The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Ja’Marr Chase

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Editor’s Note: This profile is part of our annual Path to a Fantasy WR1 Season series. For our methodology and an outline of the process, make sure you read the 2021 Path to WR1 Series Primer.

In this next installment of the “Path to a WR1 Series“, I will dive into what that path may look like for Ja’Marr Chase. This article might look a little different than most of the other articles in this series because Chase is a rookie, so we won’t have a previous season to reference. Instead, we will take a look at Chase’s rookie profile and look at what he may need to accomplish as a rookie to get the rare WR1 rookie year finish. Chase is a breakout pick by The Ballers in the UDK.

Rookie Profile

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Ja’Marr Chase with the 5th overall pick in the 1st round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Many analysts thought the Bengals would choose to bolster their offensive line, but they opted for the potential superstar wide receiver in Chase. Joe Burrow now gets his former college receiver that he openly wanted to reunite with in the NFL.

As a sophomore for LSU in 2019, Chase posted 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns on 84 receptions. He would end up winning the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s best wide receiver. He is one of the best wide receiver prospects in recent memory, even after he opted out for his junior season. For a more in-depth look at Chase’s rookie profile, check it out here.

2021 Path to WR1 Season

As I stated before, it is rare for a rookie wide receiver to finish as a WR1, especially in PPR. I looked back at some of the top talents, and the only receivers I found recently to do it would be fellow LSU alums Justin Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr., as well as Michael Thomas. Mike Evans and A.J. Brown both were WR1’s in standard scoring, but not PPR. Just because Ja’Marr Chase outperformed Justin Jefferson when they were a part of that historic 2019 LSU offense, it doesn’t mean that Chase will torch the NFL right away as Jefferson did. Still, it is a good sign that Chase will transition smoothly to the NFL. When talent meets opportunity, good things tend to happen, and Chase has both.

Targets

One of the concerns for Ja’Marr Chase is entering a crowded wide receiving core. Tee Higgins had a great rookie season, posting 67 receptions on 108 targets for 908 yards and six touchdowns. Higgins finished as the WR28 in a season altered by Covid-19 while having a rookie QB for the first 10 games and backups for the final 6 games. Tyler Boyd had 110 targets last season and finished as the WR29 in PPR formats.

The departure of A.J. Green opens up 104 targets. The Bengals were 14th in team passing attempts in 2021, so Chase can likely get even more than those 104 targets left behind by Green. The Bengals were 11th in points allowed for team defense. Barring a crazy turnaround by the Bengals’ defense, it is likely that they will once again be giving up a lot of points in 2021. The Bengals’ defense will provide the opportunity for more pass attempts for the team. In the 11 games that Joe Burrow played, he was playing from behind a lot. Per PlayerProfiler.com, Burrow was 24th in game script with a -3.51 point differential.

Joe Burrow openly wanted the Bengals to draft Ja’Marr Chase. In my opinion, knowing that Burrow wanted his guy there and factoring in the draft capital the Bengals spent on Chase, I see Chase taking over as the team’s WR1 rather quickly. Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins both had roughly a 20% target share last season. Chase likely has a floor of a 20% target share.

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Yards and Touchdowns

Since Ja’Marr Chase has yet to play an NFL down, we won’t use previous stats like we typically do in this series. Instead, we will have to look at college production and see how that may translate to the NFL. Chase had 1,780 receiving yards in the historic 2019 LSU offense. He averaged 21.2 yards per catch, which was 4th among all receivers that year. He was explosive and showcased the ball skills needed to excel at the next level. Joe Burrow was inefficient with the deep ball (PlayerProfiler.com has him 36th in deep ball completion percentage), but with a second year in the system and adding a deep threat like Chase, we should see an improvement in deep-ball efficiency.

Ja’Marr Chase led the NCAA in receiving touchdowns with 20 in 2019. He was a touchdown machine, especially on the deep ball. Joe Burrow threw for 13 touchdowns in his 11 games played last season. He was on pace for roughly 18 touchdowns if you average out to a full 16 games. Rookie quarterbacks tend not to throw many touchdowns in their rookie season, so I expect an uptick in touchdowns this year for Burrow, especially with Chase there.

WR1 Probability for 2021: Unlikely (10-24%)

I once again asked for Twitter’s help in voting on a poll to see what percentage chance people are giving Ja’Marr Chase to finish as a WR1 in 2021. More than half of the votes were “Unlikely (10-24%)”, which isn’t surprising. The next highest vote was “Maybe (25-49%) with a 27% vote. See below for full poll results.

Conclusion

Ja’Marr Chase has the potential to burst on the scene, similar to how his college teammate Justin Jefferson did in 2020. Chase’s ADP is perplexing currently at 8.05 as the WR37 off the board on Sleeper but the 4.10/WR20 in Underdog Best Ball. While his ADP may look more like a 5th round pick at the start of the regular season, he should be a great value with a safe floor and WR1 or high-end WR2 upside.

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