The Bengals have reunited Joe Burrow with his favorite No. 1 pass-game option: LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase. We didn’t see the stud receiver suit up in 2020, but it can’t be understated just how dominant his 84-1,790-20 receiving line was in 2019. While Chase isn’t the biggest or fastest WR you’ll ever see, his ability to absolutely dominate the man in front of him elevate this entire passing game the moment he steps on the field.
View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:
QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S
What follows is a breakdown on what makes Chase such an intriguing prospect, whether or not he fits the mold of a great fantasy football WR, as well as what we should expect from him and this Bengals offense in 2021.
My goodness Chase is a stud
PFF stated the following about Chase in our 2021 NFL Draft Guide:
“Chase was the most productive wide receiver on a college team that had the most productive rookie wide receiver in NFL history. Oh, and he was only 19 years old when he did it. While he's not a perfect prospect or a freak physical specimen, Chase is a safe bet as a true “X” wide receiver. He beat up the likes of A.J. Terrell and Trevon Diggs during his college career as well. He can win with strength or speed and then shake off a tackle to take it to the house. His 24 deep catches in 2019 are the most we've seen in a college season.”
It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see Chase in 2020 only because he’s that good of a football player. Credit to DeVonta Smith on his spectacular Heisman-winning season, but there’s a reason why Chase entered this draft as the first consensus WR1 since Calvin Johnson.
Ja'Marr Chase's ability to win with physicality at the LOS and the catch point is absurd.
There are better athletes and better route-runners in this class, but no one tops Chase's strength/physicality. pic.twitter.com/7HYbJNuNEI
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) December 26, 2020
Obviously priority No. 1 for the Bengals is keeping Burrow upright; in the Bengals’ defense they spent two of their last three first-round picks on the group before firing up Chase at No. 5. It’s tough to pass on Chase if he’s as good of a prospect as most think, and he’s fully expected to see A.J. Green’s departed 104 targets.
Chase earned a Justin Blackmon comp in our PFF Draft Guide. You can see this from the way he plays: 22 broken tackles after the catch in 2019, nearly impossible to press at the line of scrimmage and zero problem stacking NFL-caliber corners with his sneaky speed.
Don’t be surprised if Chase starts balling out sooner rather than later at the next level.
Great rookie WRs are usually drafted early
There have only been two rookie WRs drafted outside of the first three rounds who finished as a top-24 PPR performer since 2010: Mike Williams (the Tampa Bay one) and Tyreek Hill. The latter player undoubtedly would've been a Day 1 selection if it wasn't for off-the-field issues, while the former benefited from incumbent No. 1 WR Antonio Bryant’s retirement.
Keenan Allen is the only third-round WR to thrive as a rookie. The rest were top-two-round selections. The one thing the group (generally) has in common is the reality that each WR is extremely talented and went on to post multiple great seasons:
- Williams (kinda)
- A.J. Green
- Julio Jones
- Odell Beckham
- Mike Evans
- Kelvin Benjamin (lol)
- Amari Cooper
- Michael Thomas
- JuJu Smith-Schuster
- Calvin Ridley
- A.J. Brown
- Justin Jefferson
- Chase Claypool
- CeeDee Lamb
The 2020 WR class was touted as one of the best in recent memory. They accordingly make up 19% of this list; just realize it’s a bit more rare to see first-year pass-catchers rise up to the top of their depth chart compared to rookie RBs.
Volume is usually the largest concern with expecting a big debut campaign from any rookie receiver; Chase checks every box we could hope for when projecting just how big of a target share he’ll have in 2021.
Get used to drafting Chase as a borderline WR2 in fantasy land
One of the reasons to feel so good about Chase as a rookie is the fact that we’ve already seen him take out high-level competition with Burrow throwing him the ball. Take his 6-140-1 explosion against Alabama for example: Cowboys CB and No. 51 overall pick of the 2020 draft Trevon Diggs simply didn’t have an answer.
This selection hurts Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins more than most might realize. Yes, Chase will likely improve Burrow’s efficiency and thus the entire Bengals’ passing game. Also yes, his presence on the field is the difference between Burrow’s incumbent starters seeing somewhere around 100 targets vs. 130.
The Bengals offer a similar predicament as the Steelers: three bonafide stud receivers in a pass-heavy offense. It’s tough to expect a Justin Jefferson-esque campaign from Chase purely because of this volume issue, but he certainly seems like the sort of high-end talent capable of making the most out of what he’s given.
My initial reaction is to rank Chase as the top receiver from Cincinnati and the WR25 overall in fantasy. The film and stats both point to him becoming the next-big thing at the position; don’t be surprised if the world finds that out in a hurry this season.