If you’re an NFL team that needs some help at wide receiver, you’re in luck. The 2024 NFL Draft features as good a group of pass catchers as we’ve ever seen, a deep and talented class with difference makers like Washington standout Rome Odunze. Along with Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison and LSU’s Malik Nabers, Odunze is viewed as a potential top-10 pick, the exact sort of player that football teams covet in a WR1. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s physical, and he has this incredible knack for making plays that make life easier for a quarterback.
He did that over and over again during his tenure in Seattle, with the 2023 campaign serving as his magnum opus. Odunze reeled in 81 receptions for 1,428 yards and 13 touchdowns, along with one score on the ground and one via a kick return. He was a consensus All-American, while the Huskies had the best season in program history, going 14-1, winning the Pac-12 and the Sugar Bowl before coming up just short in the national championship game.
Odunze is going to hear his name called very, very early on April 25, but before then, he’s getting ready to enjoy the Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Prior to the game, Uproxx Sports caught up with Odunze to discuss his partnership with Panini, this season for the Huskies, his Super Bowl pick, and much more.
What do you have going on with Panini?
I’m here with Panini doing a little appearance, doing some different shoots with them, talking about the Super Bowl, talking about trading cards. I’m having a lot of fun with it. So, yeah, it’s been exciting.
Were you a big sports card kid? Trading cards, any sports memorabilia growing up? Or are you kind of new to the sports card game?
I’m a little bit new. I had some growing up, I remember distinctly this Syracuse card — this player, he wore number one. And I thought he was the swaggiest, drippiest player ever. So, I remember that. It’s been awesome to be able to work with Panini, have my own card, it’s a bit of a dream come true. Just thinking about when I was a kid, hopefully kids are looking at my card the same way, especially with Panini, because it’s exclusive to the NFL, so that makes it official. It’s been an honor to work with them.
Do you remember the Syracuse player? Or do you just remember it was a guy who wore one for Syracuse?
That’s the thing! I don’t remember who it was. I’ve tried to do some research with it, but I don’t remember who it was. But I just thought the orange and the white, they were in the white uniforms, they had orange pants, I think orange numbers. It was sick. But I don’t remember who it was, no.
Let’s talk a little football. It’s been a month or so since you last played. The Combine is going to be coming up soon. How have you handled this period? Has it been trying to get in some R&R? Was it right after that final game of the season, getting to work and getting ready for the Combine?
For me, it was awesome. I wouldn’t have it any other way than to be able to go to National Championship, it was awesome. But that put me a little behind in the Combine training, right? Because some players had been off for a month or so before then. I had to take a little bit of time, I think I maybe took three, four days to just relax and let my body reset a little bit. But thanks to God, I was able to finish the season very healthy. And so I finished those three or four days and got right into training. I thought it was mandatory to be able to go straight into training, catch up and make sure I’m getting getting all my Combine exercises right, making sure I’m getting my speed up, getting my strength up, so I can perform well.
You mentioned this year for Washington was a dream year. And I want to know, how did this year specifically get you ready for the NFL?
I think this year prepared me tremendously, especially because we run a pro style offense, and we pass the ball a lot. And I think that the NFL is turning into a passing league, as well. So, like you said, going up against teams every week, regardless if they were good or bad, they were giving us their best shot. We were the top team in the country the entire year. So, every time somebody played us, they were trying to try to knock us off and people continued to doubt us and all of that. It was fun to be able to go in each week getting everybody’s best.
And being with a bunch of NFL players, future NFL players on that team, it was exciting. It shows you the caliber of players that I’m going to be around and how I can interact with them and have camaraderie and a leadership role with all those guys, it helps tremendously. And it was a super long season, I think it was 16 weeks that we had including the bye and games and all that, going all the way to the national championship, so that’s similar to a 17-game season, even longer for those teams entering the playoffs. I think all that prepared me for the next level.
What was the moment when you went, oh, wait, this team not can do something really special, but is going to do something really special? And why was it that moment specifically?
I think it was something that was built in the previous season. We had a lot of success immediately and we had so many components that already had the chemistry, we were connecting very well. Those two losses, it was tough, but we knew going into the next season, in that offseason, we were telling people we’re going to be national champs, and we believed it. It was something in the locker room that we fed on every single day. Unfortunately, we fell one game short, but we still did very special things. I think that belief, like I said, just came from the previous season and was just continue to grow and grow as it came closer and closer.
That game against Texas in the Sugar Bowl, what were you doing on the sideline during that last Texas drive? Are you pacing around? Are you there like, “We got this, we’re fine, I’ve seen our defense do this before?”
I was on the sideline. I was a little bit more far back, towards the other side of the field, because I wanted a full view. I didn’t want anybody in my way to witness the play. And I had full confidence that they were gonna go and do it. They’d been coming up clutch all season, they were a very clutch defense that year, and in the moment, they locked down when they needed to. It was full confidence that someone was gonna go out there and make a play. And I didn’t know who it was going to be, shout out Elijah Jackson who made a tremendous play. But yeah, I was there watching it all go down, for sure.
Where did that confidence come from? Was it seeing it every single day in practice and knowing it was going to come? Or was it an off field thing, the camaraderie, the stuff that you built up away from football with them, knowing that your trust in them as people is going to translate to the football field?
It was both! It was both, and I think that’s what makes college football special and what makes a team sport like football so special, because it’s both. When you’re on the field and you’re practicing and you’re giving your all, you’re building that chemistry, you’re getting to know how each other play and what each player is going to do — especially wide receiver to quarterback, the connection has to be there and you need that connection to have success.
But it was off the field, as well. We were a super tight team, super close. And that team environment, that bonding would show in how our offense and defense would play off of one another. If one wasn’t doing as well, the other picked it up and vice versa. So, it was something that was built on and off the field, for sure. And I think that’s one of the main factors that took us as far as we went.
An NFL team brings you in at the Combine and says “Rome, make the case why you are the best wide receiver in this Draft that has a lot of really good wide receivers in it.” What do you say?
I think that it’s a combination of things. All those guys that watch the film, I let them know, you watch the film, I do a good job on the field at many different things. Being versatile, my contested catches, my route running, and my ability to block in the run game are all complements of my game. Not only that, but my leadership in the locker room. I’m a guy that’s gonna get along with pretty much everybody in there, and encourage those guys, and give them the tough love when they need it, and make sure that the locker room and the morale of the team is continuing to trend upwards, and when we go through adversity, to be a voice and a beacon of light that says we’re gonna get through those times. Also, what I bring to a community of a team. I’m big into supporting the fans that support me, and being in the community, and helping everybody enjoy football and growing the sport as an entertainment, and being a light to all those around me. So, I think all those components provide a good scouting report, I would say, for the number one wide receiver in the Draft.
Is there a specific game that you would tell people to throw on that you think sums up what you could do on the football field?
Man, it’s a lot of games. Cal was a good game — I had a special teams touchdown on that and I had a couple touchdowns, some screens. Both the Oregon games, and then I would say throw on Texas as well. Those four games that will give you a good synopsis of my ability on the football field and what I could do.
I always love asking guys about their teammates in the Draft — you obviously have plenty of them, but the one I have to ask about is Michael Penix. I’m a Penn State fan, he has broken my heart in the past. What is it about Michael that makes him so special as someone who’s been around him for a few years?
I think that it’s who he is — who he is as a man, and that translates so seamlessly to the field. He continues to have success on the field through all the adversity that he’s faced with his injuries. When he was over in the Big Ten, he was going crazy against those defenses that people say are very tough — which they are — and he was able to do it in the Pac-12, as well. His arm talent is incredible, he can put the ball wherever he wants on the field, whenever he wants to do it. His awareness in the pocket, his ability to escape the pocket, make plays with his feet when he wants to. His ability to throw on the run. I think he has all the aspects of an NFL quarterback, and an elite one at that. There’s very, very, very few weaknesses in his game that I think he’ll even continue to improve on, as well, and the strengths of his game are limitless. He’s great, man, he’ll make any team a lot better.
Obviously, Super Bowl is right around the corner, what are your general thoughts on the matchup between the Chiefs and the Niners?
I think it’s exciting, I think it’s exciting. They both have tremendous defenses, so much offensive firepower. So, it’s hard to say it’s going to be an offense or a defense, which one can outperform the other. It’s just going to be an all-out grudge match, I think, and that’s exciting. I think they’re definitely the two top teams in the league, so to see them go at it, it’s going to be exciting, along with all the drama that this season has and the NFL promotes. It’s a lot of fun to see it all unfold, so, it’s exciting. Some U-Dub players on both sides, so I’m excited to see the matchups. But it should be a great game.
Who is your favorite player to watch in this game? Are you somebody who tends to gravitate towards watching wide receivers when you’re just kicking your feet up and watching a football game?
Definitely. I always like to watch the wide receivers and watch them make plays. Definitely will be watching all the wide receivers on both sides very closely, specifically Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, I love watching their game. And then on the Chiefs, I’ll definitely be looking at Trent McDuffie. I think that matchup of them vs. Trent McDuffie is going to be awesome to watch — I went against Trent in high school my freshman and sophomore year, so I know what he brings to the table, as well.
And then, watching the quarterbacks play. Watching Patrick Mahomes play, it’s always exciting. Watching Brock Purdy do his thing as Mr. Irrelevant is super incredible. So, I’m rooting for all those guys.
Can I get a pick out of you or are you trying to stay away from that?
No, I’ll make it.
I’m going Niners. I’m going Deebo Samuel, Super Bowl MVP. And I’ll give you …I’m going 35-24 Niners.
So you think it’s just going to be “We’re getting the ball in Deebo’s hands, he’s gonna make stuff happen”?
I think that’s what they always do. I think when you take advantage of that, the Niners have a lot of success. Every time the ball is in his hands, he’s doing some special with it. So, as much as they can get him the ball, I would do it as much as possible.