One of the hottest debates of the 2021 NFL Draft came right in the middle of the top 10. The Cincinnati Bengals, one year removed from selecting quarterback Joe Burrow with one of the least-debated first overall picks of the last decade, had two choices: They could go with the “generational” offensive tackle prospect to protect Burrow, or they could reunite their signal-caller with his No. 1 target from college. It was a debate that raged on all spring.
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Burrow got beat to a pulp in his rookie season. He was sacked 32 times and hit 44 more times in only 10 games. The final hit tore his left ACL and led to an offseason of rehab that carried into training camp this summer. And with elite talents at offensive tackle and receiver staring the Bengals in the face at Pick No. 5 last April, it was far from an easy choice.
Through seven games, any and all criticism of their selection of Ja'Marr Chase has ended up on @OldTakesExposed. The fifth overall pick now has 754 receiving yards, the most of any rookie through their first seven games. The 5-2 Bengals are not only in first place in the AFC North, but they are also tied for first in the entire AFC.
JA'MARR CHASE CANNOT BE STOPPED. #RuleTheJungle
— NFL (@NFL) October 24, 2021
Chase’s emergence underscores something PFF has long been a proponent of — the high-end value of a true No. 1 receiver.
For the Cincinnati offense, the difference has been staggering. They’ve gone from .005 expected points added (EPA) per dropback in 2020 to 0.203 in 2021, a move from 26th in the NFL to ninth. That difference, as you can see in the chart below, can almost be solely attributed to Burrow's college teammate.