Ja'Marr Chase: Another Alpha in Cincinnati
With the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected LSU’s Ja'Marr Chase. Reunited with his former quarterback Joe Burrow, Chase enters one of the league’s more formidable passing attacks. With needs across the offensive line and Penei Sewell available, the Bengals decision to select Chase suggests they have immediate plans for their young rookie. While Chase possesses an elite athletic profile and historic college production, he enters a crowded depth chart featuring Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Now soaring up draft boards, deciphering this Bengals receiving corps remains crucial to fantasy success in 2021.
This piece will first examine Chase’s collegiate production and what to expect at the NFL level. Next, we will dive into Chase’s potential fit with the Cincinnati Bengals and determine how this could influence the offense as a whole.
Editor's Note: Read more player profiles from the rest of the 4for4 staff!
Ja’Marr Chase Athletic Phenom
Entering LSU as a consensus four-star prospect, Chase actually ranked behind fellow recruit Terrace Marshall in the 2018 class. However, Chase quickly ascended as the true alpha from that class. While Chase only caught 23 passes for 313 yards and three scores as a freshman, he showed glimpses of future stardom at the end of the season. Chase only hit 30 receiving yards once in his first seven games, before reaching that mark in each of his three final contests. Chase also capped off his freshman season with a six-reception, 93-yard performance against UCF in the team’s bowl game.
Moving forward to Chase’s sophomore season, the budding star erupted for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns on 84 receptions in his Biletnikoff-winning season. Officially, this gave Chase a 19.6 Breakout Age and 33.9% College Dominator Rating. College Dominator refers to the total percentage of receiving yardage and touchdown production a player accounted for in their final season, while Breakout Age refers to the age of a player during their first season accounting for 20% of receiving yards and touchdowns in their offense. Already possessing an elite production profile, Chase decided to sit on his accomplishments and opt out of the 2020 college football season.
From an efficiency perspective, Chase also checks every box. With Justin Jefferson operating in the slot, Chase played 85.8% of his snaps on the outside, alternating between the left and right sides of the field. Chase led the country with 14 touchdowns of 20+ yards, while averaging 21.2 yards per reception. More impressively, he won downfield against some of the best corners in the college game. Chase registered 137 yards and a pair of scores against Clemson’s A.J. Terrell and another 88 yards and a score against Alabama’s Trevon Diggs. He even notched 89 yards and a pair of scores against Florida’s C.J. Henderson. All three corners would go on to get drafted inside the second round or higher.
With all of these accomplishments already under his belt, Chase squashed all doubt with elite testing numbers at LSU’s pro day. Standing 6-foot-0, 201 pounds, Chase registered a 4.38 40-yard dash, giving him one of the top size-adjusted speed scores in this class. A rare asset in a class full of slot prototypes, Chase’s blend of size and athleticism warranted a top-five selection by Cincinnati.
Offensive Fit in Cincinnati
While Cincinnati may have possessed other needs, Chase fits into a receiver room with proven weapons Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. A.J. Green vacates 104 targets himself, but the overall target volume remains a slight concern for Chase. Boyd and Higgins recorded 110 and 108 targets respectively in this same offense. With Higgins and Boyd contributing an efficient 908 yards and 841 yards respectively, a target share much higher than 20% looks lofty for Chase in year one. For the sake of comparison, Boyd, Higgins, and Green registered target shares of 20.9%, 19.0%, and 18.4% last year.
From an efficiency perspective, the entire Bengals offense should benefit from Chase’s presence. Last year, Green showed major decline with his catch rate dropping from 58.7% to 45.2%, according to 4for4’s Justin Edwards. Interestingly, Burrow held a 78.0% on-target rate, suggesting the problem stemmed from Green. Backing up this theory, Green also ranked 132nd out of 132 qualified receivers in separation.
|Ja'Marr Chase (LSU)||121||84||1780||20||684||14.3||3.52|
Looking at Cincinnati’s offensive structure under head coach Zac Taylor, Chase could easily walk into the targets vacated by Green. With Green playing 79% of his snaps outside, Chase makes a logical replacement and also leaves Boyd in the slot. Cincinnati also ran 11-personnel at the highest rate last year and still do not have a tight end of consequence. More importantly, the Bengals ranked third in overall pass rate prior to Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury. Both factors should combine to give Chase solid opportunity in year one, despite playing on a crowded depth chart.
With three separate receivers hitting 100 targets in Cincinnati last year, Chase’s opportunity may be better than initially anticipated. However, Chase’s redraft ADP has already soared ahead of Higgins and Boyd. Now coming off the board at the round 3/4 turn, Chase’s ADP leaves little upside without an injury to a teammate. However, Higgins and Boyd both continue to come off the board outside the top five rounds and possess legitimate upside. The Bengals just selected Higgins with the 33rd overall pick in 2020, while Boyd has three straight seasons of at least 841 yards and two over 1,000 in that span. While Chase is exciting, the pendulum has swung too far in his direction.
As for dynasty leagues, Chase holds immense long-term potential at 21 years old. As mentioned above, the Bengals continue to rebuild their offense, with a pass-heavy approach in mind. 4for4’s dynasty expert George Kritikos currently has Chase as his WR1 and second overall player in dynasty rookie drafts. Similarly, Kritikos ranks Chase WR13 and the 27th overall player in dynasty startups.
With elite athletic measurables, collegiate production, and an immediate path to playing time, Chase still faces significant target competition in Cincinnati. While Chase could easily eclipse 100 targets, he still remains far more expensive than his proven counterparts. On Underdog Fantasy, Chase comes off the board at pick 48.4. Meanwhile, Higgins and Boyd hold an ADP of 61.6 and 78.9 respectively. Both proven commodities, taking a cheaper attachment to the Bengals explosive passing attack looks like the most profitable long-term strategy here.