2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Ja’Marr Chase (Fantasy Football)

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Ja’Marr Chase is good at football. Ok, we can move on.

But sincerely, the pre-draft evaluation process for the LSU receiver has been glowing, to say the least, and he’s in the conversation among most mock draft experts as a top-5 consensus pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. I’m not here to offer a contrarian take to simply be a stick in the mud. But whenever I see groupthink with a player, I have to sit down and watch the tape for myself. When people ask if I’m a film or analytics guy, I usually respond with “Yes”!

Let’s meet in the middle and look at the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner’s college production profile, his athletic measurables and spend the majority of the time analyzing what shows up on film. At the end, I’ll give my thoughts on his place in rookie drafts and some comparables in the NFL.

Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2021 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the brand-new UDK+ for 2021.

Production Profile
Class Games Receptions Yards Yards Per Reception TDs
2018 Freshman 10 23 313 13.6 3
2019 Sophomore 14 84 1780 21.2 20
2020 Junior
Career 24 107 2093 19.6 23

For most college receivers, there is a gradual curve in their production. Chase decided to completely shatter the model by putting up arguably the best sophomore wide receiver season in college football history. It helped that he was attached to Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow. The TDs stand out and the yards per reception are elite especially for someone at that high of volume, ranking in the 96th percentile of WRs. 1,780 receiving yards rank 14th most and 20 receiving TDs the 10th most in NCAA history.

Opting out of the 2020 season was a personal choice for Chase as the uncertainty of a season due to COVID-19 concerns likely only would’ve hurt his draft stock. He stood to gain nothing in terms of his NFL prospects.

Measurables

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Height Weight 40-yard dash (HS) 20-yard Shuttle (HS) 247 Sports
6’0 210 lbs 4.66 4.09 4-star Recruit

There might need to be an asterisk next to some of Chase’s measurables for a couple of reasons. First, some of these are back in high school and I’ve seen reports of him running as fast as a 4.40 in the 40. Now that might be a bit stretched but I bet he’ll land closer to the 4.5-4.55 range, which is still solid. Second, we haven’t seen him on the football field in a year. His size also fluctuates depending on which site you’re using. I’ve seen some confidence in 6’1 with others saying he’ll measure closer to 5’11 come his LSU pro day. Regardless, I feel comfortable looking at his measurables and seeing him well built at 210 pounds. His recent comparables in terms of height, weight, and speed at the NFL combine include D.J. Moore, Deebo Samuel, Chris Godwin, James Washington, Leonte Carroo, and Sammy Watkins.

That’s a pretty impressive list with Chris Godwin being the type of contested-catch artist that would bode well for Chase as I’ll detail below. In my opinion, Chase will come in right at 6’0 which might shift some of the outlook scouts have of him being a red-zone dominator. An inch is an inch you might say but it does change his profile. Regardless, if Chase went to the NFL Draft after his breakout sophomore season, he would’ve been in the conversation for the first wide receiver off the board. Nevertheless, based on production and athletic profile alone he’s in the running with Devonta Smith this year.

What’s On Tape

My method for watching film is simple: get out a pen and pad of paper. Watch each game in its entirety and each target taking note of the down and distance and simply write down what I see. For a WR, I focus on route-running, aDOT, footwork, contested catches, how they fare against press coverage, and what type of separation they create. For Chase, I took six of his highest-profile games.

Games viewed: Central Florida (2018), Georgia (2019), Auburn(2019), Texas(2019), Alabama (2019), Clemson (2019)

1. Splash plays galore!

I get it. I get why he’s so hyped. I tried to go into this film study with an open mind and take some of the air out of the hyperboles being used for Chase. But while watching this LSU offense, it was clear that Chase was the big-play guy for the Tigers in 2019. Justin Jefferson was an absolute killer as well. It was hard to watch these games and not drool over one of my current favorite players in the NFL. But LSU counted on Chase to not just run nine routes but be willing to run the crossing and post routes for huge chunk gains.

He made 1st round pick A.J. Terrell look a fool in the National Championship game including two TDs. Terrell is a tall corner who tried to use his hands at the line of scrimmage and after the initial battle, Chase simply had another gear to run by and beat him in the back of the endzone. This is the game everyone has ringing in their minds because it’s the last time we’ve seen Chase on a football field and he went bananas (9/221/1). But go back to the previous year and even as a freshman he showed out against Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. I specifically chose that game to see if there was any noticeable difference and after going 6/93/1 against an undefeated UCF team, he didn’t disappoint. Coming out of the half, the Knights had just scored on a Gabriel Davis (yes the Bills rookie WR) TD before the half to close the score to 24-21. Chase answered with a 32-yard TD on a stop-and-go. He also had a couple of absolute daggers on 3rd downs.

Simply put, this is what we want for fantasy: someone who routinely makes 20+ yard plays. We want points in bunches and Chase doesn’t necessarily profile as a high-volume PPR receiver; although depending on his landing spot, he could be peppered with targets on a bad team.

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2. He adjusts when the ball is in the air… my kinda guy.

This is Chase’s alpha trait. Despite being between 6’0 and 6’1, he routinely times his jumps as good as anyone. It’s the way DeAndre Hopkins can win so many 50/50 balls regardless of his average size. Against Alabama, Chase had a much-lauded TD where Burrow gives him the opportunity to make a play and he reads it perfectly over Trevon Diggs, now a Dallas Cowboys cornerback.

Here is an example in the Texas game where Burrow technically underthrows Chase and he instead adjusts and skies the defender:

Without sounding too much like a record player on repeat, he reminds me of Marvin Jones Jr. He’s not necessarily a huge guy but somehow wins with the type of consistency that is special. The jump ball skills are elite for Chase and there’s no arguing against it. However, in the NFL, you have much more physical corners who can make a play on some of the 50/50 balls Chase won in college. He also is winning in one-on-one situations as teams had to respect the rest of the play-makers on that LSU offensive juggernaut.

3. Teams made it a point to get physical with him.

For any young wideout, there can be a huge discrepancy between their success rates versus zone and man coverage. For much of Chase’s time at LSU, teams couldn’t just line up man-to-man when you had Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr. to deal with. Chase clearly has the spatial awareness to find soft spots in zones and he had the QB with the awareness to take advantage of those types of coverages in 2019. I mean the guy threw 60 TD passes! But what about when pressed at the line of scrimmage, how did he fare?

If you watched the entire SEC Championship game versus Georgia, it might be easy to conclude from the first drive that Chase would dominate. He had an early deep target that he misjudged and eventually in that drive caught a scramble drill TD (where Burrow had all day to throw) to put the Tigers up 7-0. But Chase was held to two catches for 18 yards for the rest of the game. How? Georgia pressed up against the line constantly and agitated Chase just enough to mess up his timing. He did have an end-zone target towards the end of the 2nd quarter where Burrow placed a dime but Chase couldn’t come up with it… although the defender DJ Daniel might’ve been tugging too much on his jersey. He’s certainly strong enough to shed initial contact as I saw on multiple occasions him eluding the hand fighting. But even in the broadcast of the game, they made a point of Georgia coach Kirby Smart sharing his game plan of being physical with the Biletnikoff winner.

Auburn’s scheme (and they’ve done this for years with their corners) is to play bump-and-run and be physical. Chase responded like a bulldog fighting his way to some tough catches. I was impressed with his ability to answer the challenge and continue to make plays on the ball with defenders draped all over him. He has a sideline grab immediately after this clip against Auburn where it seems Burrow trusts his man to make a play even while the cornerback is on him.

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What’s NOT On Tape

1. Mistakes… as in only a handful.

While judging someone’s performance only while viewing six games is a bit presumptuous, I didn’t count very many mistakes in this sample size. For a WR, running the wrong route, failing to gain separation, or drops are the main red flags. The first is impossible to truly gauge. As a separator, I think there is room for improvement which can come in time. In the Texas game, Chase dropped a wide-open TD in the corner of the end-zone after he shook his defender. Burrow placed it perfectly (did that guy do anything wrong in 2019?) and Chase either mistimed his steps or just had a lack of concentration. But the drops were not prevalent as his hands were dependable even in tight spots.

But I came here not as a negative but rather to point out that his 2019 tape is filled with highlight-reel plays. (Just search YouTube and you’ll find ten mashups of all his best plays.) That’s what happens when you are part of a magical season, with a transcendent college QB, and end up as the Biletnikoff Award winner. I tend to ask the question: ‘what am I not seeing?’ when evaluating players because it is a bit too easy to see someone through rose-colored glasses. Chase’s mistakes will come but they are few and far between in his 2019 film.

2. Despite the gaudy numbers, his route tree needs time to grow.

He’s not a burner with sub 4.4 speed but has enough to outdistance himself from defenders. But in the six-game sample, there were very few routes that required precision. Honestly, he didn’t need to with the number of playmakers on LSU’s offense, the guy throwing him the rock, and the fact this team could put up 40+ easily.

His slants are rounded off most of the time as corners respected the deep ball so much they’re willing to give him some cushion when not pressing. For all the hype surrounding Chase, I wanted to see more in-breaking routes with precision. Whether it’s the dig or a 5-10 yard in, it wasn’t on display a ton. Heck, the dig is one of the hardest routes to master at the pro level. He’s never going to be a Stefon Diggs as his frame allows him to win more as the ball is in the air than putting his defender on skates. Route-running is a skill that can be refined and by no means am I stating that Chase is poor. It’s just not the main tool in his toolbelt.

2021 Fantasy Football Outlook

Chase’s production in the most competitive conference in the country speaks for itself. On film, my evaluation characterizes Chase as a very good WR prospect but not necessarily in the “great” category. He can certainly elevate to that pantheon but I’m not ready to crown him just yet. He’ll need to grow in his route tree but his ability to line up all over the field makes him able to fit almost any scheme. You need him to line up in the slot and win on a drag route? Done. You need someone to stretch the field and just throw it up? Yup. Chase’s diverse skillset with a trump card in his pocket makes him a top-8 NFL draft pick in my book and the 2nd WR off the board.

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For rookie drafts, he’s in the conversation to be in the top-3 picks although I would prefer Devonta Smith (especially in PPR leagues) over him. Chase is a TD maker waiting to explode and I think the chunk plays are going to be a regular thing. But there are some games where the 50/50 balls won’t go his way like it felt like all of 2019 did. It’s hard using some of the most explosive plays in college football as a negative against him but that truly was an unbelievable season, likely the best we’ve ever seen from a QB/WR combo.

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