Rookie WR expectations post-NFL Draft: Just how good will Marvin Harrison Jr. be?

With the NFL Draft behind us and all the landing spots revealed, Matt Harmon slots all the receivers drafted on Days 1 and 2 into three groups to outline expectations for when they might contribute as full-time players.

Harrison steps into the NFL ready to make an impact as an X-receiver from Day 1. He has all the skills, traits and abilities you want to check off the box. He has various release moves with a technician’s sense of earning separation. Harrison is comfortable playing big-boy bully football, too.

The Cardinals have a gaping hole at the top of their depth chart for a No. 1 wideout. Trey McBride is a really nice tight end and there are complementary players in the receiver room, but no one on the roster is a threat to Harrison walking right into 130-plus targets.

The Bears have two strong wideouts on the roster: DJ Moore and Keenan Allen. It’ll be interesting to see who loses out in two-receiver sets in this offense, but Chicago's base package with these receivers should be an 11-personnel package. Rome Odunze is a true X-receiver, and those guys rarely leave the field.

Odunze isn’t some typical rookie, either. He has a pro-ready skill set with the route-running polish and high-level hands to make an instant impact. Moore and Allen are quite good, but there’s a chance Chicago gets to camp and quickly realizes Odunze is their best wideout.

He’s that good.

My thought throughout the process was that if one of these receivers was going to land with the Giants, we should want it to be Malik Nabers because he’s uniquely skilled to survive in this landing spot.

Putting aside questions about the quarterback or overall offense for a moment, Nabers immediately walks into “top dog” status on that depth chart from his first practice. There are some useful role players at receiver in Darius Slayton and Wan’Dale Robinson, at least, but no high-level target-earners. It would be an upset if Nabers didn’t lead this team by a healthy gap in overall aerial volume in Year 1.

I know they signed Gabe Davis this offseason but it would be a massive upset (and mistake) if he’s more involved in the Jaguars offense on a season-long basis than Brian Thomas Jr. The LSU product needs to expand his overall route portfolio but that’s about the only “raw” aspect of his game.

Thomas showed throughout his last season that he could develop on the job and gain an understanding of multiple attack plans against press. He offers a unique skill set that no Jaguars receiver has had in the Trevor Lawrence era. The production might be volatile for Thomas as a rookie but he should play a lot. By the end of this year, I bet we’re all ready to predict a pretty significant breakout in his second season.

The Chargers' wide-open receiver depth chart is absolutely devoid of guys who can consistently get open. They ended up with one of the best separators in the draft in Ladd McConkey.

I’d be stunned if McConkey doesn’t lead the Chargers in targets this season. He has all the technical skills mastered to get on the field right away. Given that volume and his quarterback pairing, he should compete to be one of the most productive rookie wideouts in 2024.

If we were confident Rashee Rice would play a full season, I could have placed Xavier Worthy in the next bucket. As it stands, it’s hard to imagine Worthy won’t play a lot in 11-personnel and possibly see the field in two-receiver sets.

The Chiefs are famous for rotating their receivers and asking players to play specialized roles. We’ll see if that changes if they feel better about their options this season, but Worthy is still a player who needs some role-catering. My guess is that his impact is felt more by the offense overall and less from an individual production standpoint. Nevertheless, he will be on the field for most snaps and should clear 90 targets as a rookie.

Given his size and the other players on the roster, Keon Coleman looks ticketed for the X-receiver position in Buffalo. I have my concerns about how that will work out as his home long-term, but it’s his best path onto the field as a rookie.

The Bills receiver room feels very Chiefs-esque. They have many quality options in Coleman, Curtis Samuel, Khalil Shakir and tight end Dalton Kincaid. I just don’t know if they have a No. 1 wideout in that group you can funnel targets through as the clear alpha.

That can still make for a productive offense, just one that might be difficult to parse every week.

Ja’Lynn Polk was a nice pick by the Patriots in Round 2, despite what some folks want to tell you. He’s a rock-solid middle-of-the-field option who thrives against zone coverage and has some of the best hands in the class. He’s a reliable player who doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. The fact that New England came back around to snag Javon Baker in Round 4 as their developmental X-receiver makes this move look all the better.

Polk should be able to see the field early. He can play multiple positions and has a pro-ready skill set. He could be an early favorite of Jacoby Brissett and be Drake Maye’s security blanket when he takes over.

The Panthers made a big bet on Xavier Legette by trading up to make him the 32nd pick in the NFL Draft. He has some rare physical abilities but does come with a risky profile. For what it’s worth, the Panthers head coach, Dave Canales, seems to understand what kind of player they’re getting in Legette and some of the role-catering he will need:

Legette will certainly need to play a big role in Year 1 to offer size and juice to the receiver room. However, I could see him running behind both Diontae Johnson and Adam Thielen to start this season while he develops more as a route runner.

The Colts didn’t get great play out of their vertical X-receiver position last year. They seemingly drafted AD Mitchell as a direct replacement for Alec Pierce at that position. The way they describe his skill set and use aligns perfectly with that role:

Mitchell will have a tough time garnering a high target total as a rookie because Josh Downs and especially Michael Pittman Jr. are entrenched on the depth chart. But if he holds down the X gig, Mitchell rarely leaves the field. This all comes down to how much Anthony Richardson is ready to elevate an offense consistently. I am encouraged by the brief signals we saw last season.

The Steelers have a bunch of WR3 and WR4 types on the roster beyond George Pickens. Roman Wilson has a clear runway to be the No. 2 receiver on the team this year. I had my questions pre-draft about how wide Wilson’s skill set would be at the next level but he can win over the middle on cross routes via play-action plays. That will be a staple in Pittsburgh. Regardless, there won’t be much raw volume available in this passing game if the team leans into the run-game strength of the roster. It appears that they will.

The Jets' selection of Corley was a little rich for me but they clearly love the player. He was a specific target on draft day:

The Jets have an opening in the slot for a third receiver. Mike Williams, if healthy, will operate the boundary X-receiver role and Garrett Wilson will be the volume hog outside, even if he moves around a bit. Corley is a moveable chess piece that needs some designed touches to produce. That worries me in Nate Hackett’s offense, but he has an open path to produce.

McCaffrey was a surprise pick at the end of the third round so, clearly, Washington likes his skill set. He could easily be in the “future bet” bucket, but there’s a need on this depth chart for a WR3. If this coaching staff views Jahan Dotson as an outside receiver, McCaffrey could start in the slot early on.

Ricky Pearsall was one of my favorite receivers in this draft class and I loved the 49ers taking him in Round 1. He solves a problem for the team by bringing another man coverage-beating skill set they lacked in the Super Bowl:

That said, as long as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk remain on the team, Pearsall will have a tough task getting starter snaps in Year 1. The 49ers don’t run a ton of 11 personnel and even when they do, Jauan Jennings is a solid pro who has held down a critical role. It’s hard for me to imagine Pearsall won’t play some role this season but with the roster as currently constructed, he’s a future bet.

If Samuel was to get traded, however, Pearsall would jump at least one bucket on my list.

Burton won’t start ahead of Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins in two-receiver sets, but he could play outside when Chase kicks into the slot for three-receiver sets. He’s not a normal third-round pick, so don’t rule out him pushing for playing time:

Overall, his best bet is if/when Higgins moves on. Burton is talented enough to be Joe Burrow’s long-term No. 2 receiver across from Chase. That’s a pretty enticing proposition.

The Bucs have Chris Godwin and Mike Evans entrenched at the top of the depth chart. Trey Palmer was a rookie last season and gave them some splash plays. The new offensive coaching staff seems to want Godwin to take more slot reps. McMillan is a natural slot, so he’s blocked for this season, at least.