With the 2021 NFL Draft behind us, fantasy football owners are now looking ahead to their upcoming drafts. While the rookie class provides plenty of promise, what will be the value of these prospects from a fantasy perspective? Here, we discuss the potential of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase:
As part of the LSU offense, Chase’s best game during his 2018 rookie season came against #8 UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. Chase totaled six receptions for 93 receiving yards and one touchdown in a 40-32 win. His breakout year came during the 2019 campaign, however, where he finished with 1,498 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. Chase added another 282 receiving yards and two touchdowns across two postseason games. His ending totals of 1,780 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns were both the highest marks in the NCAA.
Chase was surrounded by talent at the collegiate level, as notable teammates on offense included Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson, and Terrace Marshall Jr. Chase ended the 2019 season with 100+ receiving yards on nine occasions, including a career-high 229 receiving yards against Vanderbilt in September of 2019.
Despite sitting out of the 2020 season, a vast majority of NFL draft scouts regarded Chase as the top receiver entering the 2021 Draft. One scout even stated that Chase was the best wide receiver prospect since Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones in 2011. At the fifth overall pick, the Bengals passed on offensive tackle Penei Sewell and all defensive prospects in order to reunite Chase with Burrow.
Cincinnati departed from both A.J. Green and John Ross in the offseason, previously leaving their depth chart to be led by Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Auden Tate. The receiving core is extremely young, with Boyd being the oldest starter at 26-years old.
Prior to Burrow’s season-ending injury, the Bengals were struggling to win games. The team started the season with a 2-7-1 record, with Burrow totaling 2,688 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions. However, five of those losses either ended in a tie (Week 3 @ PHI) or by one score. Burrow hadn’t thrown an interception in his last three games, and finished with a completion percentage of 65% or higher on five occasions.
While Higgins and Boyd each had their own flashes of elite play, the Bengals were unable to produce a single receiver with 1,000+ receiving yards for the first team since the 2016 season. Boyd led Cincinnati in receptions (79), while Higgins totaled a team-high in receiving yards (908) and touchdowns (6).
Fantasy Draft Projections
According to Fantasy Pros, Chase is ranked 80th among fantasy prospects (WR35), making him a late sixth-round selection. Yahoo Sports has a similar evaluation, naming Chase as WR38 this season, ahead of notable names such as Jerry Jeudy, Marquise Brown, and DeVante Parker. The highest he was ranked to this point was as WR24, while the lowest projection is at the WR46 mark. ESPN has labeled Chase as WR25 ahead of his rookie season. Chase will undoubtedly be taken as the top rookie receiver in most re-draft and dynasty leagues, following running backs Najee Harris and perhaps Travis Etienne.
2021 Season Output
After losing pass-rusher Carl Lawson among others in free agency, the Bengals will likely find themselves in pass-heavy games during the upcoming season. Last year, the team ranked 13th in passing play percentage (60.48). The previous year without Burrow, that number was inflated to 63.30 percent; the fifth-highest mark in the NFL.
With Burrow averaging 40.4 pass attempts per game last season, there will be plenty of volume for Chase to be involved early and often. The chemistry has already been displayed at the collegiate level between Burrow and Chase, making him a value selection any time after the seventh round.
The offense in Cincinnati is a difficult one to dissect, as Boyd, Chase, and Higgins will be among similar tiers in regards to rankings for a re-draft league. We have to account for multiple factors, such as returning injury for Burrow, running back Joe Mixon missing 10 games last season, and who the primary receiver will be in critical passing situations.
2021 Stats: 76 receptions, 968 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns