Seriously though, how great has he looked through three games? He hasn’t only been good, he’s been dominant.
Chase has 230 yards and four touchdowns on 11 catches this season. He was the first rookie receiver with back-to-back 40-yard touchdown receptions to start his career since the Minnesota Vikings’ Sammy White in 1976. On Sunday, he became the ninth player—and first Cincinnati Bengal—to score a touchdown in each of his first three games. And his second touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers brought Chase into a tie with Rob Gronkowski for the NFL lead in receiving touchdowns this season—Cooper Kupp passed Chase for the lead a few hours later. It also made Chase the youngest player in NFL history with four receiving touchdowns in his first three games.
This is exactly what the Bengals were hoping for when they passed up an opportunity to build their offensive line to draft Chase—their quarterback’s college teammate—with the fifth overall pick. Joe Burrow has clearly loved throwing to the guy that was one of his favorite targets in his time at LSU. Chase (16 targets) only trails Tyler Boyd (19) for the Bengals’ lead in pass targets this season, and he leads the team in receiving yards. What’s more, many of his catches have been intermediate or long passes from Burrow, giving the Bengals another weapon deep in the passing game alongside Boyd and Tee Higgins.
Chase’s hands haven’t really been an issue either. He’s got just one drop on his stat sheet in three weeks—compared to four in his last two games of the preseason—and his first touchdown against the Steelers was a seriously impressive grab, squeezing the back point of the ball to haul in the six-pointer. After his preseason drops put Chase on immediate Bust Watch, he already seems to have silenced the doubters after three regular-season games. Now, in no small part due to Chase, Cincinnati is already halfway to matching their 2020 win total after three weeks.
So, what can we learn from this?
Well for starters, we have to go back to the age-old saying: if it’s not the regular season, it doesn’t count. Everything we see in preseason action is all fun and great to overreact to, but at the end of the day, what we see in the preseason rarely translates to the same results once the regular season begins. This is something we especially need to keep in mind when it comes to rookie performances. It’s so easy to make snap judgments when we’re seeing players in NFL action for the first time. Chase can’t catch the ball, *insert rookie quarterback here* is going to single-handedly make my favorite team a playoff contender, etc.
To that end, Chase’s drops were one of the biggest storylines of any NFL training camp before the season started. There were debates about whether the Bengals made the wrong call with their first-round selection, especially with Cincinnati’s offensive line needs. There were headlines and jokes made about Chase’s comments on the differences between an NFL football and a college ball. Now, the Bengals are 2-1, their first-rounder has overcome the preseason struggles, and head coach Zac Taylor told us so.
Let Chase’s regular-season performance so far be a lesson in preseason evaluation. The whole point of training camp is to allow players to shake off any rust that accumulated in the offseason. For rookies, it’s their chance to get acclimated to NFL action. For Chase, the preseason was his first time in any football game since LSU’s National Championship victory in January of 2020, so it’s no surprise he had a bit more rust. It’s also no surprise he’s fixed the problem.