Chicago Bears draft Rome Odunze: How he fits, pick grade and scouting intel

Chicago Bears draft Rome Odunze: How he fits, pick grade and scouting intel

The Chicago Bears selected University of Washington receiver Rome Odunze with the ninth pick in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

Eight picks after taking their quarterback of the future, the Bears got Caleb Williams quite the weapon in Odunze, who will join DJ Moore and Keenan Allen to form one of the best receiving trios in football. And the Bears have one of their best collections of skill players in recent memory.

Odunze, the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder, was an All-American in 2023 after leading the FBS with 1,640 receiving yards. Odunze started the past three seasons for Washington and increased his production in each of those years, averaging 10.1, 15.3 and 17.8 receiving yards per game, respectively.

His play last season helped the Huskies reach the College Football Playoff national championship game, where they were defeated by the Michigan Wolverines.

NFL Draft 2024 tracker: Live blog, pick-by-pick grades and analysis
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Draft pick grades: Nick Baumgardner, Scott Dochterman rate the selections
Full draft order: Team picks for all 257 selections
“The Athletic Football Show”: Watch live reaction to the draft

‘The Beast’ breakdown

Odunze ranked No. 6 in Dane Brugler’s top 300 big board. Here’s what Brugler had to say about him in his annual NFL Draft guide:

“Odunze is field fast with fluid route running and above-average tracking/adjustment skills to secure catches in high-trafficked areas or create explosive plays downfield (32 catches of 20-plus yards in 2023, second most in the FBS). His body control at the catch point has always been a strength, but he took major strides in 2023 with his ability to play through contact and use focused concentration to win 50-50 balls.”

Coach/scout intel

An anonymous coach had this to say about Odunze in Bruce Feldman’s recent mock draft:

“He can play inside or outside and eat you up. He’s very polished and has a lot in his bag. He makes great adjustments and is very, very strong. He’s the alpha receiver who bullies guys whenever there’s a contested catch. I know people talked a lot about Marvin Harrison and we never played him, but if he’s better than this guy, man, that’s really saying something.”

“Rome is the safest guy of the receivers,” an NFL scout told Feldman for his draft confidential story. “He’s just not as talented as (LSU’s) Malik (Nabers) or (Ohio State’s Marvin) Harrison as far as getting consistent separation at an NFL level. But I trust him a little more than those guys. As far as strength through the catch, he might be the best. He’s built right to last and run routes.”

“He’s great at tracking the ball,” an anonymous NFL receivers coach told Feldman. “He’s rugged and has good run-after-the-catch ability. He can play inside and out, and he’s so smart — like different type of smart. He can pick things up so easily and will adapt easily to the pro game because of the system and the concepts they had there, and that really shows up in his game.”

Why he’s a first-round pick

Odunze wrote his name all over the Washington record books, setting the program’s single-season record with 1,640 receiving yards and tallying the second-most receptions (92) in a year. In addition to All-America honors, he was named first-team All-Pac-12 and was one of the Huskies’ four team captains while becoming just the second receiver in school history to record more than one 1,000-yard receiving season.

How he fits

Odunze steps in as an X receiver to complement Moore and Allen. He can play outside and be the go-up-and-get it, 50-50-ball-winner at wide receiver. He’s a massive upgrade over what the Bears had at the No. 3 receiver spot and can eventually take over for Allen, who turns 32 this weekend and is in the last year of his contract. Odunze brings an explosiveness to an offense that has a quarterback who can find him down the field.

Rookie impact

After 1,640 receiving yards last season and 13 touchdowns, good enough for All-America honors, Odunze is pro-ready. He has the size and athleticism to be an impact player right away, and the Bears figure to throw the ball a lot more than they did in recent years. We’ve seen rookie wide receivers put up big numbers in Year 1. Odunze might have to wait behind Moore, Allen and tight end Cole Kmet for targets, but he should be quite productive.

Depth-chart impact

Odunze will be the No. 3 receiver behind Moore and Allen, but the Bears will be set up to be in 11 personnel often with three wideouts on the field. Odunze is ahead of 2023 fourth-round pick Tyler Scott on the depth chart and it isn’t close. The question will be how soon before he can cut into targets that go to the veteran receivers. It’s a good problem for the Bears to have — and one they’re not accustomed to — an offense full of adept pass catchers.

They also could have picked …

After the Falcons took quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the Bears were in prime position to take Odunze or the best defensive player in the draft — defensive tackle Byron Murphy or one of the edge rushers. They could have chosen to upgrade the offensive line with one of the best tackles available, like Olu Fashanu, or added tight end Brock Bowers. It was hard to go wrong, but Oduzne, the sixth-best player on The Athletic’s board, is an ideal fit.

Fast evaluation

Some of the Bears’ draft picks in 2023 required projection — guys with great measurables who didn’t necessarily produce in college. That isn’t the case with Odunze — or Williams. The last two seasons, Odunze was one of the best receivers in college football. He tested off the charts at the combine. This may be the most improved offense in football.

(Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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