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NFL Draft

Why It’s Too Early To Panic About Ja’Marr Chase

  • The Draft Network
  • August 26, 2021
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Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, football analysts across the country expected the Cincinnati Bengals to take Oregon tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick of the draft. The Bengals had a horrendous offensive line in the 2020 season, and the lack of protection up front led to Joe Burrow––their new franchise quarterback––tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 11. It was clear Cincinnati needed help up front, but they opted to go a different direction instead.

Despite having Tyler Boyd and a breakout season from 2020 second-round pick Tee Higgins out wide, the Bengals opted to select LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick. Despite the initial surprise at the choice away from an O-Line upgrade, the pick made rational sense. Chase was touted as one of, if not the best wide receiver prospect in his class. On top of that, he was Burrow’s top receiver in the 2019 season, the final year of both Chase’s and Burrow’s collegiate careers. Giving their new face of the franchise familiar hands at wideout was a calculated but still risky move given their more pressing needs up front, and Cincinnati hoped it would work out.

Has it? Well, not really. At least not yet.

The good news for Cincinnati is that Sewell’s time with the Lions has not started the way Detroit has hoped. He’s been struggling in his move to right tackle, as the Lions had him flip from his natural spot at left tackle. CBS Draft Analyst Chris Trapasso gave him the worst grade of all first-round rookies in his report card for the preseason so far (a D).

The bad news for Cincinnati is that Chase is barely in front of Sewell with the second-worst grade of first-rounders (D+). Through two preseason games and two and a half weeks of practice in training camp, Chase has had a problem with dropped passes. Unfortunately, it’s been a big problem and the biggest storyline out of Bengals camp.

In last week’s game against the Washington Football Team, Chase had three targets… and three dropped passes. To make matters worse, the trouble with his hands didn’t stop there, as reports came out from the Bengals’ camp that he was still dropping passes outside of game situations. For a guy who was drafted in the top five to, you know, catch the ball, Chase’s early struggles have been worrying.

Still, it really is too early to be freaking out about the highly touted receiver’s drops and his readiness for NFL action.

For one thing, it’s clear Chase knows he needs to be better. His drops aren’t an issue that’s only clear to fans. The same Sunday practice that saw him dropping passes also featured Chase putting in extra work while other starters were resting. It also featured wide receivers coach Troy Walters putting extra emphasis on contested catches for Chase during warm-up throws. Chase continued putting in extra work the following day and “made a leaping touchdown grab” during practice as well.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the preseason is a time of overreactions and bold takes. To say Chase is going to be a bust based on a couple of preseason games and a few drops in practice falls under the overreaction category. There’s a reason he was TDN’s WR2 in last year’s prospect rankings and the 2021 NFL Draft’s WR1. The guy is an elite receiver with top-tier talent, and we’ll see it shine through soon enough. The imminent return of Joe Burrow to NFL game action won’t hurt either.

For now, let’s give Chase time to keep working through his drop problems, whether that’s a mental or physical thing, and we can make a better judgment call once the regular season starts and his performance in games really begins to matter. Bengals fans, there is no reason to panic.

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