Cincinnati Bengals: 6 bold predictions for the 2021 rookie class

Ja'Marr Chase (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Ja'Marr Chase (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1) – Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports /

Cincinnati Bengals Rookie Class Bold Predictions

Ja’Marr Chase will set the Bengals’ rookie receiving mark…and won’t be the Bengals’ primary wide receiver.

The centerpiece of the class, Ja’Marr Chase — the No. 5 overall pick — should make an instant impact on this Bengals’ offense; Chase not only reunites with LSU teammate Joe Burrow (who helped Chase win the Biletnikoff Award), but he also provides a desperately needed field-stretching element for the Bengals’ offense. Chase’s combination of speed—a 4.37 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day—and physicality at the catch point makes him a lethal deep threat.

Chase’s unique blend of physical traits, football IQ, and chemistry with Burrow will allow him to seamlessly integrate into the Bengals’ offense, likely as the de facto WR1 in most formations. The last time Chase lined up as Burrow’s WR1, he reeled in 84 catches for 1,730 yards and 20 touchdowns. Even the most scorching of hot takes should not project Chase for that level of production his rookie year, but he will step into a role where targets about and his skills can flourish.

The man Chase replaces—Bengals legend A.J. Green—currently holds the Bengals’ record for most receiving yards in a rookie season with 1,057. As Chase attempts to fill Green’s rather large shoes, he will have the benefit of taking over Green’s target share, which totaled 104 targets last season. 104 targets would be a conservative estimate for Chase, as he should not only play much better than Green (turning in an NFL-worst 45.2% catch rate on those 104 targets), but he will also play an additional game this season.

With Burrow likely to throw over 600 times, Chase can safely project for at least a 20% target share, which would be low for a WR1 like him. At 120 targets minimum, even a league-average catch rate of 67% would require Chase to record only about 13 yards/catch to break the record. That number is eminently obtainable for a big-play threat like Chase, and that target volume is incredibly conservative. Should Chase stay healthy for an entire season, especially with the extra game, recording 1,058 receiving yards or more should happen naturally.

However, there is a second component to this prediction, in that Chase’s stats will not lead all Bengals’ receivers. Last year’s second-round pick Tee Higgins was on pace to break Green’s record as well, until both he and Burrow got injured. Coming back for year two, the expectations for Higgins are sky high, especially alongside immense talents in Chase and Tyler Boyd.

As a WR2, Higgins will draw easier coverage assignments, likely finding himself in many one-on-one matchups. Higgins’ size, physicality, and ball skills make him an incredibly easy target on intermediate routes—Burrow’s preferred distance. Having already acclimated to the NFL as a rookie and developed a rapport with Burrow, Higgins is in line for a major breakout season, one in which he should lead the Bengals in receiving yards.

Ja’Marr Chase will be an instant impact player for the Bengals, and his immense talent will enable him to break the mark A.J. Green set a decade ago. However, Chase’s presence will also allow his veteran teammates to flourish, which will allow Higgins (and Boyd) to feast as part of a three-headed monster of a receiving corps.