2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: WR Ja'Marr Chase
An interesting wrinkle to the 2021 NFL Draft cycle, a number of high-profile prospects opted out of the 2020 college football season. Headlining the group was 2019 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner, Ja'Marr Chase, who skipped the 2020 season to prepare for the draft.
Coming out of high school, recruiting services listed Chase as a four-star prospect and the 15th overall receiver in the 2018 recruiting class. He initially committed to Ole Miss before the Rebels received NCAA sanctions. He subsequently committed to Florida but re-opened his recruitment after they fired Jim McElwain. Finally signing within his home state, Chase’s illustrious career at LSU began. This breakdown will examine Chase’s collegiate production, how that translates to the NFL game and the potential fantasy implications.
Ja'Marr Chase’s College Production & Profile
Entering his freshman season, Chase found himself vying for playing time among a number of high-profile recruits. With five-star freshman Terrace Marshall Jr. also in the fold, alongside premier talent Justin Jefferson, the young receivers battled for playing time in what was the last year of LSU’s run-heavy tendencies (43.2% pass rate). Entering school at just 195 pounds, Chase finished his freshman season with 23 receptions, 313 yards and three scores in 10 games. Interestingly, most of this production occurred down the stretch. Chase only reached 30 receiving yards once in his first seven games, but he hit or eclipsed that mark in each of his last three games. Closing out the year with a season-best six receptions, 93 yards and a score in LSU’s bowl game against UCF, Chase set the stage for his sophomore eruption.
Retaining Steve Ensminger as co-offensive coordinator, the Tigers also added former Saints offensive analyst Joe Brady to help coordinate the offense. This helped contribute to Joe Burrow’s offensive explosion and Chase’s Biletnikoff-winning season, as he would finish the 2019 season with 84 receptions, 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. With Jefferson operating primarily out of the slot, Chase did a majority of his work on the boundary. He played 85.8% of his snaps out wide, alternating between the left and right sides of the field. Impressively, Chase excelled in the vertical passing game. Averaging 21.2 yards per receptions, Chase led the country with 14 touchdowns of 20+ yards. He also created 684 yards after the catch, displaying his versatility. A sure-handed receiver, Chase only dropped five balls on 121 targets, despite a high level of difficulty on these targets.
While Chase opted out of the 2020 season, his production against elite college corners stands out. Chase caught four-of-seven targets for 137 yards and a pair of scores against first-round corner A.J. Terrell in the Clemson game. He also recorded four catches for 88 yards and a score against Dallas’ second-round corner, Trevon Diggs. He even bested Jacksonville’s first-round corner, C.J. Henderson, for four catches, 89 yards and a pair of scores on seven targets earlier in the season.
Primarily a boundary receiver with elite downfield ability, Chase’s testing numbers squashed any doubt entering the NFL. Standing 6-foot-0 and weighing 201 pounds, Chase ran a blazing 4.34 40-yard dash and jumped 41 inches in the vertical. With this combination of size, speed and athletic ability, NFL corners also project to struggle against Chase.
On top of the athleticism, Chase posted the production to back it up. With a 19.6 Breakout Age and 33.9% College Dominator, Chase meets every threshold for wide receiver evaluation. Breakout Age refers to the age of a player during their first season accounting for 20% of receiving yards and touchdowns in their offense. College Dominator refers to the total percentage of receiving yardage and touchdown production a player accounted for in their final season.
As for close comparison, Mike Wallace, Parris Campbell, Reggie Wayne, Jeremy Maclin, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith all pop as similar players. Wallace in particular looks like a close comparison. Coming out of Ole Miss, Wallace stood 6-foot-0 and weighed 199 pounds. He ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, jumped 40 inches in the vertical, and posted a 20.1 Breakout Age and 29.6% College Dominator. Wallace went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL, eclipsing 1,000 yards on three occasions. Known primarily for his deep threat ability, this skill set also mirrors Chase’s.
|Player||College||Height||Weight||40-Yard Dash||Vertical||Breakout Age||Dominator%||Target Share%|
|Mike Wallace||Ole Miss||6'0"||199||4.33||40||20.1||29.6%||22.6%|
|Parris Campbell||Ohio State||6'0"||205||4.31||40||21.1||23.5%||17.9%|
As for other comparable players, Campbell possesses similar athleticism to Chase, but lacks the college production. Wayne and Maclin lacked a degree of athleticism, but both found success at the NFL level. Agholor perhaps functions as a worst-case scenario for Chase, but Agholor lacks the same athleticism and broke out at an older age than Chase. All in all, Chase finds himself in elite company across the board
Closest Player Comparison: Mike Wallace
Ideal Landing Spot
Widely expected to be the first or second wide receiver drafted, there’s a solid chance Chase comes off the board inside the first 10 picks. Removing about half of the NFL from contention, a few landing spots make sense. Atlanta, Cincinnati, Miami and Detroit all pick between four and seven and need wide receiver help to some degree.
Atlanta continues to hemorrhage production on defense, but Julio Jones sits on the wrong side of 30 with no logical replacement in sight. Cincinnati would reunite Chase with his college quarterback in Joe Burrow. However, the Bengals already invested elite draft capital into pass-catchers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in recent seasons. With a dire need at offensive line, Cincinnati continues to be linked to Penei Sewell. Miami invested in Will Fuller this offseason to occupy the field stretching role, leaving Detroit as a potential landing spot.
Moving on from Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola this offseason, Detroit contends for the weakest wide receiver room in all of football. With Jared Goff now set to lead the offense, investing in Chase would greatly benefit the bridge quarterback. While this may not be the ideal landing spot for fantasy football at first glance, Detroit still vacated 216 targets from the three aforementioned players and project to trail in a majority of their games this season.
Best Landing Spot: Detroit Lions
Likely to come off the board in the top ten picks and a surefire first-rounder at the very least, Chase should find an immediate opportunity as a rookie. While Chase’s time away from football raises concerns, his production profile and elite athleticism point to success early in his NFL career. For fantasy football purposes, Chase deserves consideration inside the top 10 rounds and could even climb into the fourth or fifth, pending a sold landing spot. As for dynasty, 4for4 Dynasty Lead George Kritikos has Chase ranked as his rookie WR1 and 29th overall player in his dynasty rankings.