So much about Ja’Marr Chase this time last year involved what he was not. He wasn’t a left tackle brought in to keep Joe Burrow alive. He wasn’t Jerry Rice 2.0 with all the drops he suffered through.
Was he going to be enough to warrant a top-five pick after the team suffered through 11 losses the previous year?
It didn’t take long for the answer to be a resounding yes.
Chase’s impact on the Bengals was unlike any Cincinnati Bengals rookie in a really long time. It’s mind-boggling to think he was new to the NFL last year, but he really is just getting started. And that should terrify the other 31 teams.
- Height: 6-foot-0
- Weight: 201 lbs
- Age: 22
- College: LSU
- Hometown: Harvey, Louisiana
- Experience: Second year
Chase is entering the second year of his four-year rookie contract. He’ll be eligible for a long-term extension and the fifth-year option after the 2023 season. For 2022, he’ll be taking home just over $2 million via a roster bonus and base salary, all of it being guaranteed. His cap hit for the year is essentially $7 million.
If you were worried about Chase succeeding last year, don’t fret, Kansas football coach Les Miles didn’t even think he could play receiver coming out of high school. Chase, a Harvey, Louisiana native, had a wild recruitment journey that took a myriad of twists and turns before ending up at Miles’ former employer at LSU. He would’ve had no idea how great of a decision he made staying in his home state.
Chase’s freshman season coincided with the arrival of one Joe Burrow, an unassuming transfer quarterback from Ohio State. The duo achieved moderate success in 2018, but no one outside of Baton Rouge could’ve predicted what 2019 had in store for them.
Burrow’s historic Heisman season wouldn’t have been possible without the ascension of Chase. As a 19-year-old sophomore, Chase won the Biletnikoff Award, bestowed to the best receiver in college football. His 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns on 84 receptions made him a clear and obvious choice over the field, and that season proved to be enough for the NFL.
Due to COVID-19, Chase sat out the 2020 season, put together a phenomenal 2021 pro day, and became the first LSU receiver to go in the top five of the NFL Draft. The Bengals selected him fifth-overall to pair with his former quarterback, and the tandem wasted no time picking up where they started in Cincinnati.
Chase put together one of the premier rookie receiving seasons in league history, finishing with 1,823 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns, and a 17.2 yards per catch average on 106 receptions (all including playoffs). He notched an easy Pro Bowl nomination and capped it off with Offensive Rookie of the Year honors just before playing in the Super Bowl, a game in which he racked up 89 yards on five receptions. He did most of that against All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, by the way.
Outlook for 2022
So, how does Chase go up from here? From a macro perspective, he doesn’t really have to. He set the standard so high that matching it from here on is more than enough. But there are areas of his game that can could use refinement.
In the midst of 2021, Chase still encountered timely drops that brought fans back to his preseason struggles. The explosive plays he provided negated the occasional mishandling of targets, but a more well-rounded receiver fully settled into the professional game will benefit the offense as a whole.
The weeks when Chase was more of a non-factor put them in a bind, and defenses could do this by going all-out on capping his vertical routes. As the season progressed into the playoffs, we saw Chase utilized in more creative ways in the short and intermediary parts of the field. This is a trend that must develop into the norm going forward.
We have to remember that Chase took a year off football and then was thrust into revolutionizing an NFL offense. What he did was nothing short of incredible, and now with a year under his belt, he’ll be more equipped to handle increased responsibilities and develop increased consistency as a complete receiver.
And he’s just 22. This is only the beginning for an already fantastic player.
Roster Odds: 100%