrison Jr. is the best wide receiver in this draft class, and he should be the first one off the board in April. Which team is he going to? That answer also has a clear and logical answer.

Best Fit – No. 4 Arizona Cardinals

If we assume the top three picks are all quarterbacks, Arizona at No. 4 is the first logical landing spot for a top wide receiver in a draft that is lacking in any elite pass rusher or corner prospect.

At bet365, Harrison Jr. has -200 odds to lead all prospects to be drafted No. 4 overall. That is Arizona’s pick, and the Cardinals just saw Marquise Brown sign with the Chiefs and they traded Rondale Moore to Atlanta, so they desperately need a new No. 1 receiver in the desert. The Cardinals seem content with keeping Kyler Murray at quarterback for at least another year, so let’s find him a new weapon next.

Despite their franchise’s lack of success, the Cardinals have had some great receivers over the years, and you can argue Larry Fitzgerald, the No. 3 pick in 2004, is the best player to play for the franchise in the last several decades, if not ever.

Harrison Jr. in Arizona would be a great pick, but even if he’s not viewed as the top receiver prospect by the team, then he shouldn’t have to wait long to hear his name called on draft night.

2. Malik Nabers (LSU) – No. 5 Overall Prospect

Another top prospect loved by virtually all draft experts is LSU’s No. 1 receiver, Malik Nabers. LSU has been a powerhouse in developing these wideouts in recent years with Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase practically creating the gold standard for a young NFL receiver right now. There are shades of both in Nabers’ game, making him a very exciting prospect.

Nabers is 6’1”, and like Harrison Jr., he was very productive for the last two seasons. No one-year wonder here. Nabers led the SEC with 72 catches in 2022 when he had 1,017 yards, and he improved across the board last year with 89 catches for 1,569 yards and 14 touchdown catches.

Nabers had 3,003 receiving yards at LSU, something even Jefferson (2,415) and Chase (2.093) did not do. You could even subtract his 2021 freshman season and Nabers still had more yards the last two years than both of those receivers did.

Nabers makes getting open look easy, and he will have a chance to immediately be a team’s No. 1 wide receiver.

Best Fit – No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers

If the Cardinals don’t take Nabers at No. 4, then the Chargers absolutely should do it at No. 5. I mean, what are they doing at the wide receiver position after letting Mike Williams (Jets) go and trading Keenan Allen to the Bears? They have to give Justin Herbert someone really good to throw to even if they do plan much more running under Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Nabers would slide right in and likely be Herbert’s best wide receiver this season. The Chargers already used a first-round pick on Quentin Johnston last season, but let’s be honest, that rookie season was not a confidence builder in his ability to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Draft Nabers for that role and hope Johnston can step up and be a solid No. 2.

3. Rome Odunze (Washington) – No. 6 Overall Prospect

The final member of the trio of wide receivers ranked in the top six prospects is Washington’s Rome Odunze. While many receivers try to win with great speed or great route running, the 6’3” Odunze is this draft’s master of contested catches, often known as 50/50 balls. He is simply better at locating the ball than the cornerback on a consistent basis.

His skill set reminds me a bit of Dez Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins at their best. That’s plenty good enough to be a No. 1 receiver for years to come in this league.

Odunze was a 4-year player at Washington, so he is a year older than Nabers, but he’s going to be 22 years old this season just like Harrison Jr. will be. Odunze had 1,145 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2022, and he did even better last year with 1,640 yards (led the FBS) and 13 touchdowns.

Best Fit – No. 6 New York Giants

The Giants have been struggling at this position ever since Odell Beckham Jr. started getting injured in the mid-2010s. They tried for years to make Sterling Shepard happen as an elite slot player, they bombed with their first-round pick of Kadarius Toney, and signing Kenny Golladay to a big contract in free agency from the Lions was another disaster.

It’s time to just take a shot and go with Odunze with that No. 6 pick. He could be the Stefon Diggs in this offense that coach Brian Daboll had in Buffalo. He could give Daniel Jones, or whoever the quarterback ends up being, a reliable target for years to come.

But if Odunze slips past that No. 6 pick, then some team could get a real steal here. Don’t let him slip to the Jets at No. 10.

4. Brian Thomas Jr. (LSU) – No. 18 Overall Prospect

Once we get past that top trio, things get murkier with Brian Thomas Jr., LSU’s other standout receiver, the top-ranked prospect for the middle of the first round this year. He could really end up going anywhere from 14th to New Orleans to 30th to the Ravens this year.

Thomas is a big receiver (6’3”) who tested incredibly well at the combine with a 4.33 40-yard dash and 1.5 seconds in the 10-yard split, which were among the very best at his position this year.

If there is a concern for Thomas, it might be that his LSU quarterback (Jayden Daniels) and another receiver teammate (Malik Nabers) are both projected to go much higher. If you’re only the third-best prospect in your own college offense, how good can you really be? Nabers commanded more targets for the multiple seasons they were teammates, and he has a fuller route tree than Thomas, which is likely why he is considered the better prospect.

But you still have to be impressed with the 17 touchdowns Thomas caught last year despite being the No. 2 receiver. He can still thrive in the right situation, but he’s likely more of a low-end No. 1 and a high-end No. 2 receiver at the next level unless he dramatically improves his game as a diverse route runner.

Best Fit – No. 28 Buffalo Bills

There are a few good landing spots on playoff teams for Thomas Jr., including the Lions at No. 29 after they were done in by their No. 2 wideout’s drops (Josh Reynolds) in the NFC Championship Game. But my favorite pick would be the Bills at No. 28.

Buffalo lost Gabe Davis, who was their inconsistent No. 2 option and deep threat behind Stefon Diggs. It looks like they are keeping Diggs for this season after some sour talk in the offseason after his second-half slump, but they can sure use another good weapon behind him to go with tight end Dalton Kincaid too. Thomas Jr. can fit that deep threat role and work well with Josh Allen’s scrambling ability.

The Bills just needed that extra push from a playmaker in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in last year’s playoff loss. Maybe Thomas Jr. can be that large and speedy weapon for them that Gabe Davis never quite developed into.

5. Adonai Mitchell (Texas) – No. 29 Overall Prospect

How fast are those Texas wide receivers? We’re going to get into Xavier Worthy next, but his teammate, Adonai Mitchell, also lit up Indy when he had a 4.34 40-yard dash, only bested by Worthy (4.21) and Brian Thomas Jr. (4.33).

Mitchell’s speed was impressive as he is a bigger guy at 6’2” and 205 pounds. He reminds me of a bigger version of Santonio Holmes, the Super Bowl XLIII MVP for the Steelers.

Mitchell is going to be a case of talent vs. production. He only had 38 catches for 560 yards in two seasons with Georgia. He went to Texas last season and was his team’s No. 2 receiver with 55 catches for 845 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Mitchell does not look like a WR1 savior for an NFL team, but he can be another high-end No. 2 option. He just needs to work on his consistency and being a threat weekly. In half of his games last year, he didn’t have more than 35 receiving yards, a mark his teammate Worthy cleared in 12-of-14 games.

Best Fit – No. 29 Detroit Lions

The Lions already have a great No. 1 receiver to catch the short, quick passes in Amon-Ra St. Brown. They seem to have the next great tight end in Sam LaPorta after what he did as a rookie. But if they’re not going to ever try heavily featuring Jameson Williams (2022 first-round pick), then replacing Josh Reynolds with Mitchell would be a good move.

You can’t have a receiver drop the ball in big moments the way Reynolds did in San Francisco to blow that third quarter in the title game. The Lions have a stacked offense elsewhere, and unless they want to grab another corner in the first round, they should consider the receivers available.

6. Xavier Worthy (Texas) – No. 31 Overall Prospect

No one may have raised their stock at the combine more than Texas receiver Xavier Worthy, who set a combined record with a 4.21-second 40-yard dash. According to Next Gen Stats, Worthy reached a top speed of 24.21 miles per hour during his 40.

Worthy broke John Ross’ record of 4.22 seconds, which is a criticism of just how valuable (or invaluable) the 40 is for projecting wide receiver success in the NFL. Here are the other 7 wideouts to run a 40 in 4.30 seconds or better, and see if you can spot the lack of quality pro careers:

  • John Ross (4.22 seconds, drafted by the 2017 Bengals, 1st round, 9th pick)
  • Henry Ruggs III (4.27 seconds, drafted by the 2020 Raiders, 1st round, 12th pick)
  • Marquise Goodwin (4.27 seconds, drafted by the 2013 Bills, 3rd round, 78th pick)
  • Tyquan Thornton (4.28 seconds, drafted by the 2022 Patriots, 2nd round, 50th pick)
  • J.J. Nelson (4.28 seconds, drafted by the 2015 Cardinals, 5th round, 159th pick)
  • Jacoby Ford (4.28 seconds, drafted by the 2010 Raiders, 4th round, 108th pick)
  • Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.30 seconds, drafted by the 2009 Raiders, 1st round, 7th pick)

The Raiders used to be the laughingstock team and posterchild for drafting speed above everything and usually regretting it. But it’s not a good sign that the best receiver here was probably Henry Ruggs Jr. before he ruined his career by driving drunk and killing a woman and her dog because of his reckless actions in 2021.

But Worthy will have a shot to outdo all of those receivers in the NFL. Just don’t pencil him in to be as good as speedy threats like DeSean Jackson or Tyreek Hill were. But Worthy does have solid tape:

Worthy was productive in all three years at Texas, though he never had a truly dominant season. He caught a career-high 12 touchdowns as a freshman, and last year he had 75 catches for 1,014 yards and 5 scores.

Worthy is unlikely to hit full potential as a do-it-all No. 1 receiver, but he can be a weapon on screens and go routes, serving a specific role for a good offense.

Best Fit – No. 30 Baltimore Ravens

It feels like a lot of people want the Chiefs to draft Worthy to give them such a great athlete to play their gadget role that Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney tried to fill these last few years. But don’t think he would be their Tyreek Hill, who is a rare talent.

But I think Worthy could go to the Ravens first at No. 30 as Baltimore has to realize by now that Odell Beckham Jr. was washed up and Rashod Bateman is just limited as a wide receiver. Zay Flowers had a great rookie year for them, but they can still do better at adding a receiver to go along with their lethal running game and tight end Mark Andrews. Adding a speedster like Worthy would do a great job of truly replacing Hollywood Brown in this offense.

7. Ladd McConkey (Georgia) – No. 34 Overall Prospect

There is a betting market for over/under 6.5 wideouts drafted in the first round this year, and the odds favor the under. That could make Georgia’s Ladd McConkey the deciding pick if our other top six receivers are drafted ahead of him in the first round.

McConkey never posted huge numbers at Georgia, but that was also an offense that loved to run the ball, a team that didn’t need to throw as much with a great defense leading to blowout wins, and they also loved to feature tight end Brock Bowers as well.

McConkey had 1,687 receiving yards in 39 career games at Georgia, but he is a reliable target who knows how to get open, one of the most important skills for this position.  

But do not typecast McConkey as another “little white dude playing the slot” like he’s another Cooper Kupp or Julian Edelman or something like that. McConkey is 6’0” and played almost 80% of his snaps lined up on the outside in 2023.

McConkey just gets open at all levels. He may not go in the first round, but there is a team that would be perfect for him if he does.

Best Fit – No. 32 Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs might be feeling cocky about repeating as Super Bowl champions after trading away No. 1 receiver Tyreek Hill in 2022. But last year was not a repeatable strategy when you led the league in dropped passes and lost multiple games because of poor wide receiver play. They were fortunate that Rashee Rice developed as the season wore on, then benching Kadarius Toney after Week 15 was also very helpful to cut down on those game-killing mistakes.

Kansas City signed Marquise Brown already, but that is only a one-year contract, and he is filling the Marquez Valdes-Scantling role. Travis Kelce will be 35 years old and is near the end of his career. The Chiefs have to start investing in long-term weapons for the future for Patrick Mahomes.

A smart player who can get open at any level like McConkey would be a great addition to this offense. Imagine Mahomes extending the play and McConkey developing that elite chemistry with him to find the soft spots and break down the defense. He’d also gobble up those quick, short throws that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl with. McConkey would feel right at home after coming from a Georgia team that won with a great tight end and defense.

As a final selling point to the Chiefs, McConkey had 13 carries for 216 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns at Georgia too. See, you can use him on gadgets, and he probably won’t fumble through the end zone like Mecole Hardman did in Buffalo in the playoffs. He probably won’t line up offsides too.

Let’s make this one happen, Kansas City.

8. Keon Coleman (Florida State) – No. 35 Overall Prospect

We might be moving into firmly second-round prospects here, but some mock drafts still like the 6’3” Keon Coleman to go No. 30 to Baltimore. He could fill the role of a bigger receiver and a red zone weapon after he caught 11 touchdowns in his only season at Florida State last year after 7 touchdowns with Michigan State in 2022.

But Coleman will be a classic case of tested speed vs. game speed. At the combine, he only ran a 4.61 second 40, one of the slowest in such a fast class. But he has better game speed and had solid production last year on a Florida State offense that was not big on throwing like some of these teams.

Best Fit – No. 34 New England Patriots

All signs point to the Patriots taking a quarterback with their top pick, so he is still going to need someone to throw to. The receiving room still looks to be in shambles, and adding someone like Coleman would be a logical pick to replace DeVante Parker, who never created any separation on the field. At least Coleman has a shot to prove his game speed is better than his 40.

If the Patriots don’t bite, then Carolina at No. 39 could also take a shot as a team that is in desperate need of wideouts.

9. Troy Franklin (Oregon) – No. 38 Overall Prospect

Troy Franklin had a career year in 2023 to lead Oregon with 81 catches for 1,383 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was able to show improvement each year, and the 6’2” receiver did a respectable job running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash.

He could be a No. 2 receiver on a good offense or even have low-end No. 1 potential in a team that’s rebuilding their wide receiver room.

Best Fit – No. 39 Carolina Panthers

We just mentioned the Panthers with Coleman, but this is an offense that traded for Diontae Johnson, who is more of a possession receiver and plays the game similarly to Adam Thielen, the only real producer at wide receiver for the Panthers last year.

New coach Dave Canales may favor Keon Coleman at No. 39 if he’s available if he sees a slower Mike Evans in him with his size, but Franklin will have a shot to be the better overall receiver at the next level.

10. Roman Wilson (Michigan) – No. 48 Overall Prospect

You have to remember the Wolverines did not throw the ball that often on their way to a national championship last season. But Roman Wilson led the team in catches (48), receiving yards (789), and touchdowns (12) after he had 8 touchdowns combined in 2020-22.

Wilson showed good speed with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. He could be a big-time weapon in the slot for an offense that already has an established No. 1 wideout.

Best Fit – No. 50 Philadelphia Eagles

There are a couple of teams that could thrive with taking Wilson in the 50s to be their No. 3 wide receiver. The Eagles hold picks No. 50 and No. 53, and the Dolphins have the No. 55 pick. If Wilson is still there, he could be a nice addition to offenses that will use his speed better than Michigan’s run-heavy scheme did, and they really need someone to step up after their top duos (Tyreek Hill/Jaylen Waddle, A.J. Brown/DeVonta Smith).

We’ll give the Eagles the edge since they have two picks in that range to possibly acquire Wilson. Don’t discount the Steelers, who pick 51st, being interested too after trading Diontae Johnson to Carolina.

11. Xavier Legette (South Carolina) – No. 50 Overall Prospect

Xavier Legette spent five seasons at South Carolina, only having his breakout year in 2023 when he caught 71 balls for 1,255 yards and 7 touchdowns. But his good combination of size (6’1”) and speed (4.39 second 40) should have teams interested on Day 2 of the draft.

Best Fit – No. 56 Dallas Cowboys

He could get snatched up by one of the teams we already mentioned in Round 2 (Panthers, Patriots, Eagles, Dolphins, Steelers). But if Legette is still there when the Cowboys are up at No. 56, that would be a good move to give a speedy complement to CeeDee Lamb’s dominance of the targets.

The Cowboys let Michael Gallup go after he just never looked the same after his injury. They had Brandin Cooks as a speedster last year, but he is 31 and his best days are behind him. Legette would do well in a Mike McCarthy offense with Dak Prescott feeding him the ball.

12. Ricky Pearsall (Florida) – No. 54 Overall Prospect

Ricky Pearsall could even go in the top 45 picks if teams want a solid slot option who had a career-high 965 yards at Florida in 2023. He knows how to get open, has some deep-ball ability as well with decent speed, and you can use him on gadget plays.

Best Fit – No. 49 Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have yet to bring Tyler Boyd back, so they could use a new slot receiver. They also haven’t re-signed Tee Higgins, who got the franchise tag, to a long-term deal yet, so that’s the kind of receiver who could have a short stay in Cincinnati the rest of the way. A good way to replenish the offense around Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase is to use the draft, and Pearsall would be a nice fit at slot receiver in this offense that loves to feature three wideouts.

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