The problem with Chris Olave

The Tennessee Titans will most likely address wide receiver in April’s draft, and they’ll have plenty of good options if they decide to take one in the first round. The 2022 Draft class is once again loaded at receiver, with five in the top 32 of the consensus board, but none of these prospects are perfect.

Garrett Wilson is vulnerable to press coverage. Jameson Williams tore his ACL in January. Treylon Burks is unpolished as a route runner, and his combine testing was underwhelming. Drake London is relatively slow, and the recent track record of jump-ball receivers is not great. And Chris Olave doesn’t produce after the catch.

Olave was actually the impetus for this article; from his tape I recognized his inability to break tackles, but I didn’t realize how little he adds as a ballcarrier until I dug into the numbers.

Data from Sports Info Solutions

Among top wide receiver draft candidates, Olave had the lowest cumulative production after catching the ball. In 2021 he ranked last among this group in yards after contact rate, second to last in yards after catch rate, and amazingly only forced one missed tackle all season. Unsurprisingly, Treylon Burks places near the top of this list, as one of the more physical runners in the draft, regardless of position.

Boxes designate quartiles

Expanding the sample to include all FBS wide receivers doesn’t make Olave’s numbers look any better.

The fact that Olave was productive in spite of this weakness is a testament to what he does before the catch. There may not be a more refined route runner in this class than Olave, and his ability to create separation so effectively gives him a relatively high floor as a prospect. His ceiling, however, could be limited by his inability to produce with the ball in his hands.

Tennessee might have a lower grade on Olave than other teams

Jon Robinson has mentioned the importance of creating yards after the catch multiple times, and he’s backed it up with his draft picks.

Note: Racey McMath did not qualify, as he only had 14 receptions in 2020

Every time Robinson has gone to the draft for receiver help, he has valued players that are physical and dynamic runners. It’s unwise to make conclusions about a general manager’s drafting philosophy from such a small sample size, but for the purpose of this discussion let’s assume that this is Jon Robinson’s “type”.

College YAC production correlates with draft position

Unsurprisingly, players who are productive after the catch are valued more than those who aren’t; Jon Robinson is not unique for coveting these players.

By comparing a wide receiver’s YAC per reception in his last college season to his career YAC per reception in the NFL, we see that NFL production is a corollary of college production. Olave can still improve in this area, but he’ll need to increase his play strength and add more physicality to his game.

Does it matter?

Using Approximate Value to estimate a player’s career success, I found that the connection between college YAC and NFL value is marginal. Separating by round produces even flimsier results.

Conclusion

Chris Olave creates separation at a high level, and that’s ultimately the most important skill for an NFL receiver to have. He will most likely never be a great YAC threat, but there are many other ways he adds value to an offense.

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