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It feels like every season the wide receiver class entering the NFL Draft is loaded. And while the 2021 class isn’t as stacked as the 2020 season, it is certainly a good group of wideouts.
And LSU’s Ja'Marr Chase is at the top of the list.
Chase is expected to come off the board within the top-10 picks of this year’s draft, and for good reason. Let’s take a look at Chase’s game, how he’ll translate to the NFL and what teams would make the most sense for Chase, who is sure to be the next stud fantasy receiver.
Chase opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. The last time we saw him on the field, he was not only dominant, but dominant at a young age. At just 19 years old and playing in a tough SEC, Chase hauled in 84 balls for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Chase was a dangerous deep ball receiver, averaging over 21 yards per reception, while 14 of his 20 touchdown grabs came on passes 20 yards or more down the field. He did all of this as a 19-year-old, facing coverage from some of the best cornerbacks in college football, while also competing for targets with Justin Jefferson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. And yes, that LSU offense with Joe Burrow was truly historic. But it was historic in part because of how good Chase was as a 19-year-old. That’s all part of it.
- Torched man coverage
- Physical off the line
- High points the ball
- Great body control
- Strong after the catch
- Strong hands
- Won vs. elite competition
Buckle up, everyone, because there are a lot of things to like about Chase’s game. The first that stands out is how often he wins on the perimeter, especially when you consider he faced top-tier corners as a true sophomore. Chase lined up in the slot just 13% of the time in 2019, as Jefferson operated out of the middle of the field. But Chase constantly won on the outside, as over 700 of his receiving yards came against man coverage. He also faced very strong, physical corners … and the majority of the time, Chase had his way with them. A.J. Terrell, Trevon Diggs, C.J. Henderson and Cameron Dantzler — all selected within the first three rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft — all struggled to contain Chase, especially on the perimeter. He faced a ton of press coverage in 2019 (especially against Alabama and Auburn) and used his physicality and upper body strength to win at the line of scrimmage, which was so encouraging to see from a 19-year-old. And it is also really promising because that is always a question you have when evaluating wide receivers — will they be able to consistently win on the outside? Chase did so in college and will continue to do so at the NFL level.
At 6-foot-0 and 208 pounds, Chase isn’t going to be anywhere close to one of the biggest receivers in the league. However, that doesn’t stop him from high-pointing the football and beating his defender at the catch point. That is one of the reasons he was so dangerous as a deep threat, as he hauled in 24-of-36 deep targets in 2019, while resulting in a near-138 passer rating when targeted on passes 20 yards or more down the field. His average depth of target was at 14.3 yards, while nearly 900 of his total receiving yards came off deep passes. Chase has the ability to get off press and man coverage to go along with the speed to get down the field and leaping ability to make plenty of plays once the ball is in the air. I came away very impressed with his body control, while he compiled 16 contested catches during his final year in college. However, while it is a strength to his game, Chase isn’t solely a deep threat. He can be strong in the intermediate part of the field, especially when a play is broken and he has to improvise to create separation at the last second for his quarterback. Chase did that multiple times for Burrow in 2019, especially on third downs. Finally, once Chase gets the ball in his hands, he can run through defenders if need be. He broke 22 tackles after the catch during his true sophomore season, as he uses that strength to stay on his feet.
- Lacks elite speed and size
- Hasn’t played since 2019
There are really only two minor red flags when analyzing Chase … and one isn’t even really a concern for me, but it is worth bringing up. Some people are concerned that he took the 2020 season off and only has one year of production and tape under his belt. However, that tape is Emmy-winning from a college football standpoint. There is a reason this kid won the Biletnikoff Award at 19 years old. Secondly, Chase isn’t going to be slow at the NFL level, but he also isn’t going to separate at an elite level with speed.
Chase will hear his name called within the first 10 picks of the draft. The Philadelphia Eagles make a lot of sense at sixth overall, as they don’t have anyone on their roster that can help their young quarterback Jalen Hurts and make contested catches — Jalen Reagor isn’t a true alpha, while Alshon Jeffery looks absolutely done. Meanwhile, the Lions could be a potential suitor if they move on from Kenny Golladay this offseason, while Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are also set to become free agents. On a bad Lions team, Chase could immediately walk into 120 targets if Golladay is playing elsewhere. Finally, the Jets would make some sense, but only if they trade back from second overall.