How Good Can Ja’Marr Chase Be? (2021 Fantasy Football)
Whether your league focus is dynasty, redraft, or a mixture, you have probably already heard about this year’s number five overall pick Ja’Marr Chase. Hailed as the best wide receiver prospect since A.J. Green and Julio Jones, the expectations for the former Bilitnekoff Winner are sky-high.
As you may or may not know, Ja’Marr Chase was the star wide receiver for Joe Burrow’s historic season. This was despite playing with record-breaking rookie receiver Justin Jefferson and Carolina Panthers 2021 second round pick Terrace Marshall. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver on the strength of 84 receptions, 1,780 receiving yards, and 20 touchdowns. He beat out exciting players such as Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, DeVonta Smith, and Michael Pittman Jr. to win the award.
As mentioned above, expectations were always high for a talent like Chase, but after witnessing his former teammate Justin Jefferson rewrite the record books for a rookie receiver, many have asked themselves, can Chase be just as good as a rookie? Or perhaps even better? He is the better prospect and has the extraordinary benefit of linking back up with Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Having a built-in rapport with his NFL quarterback will prove invaluable as he makes his transition to the pros.
Why all the hype?
As mentioned above, Chase won the honor as the nation’s top receiver as a sophomore before opting out of the 2020 season. He beat out some of the most talented wide receiver prospects in years to win the award and was selected as the first wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft despite not playing in a game for more than a year.
This chart helps to illustrate just how productive both Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson were at LSU in terms of receiving yard share or market share. As shown in this graph, based on the premise of breakout age, dominator rating, and market share, meeting certain production benchmarks at a younger age is a better indicator of potential NFL success. As we can see here, both Chase and Jefferson broke out as 20-year-old sophomores. However, Jefferson took a step back and even fell under the baseline regression mark when Ja’Marr Chase became the team’s top receiver as a sophomore.
With A.J. Green, now a member of the Arizona Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bengals in need of a true number one receiver, there is a pretty defined role we can project for Ja’Marr Chase. In the games Green finished healthy in 2020, he saw 67 total targets or 8.375 per game. Tyler Boyd led with 70 targets and a 21 percent target share, with Green coming right behind at 20 percent.
However, Green led the team during that time frame with 969 air yards, a 34.5 air share, and a 0.54 weighted opportunity rating. As you may know, Green did very little with all of the attention he was getting from his rookie quarterback and could have seen an even larger workload had he been halfway competent in 2020. Green led the team with a 22 percent target share in his first six full games with Burrow.
Green’s 8.375 targets per game over what is now a 17 game schedule add up to 142.375 potential targets available for Chase. Projected gamescript suggests that Burrow should be forced to throw just as much this season as the Bengals failed to make any impact additions aside from Chase.
For reference, Justin Jefferson saw 125 total targets or 7.8125 targets per game as a rookie. If Chase can approach the 142 targets Green would have seen over a 17 game season, he may very well set a new NFL rookie receiving yard record. Even if we only compare the first 16 games, that would still leave 134 potential targets available for Chase to soak up.
Chase should be viewed as a potential WR3 in redraft leagues, but as illustrated, Chase has WR2 and possibly even WR1 upside as a rookie. Yes, I have been known to view many rookies and their chances at a first-year impact with rose-colored glasses, but very few, ever, have stepped into as favorable of a situation as Chase will with Joe Burrow at the helm.
In dynasty, there is a case for Ja’Marr Chase as the WR1 overall. Depending on who you ask, some have younger receivers like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, or A.J. Brown as their number one dynasty receivers. If any of those wide receivers take the crown as your number one receiver, then Ja’Marr Chase would like a word. He is a better prospect than any of those receivers were and is stepping into the most ideal situation vis a vis what those three enjoyed or currently enjoy. He has long-term quarterback certainty like Lamb but does not have to contend with someone like Amari Cooper, who has shown flashes of dominance over his career (mostly when playing at home).
Chase has a potential number one role like Brown and Jefferson but has QB stability and, arguably, the best quarterback of the three. Tee Higgins profiles as an ideal number two, and Boyd, while capable of winning on the outside, is at his most effective when seeing heavy slot snaps. If Davante Adams or DeAndre Hopkins still tops your dynasty wide receiver rankings, then Chase is a top-five or top-10 option before even playing in his first NFL game. Already coming off the board in the third or fourth round of startups and as a top-three pick in 1-QB leagues, the sky is truly the limit for Je’Marr Chase.
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