There's a very good reason that Chris Olave appears to be open all the time, and that good reason is this:
He probably is.
If the coverage is man-to-man, the New Orleans Saints' rookie receiver – No. 11 pick overall – beats his defender and if it's a zone, he finds the vacancy. Entering Sunday's game between the Saints (3-6) and Steelers (2-6) at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Olave leads all rookies in receptions (43) and receiving yards (618), and has two touchdowns.
Olave said he has developed a symbiotic relationship with quarterbacks, dating to college.
"I feel like (it's) just having a similar mind-set to the quarterback, seeing what they see," he said. "I sat a lot in college, going over a lot of coverages and finding the soft spots in certain coverages. I feel like I have a connection with the quarterback as I see coverages, and then try to sit down in those zones.
"My coaches helped me with that (in college), knowing where everybody is going to drop post-snap."
Likely, it's one of the characteristics that had most of his Saints teammates saying that Olave practiced like a seasoned pro from the day he arrived, even though he was anything but.
"I made the comment in a meeting how good of a feel he has for getting open and finding windows and being able to not confuse the quarterback," Andy Dalton said. "That's rare to have, especially at this point in his career, being a rookie and understanding. I think it's something that he just naturally has and it's been really good for us, because he hasn't confused us on what he's doing. He does a good job of getting open and finding the right spot to be.
"He does a great job with body language, too, which helps from a quarterback's perspective of knowing when he's doing certain things. He just has a good understanding and feel for how to run routes and get open."
Since Dalton became the Saints' starter six games ago, on Oct. 2, Olave has caught 26 passes for 350 yards and both touchdowns in five games (he missed one due to a concussion). And more often than not, his catches have come with ample room around him.
"Kind of understanding space, understanding coverages, understanding the feel for the game," he said. "We could run certain routes against man or when they go zone, we've just got to react and find some space in there, and just play the game at the end of the day."
It has helped the Saints become one of the league's best offenses this season, at 23.6 points and 377.6 yards per game, 10th and sixth in the NFL, respectively. New Orleans has averaged 26.8 points and 379.8 yards in the last six, all of them played without receiver Michael Thomas and five without Jarvis Landry.
"When they went down, I felt like I had to step up a lot and try to step into their roles," Olave said. "Having them out, we can't feel that. I try my best to try to step up to that role and try to get some wins for the team. I feel like that was my job to do, so I wanted to just win and provide what I can for the team and be at my best playing my role."
Olave said Thomas and Landry have continued to support and mentor him while injured, and the helpful hints – along with his own abilities – have helped him become one of the NFL's best rookies this season.
"I've got high expectations for myself, my standard is one of the highest," he said. "Going into the year, I wanted to be the best rookie and one of the best receivers coming into the league, and I wanted to be one of the best right away. I feel like I've taken a step to that, but I want to be a lot better. I've got to keep getting better every day."