Finding fits for the Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase

Ja'Marr Chase #1 (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
Ja'Marr Chase #1 (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

Although Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 season, a record-breaking campaign the year before means he remains one of the top receivers in the draft.

Ja’Marr Chase and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow enjoyed one the most successful partnerships in college football history in their time together at LSU. In fact, the duo led the Tigers to the pinnacle of college football, earning an unexpected National Championship. The Bengals currently hold the fifth pick in the first round of the draft and reuniting the pair is a popular choice for many fans.

In 2019, Chase led the nation in both receiving yards (1,780) and receiving touchdowns, (20) landing him the Biletnikoff Award for the best wideout in college football. It earned Chase a 91.1 Pro Football Focus grade and solidified him as the clear favorite to be the first receiver off the board in the 2021 draft.

Opting out of this season seemed to be a sensible business decision. Chase would have had difficulty improving his stock. Particularly after the exodus in talent LSU suffered, with key players graduating to the NFL.

While Alabama’s Devonta Smith may have leaped above Chase in some rankings, now the season is over, scouts will return to the tape and the LSU product will likely get renewed buzz.

How the draft analysts currently rank Ja’Marr Chase

Things have definitely tightened at the top of the wide receiver class. The gap between Chase and Smith would appear slim, but the majority still have Burrow’s former teammate atop their rankings. Both PFF and ESPN have Chase ranked as their fifth overall player on their draft boards, so it’s fair to say the scouts are high on him.

Michael Renner of PFF had this to say about the playmaker:

"“…Chase ticks pretty much every key box…he has beaten press coverage in multiple ways, been productive at all levels of the field, played against the best competition in America and won as an outside receiver.”"

At 6’0, 200 lbs. Chase isn’t necessarily a physical specimen and his tape doesn’t scream out athletic freak. His play style doesn’t see him separate through speed but rather, his physicality allows him to be dominant at the catch point. The fact that he enters the league having just turned 21 is even more appealing to teams.

Here he is beating Atlanta Falcons first-round pick A.J. Terrell deep:

Chase has a high ceiling at the next level. His age and already dominant performances as a college sophomore suggest he can be a success at the next level. That said, you’re not getting a slam dunk Julio Jones/A.J. Green type top-five receiver. Chase may start life as a solid no.2, who can excel when he adds polish to his route running.

Does Ja’Marr Chase fit what the Bengals need in 2021?

The Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase connection is a tantalizing prospect. If Chase is on the board at pick five, you can fully expect Burrow to be lobbying for his old teammate. While protection would appear to be the number one need, quarterbacks can never have too many weapons. Pairing Chase with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd gives the Bengals a strong receiving group.

While Boyd is one of the top slot receivers in the game and Higgins offers a big-bodied outside threat, Chase can be everything in between. Not having to step up and be the number one receiver role will be beneficial for Chase and also give him the opportunity to work in one-on-one situations.

Ultimately Chase will be seen as a ready-made successor to A.J. Green. Green’s career with the Bengals appears to have run its course. Getting a replacement in the mold of Chase would be ideal, giving the Bengals one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the league.

Where should the Bengals be targeting Ja’Marr Chase in the draft?

The Bengals will only get one shot at Ja’Marr Chase. If they believe he can be an elite receiver in the NFL they will have to make their move with the fifth pick. They could risk moving backward via trade if they have Chase, Smith, and Jaylen Waddle similarly ranked. Burrow’s familiarity with Chase is likely to give him the edge in the Bengals’ eyes.

This is a stacked receiving group and there will be a raft of playmakers available at the top of the second round. That could mean the Bengals prioritize other needs in the first round, knowing they can pick up a starting receiver later.

The fact that they drafted Tee Higgins in the second round only a year ago and re-signed Tyler Boyd in 2019 may put them off a high profile guy early in the draft. Having three talented receivers on similar contract lengths could cause problems further down the line. That being said, the NFL is a passing league and you can’t have too many good receivers.

The Burrow factor, Green’s likely departure, and the fact that Penei Sewell could be off the board, all play into the narrative that Chase could be the newest member of the Bengals come draft day. The general consensus between fans is that adding Chase could be a game-changer.

The Verdict

Chase is not a finished product. However, he is freaky enough and young enough to warrant a top-10 pick. Joe Burrow is the focal point of this team and making him happy is key. Drafting a former teammate in Chase would likely do that. While receiver may not be the most pressing concern for the Bengals, drafting Chase would signal their commitment to building an offensive juggernaut.

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