September 28, 2021

How Ja'Marr Chase has Dismissed Doubters In His Rookie Season

One of the most difficult challenges to overcome in sports isn't the obvious physical flaws or a slump that inevitably plagues every athlete. It's the mental breakdown that can come out of seemingly nowhere, better known as the "yips."

The Cincinnati Bengals looked to be on the verge of losing their 2021 first-round pick Ja'Marr Chase to the yips if preseason football and training camp results were to be believed.

Described as the complete opposite of what we last saw from him in 2019 at LSU, Chase struggled in preseason games because of drops, a lack of separation, and miscommunication with his college quarterback at LSU, Joe Burrow.

Skeptical draft fans were skeptical of Chase opting out of the 2020 season had ammunition to prop up their favorite receiver instead. This was before Chase stepped on the field for his first regular-season game. Just three games into his rookie campaign, Chase has already proven to be the WR1 from the 2021 NFL Draft class

Allow Me To Re-Introduce Myself

Everything started in Week 1, as most things do. It's true Chase suffered some brutal concentration drops in the preseason, but he immediately settled into his comfort zone in Cincinnati's offense. His ability to win one-on-one with nuanced routes and subtle, veteran moves is what made him attractive coming out of LSU.

You can tell from his first NFL catch that Chase immediately felt like he belonged in the NFL. 

Facing a solid and crafty veteran in Bashaud Breeland, Chase knew he had time and space to put Breeland into a blender. It is rare to see such good planning from a rookie at the top of his route. Chase wisely stuttered twice before ultimately breaking after creating unusual space on an underneath dig route.

Chase has quickly established himself as an effective route-runner on sharp-cutting moves. Nine of his 16 targets have been sharp breaking, and he's caught six of those passes for 71 yards and one score, as shown below. He has also dropped one of the targets. 

His quick feet and feel for when to create space have translated to the deep ball as well. Many assumed Burrow and Chase would find success again on go-routes, much like they did in their National Championship season together, and Chase has been dominant going downfield. It hasn't mattered whether Chase is on the short side of the hashmark or the far side, he finds grass and he will make you pay every time. 

The 21-year-old has a phenomenal ability to track passes. His deep touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 3 only further shows more proof of his natural hands. Chase can maximize his catch radius for Burrow to aim into without being the most vertically gifted athlete.

Already with 126 yards and three scores on three deep receptions, Chase is clearly the type of deep-threat who must be accounted for. The Bengals will reap the rewards from his presence very soon. In fact, I'd expect their Week 4 opponent, Jacksonville, to start shading a deep safety his way

Naturally, this will open more room for Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to operate. Burrow is a smart, efficient passer who, outside of a three-interception flurry against Chicago in Week 2, reliably determines where he's going faster than most young quarterbacks. But he also won't shy away from giving Chase the chance to win deep.

A Bright Future In Cincinnati

The two have missed on some connections thus far that would have pushed Chase even higher up the NFL's leading receiver race. This was expected even with their record-breaking history together. Chase is a rookie and Burrow still has not played a full season's worth of games.

However, the Bengals won't complain about what they have. For the first time in years, they appear competent and competitive. Chase has so far been exactly what this unit has needed to stretch defenses and keep them off balance.

Chase is already a WR1 in fantasy football and could continue to be a top-dog for years to come. He's just scratching the surface of his home-run ability. The best-case scenario is he sees more volume soon, although Burrow's willingness to spread the ball around may make it difficult for Chase to see 10 or more targets each week.

What we've seen three games won't continue to occur each week, but it's an accurate representation of the talent Chase has. He's quickly arrived, and going nowhere anytime soon.

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration