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NFL Draft

It’s Time For Ja’Marr Chase To Step Up

  • The Draft Network
  • August 21, 2021
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With expectations in abundance, and rightly so, following his selection No. 5 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Ja’Marr Chase entered the NFL landscape with the spotlight at its brightest before he ever stepped foot in the Cincinnati Bengals’ facility. With expectation, however, has come a bar set as high as any from a stacked wideout class; a bar potentially too high through two preseason matchups.

Chase’s hands were never an issue during his illustrious career at LSU where he spent much of the 2019 season working in tandem with the Bengals’ current signal-caller, Joe Burrow, to provide as dominant a quarterback-wideout duo college football has had since the turn of the century. On Friday night, however, Chase’s play and lack of consistency in his hands have welcomed an army of skeptics toward the game-breaking wideout and his overall projection as the Bengals’ WR1.

Questions arose in April following the injury of Burrow during the 2020 season as to which direction Bengals brass wanted to go early in the first round. With pro-ready tackle prospects available in Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater ready to start on Burrow’s blindside from day one, Chase’s selection was viewed by many as the splash addition instead of the one with an eye for the future—and an investment in Burrow’s health. 

With three drops against Washington on Friday, Chase’s time to round into form is long overdue. It wasn’t the first time the former LSU standout has had issues completing the process of a catch, as Chase reportedly looked uncomfortable, awkward, and at times, lost, during the early portions of the Bengals’ offseason program.

“It’s all mental right now,” Chase said earlier in the spring. “I realized this offense is very detailed. I had to take my time. The first couple of days I wasn’t doing so well. Of course, I kept pushing forward. Me sitting out that year [2020], I’m not going to be so fast getting back to my normal self.”

However, Chase proving he can get back to the level of play he showed in his 2019 season—and fast—is exactly what head coach Zac Taylor expects for a Bengals offense with loads of optimism entering the fall. 

As high as the ceiling is for Chase, as a receiving corps, Cincinnati has a special group out wide; there’s just no way around it. You won’t hear many gawk at the talent inside the Bengals’ facility due to the potential echoes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens’ rosters, but if it were my argument, Cincinnati’s weapons on the boundary trump all within the division—they have a chance to be that special.  

Similar to Justin Jefferson’s magical first year in Minnesota, Chase checks all the boxes you look for in a dynamic WR1 in the NFL who has an opportunity to jolt onto the scene in year one. Burrow’s top target during LSU’s National Championship run just two years ago, Chase finished with a staggering 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, all coming from the arm of Cincinnati's current starter under center. It doesn’t end there, however, as Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins round out Burrow’s impressive starting pass-catching options on offense. Boyd, a 6-foot-2 target hog, has proven to be one of the most consistent wideouts in football, totaling 3,743 yards in five seasons and appearing in 45 of 48 games over the last three seasons in a physical AFC North. Higgins proved to be one of the most surprising threats of all first-year wideouts in 2020, accumulating 908 yards with six touchdowns (both finished third-most among first-year players). His presence at 6-foot-4 with a year already under his belt could carry massive weight toward a potentially huge sophomore campaign within a dynamic offensive group.

For Chase, it’s simple, the time is now to rid of the juvenile mistakes, ridding anyone of the notion that Sewell or Slater should have been the pick just a few short months ago.

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