The 2021 NFL Draft is going to be a unique one.
In addition to a highly disrupted draft process, the NFL is going to have to navigate the evaluation of, and assigning values to, multiple top prospects who did not play in the 2020 season. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the players who opted out of the 2020 season is wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU.
Chase only has one season of truly elite production, and it came in the same season as great play from the entire LSU offense and historically great play from QB Joe Burrow. So teams need to ask themselves whether Chase’s production is the result of his traits and skill set or a byproduct of the play of Joe Burrow and the LSU offense in 2019.
But based on his play and production in 2019, Chase is widely regarded as the top receiver in this draft class and a likely top-5 draft pick.
Prospect: Ja’Marr Chase
Games Watched: vs. Oklahoma (2019), vs. Georgia (2019), vs. Alabama (2019), vs. Clemson (2019)
Games Played: 24
Yards (YPC): 2093 (19.6 per catch)
Total Touchdowns: 23
Games Played (starts): 14
Yards (YPC): 1,780 (21.2 per catch)
Total Touchdowns: 20
Best: Athleticism, technical polish, ball skills, competitive toughness
Worst: Size, limited track record
Projection: A starting wide receiver with position and scheme diversity.
LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase possesses a good blend of size, athleticism, and technical polish to be a “number one” receiver at the NFL level.
Chase has good size for the position as well as very good athleticism which should allow him to line up on the perimeter and to stretch the field vertically. Likewise, he has the agility and stop/start quickness to be a weapon on underneath in-breaking routes or out of the slot.
He has the versatility to line up as an X receiver, Flanker, Slot, or out of the backfield — all of which he did at LSU — and he runs a full route tree.
He features quick feet and is able to get a clean release off the line of scrimmage against press coverage. Chase does a good job of using his footwork, hands, and physicality to clear jams and release into his routes with the minimum of disruption. He is a solid route runner for a prospect with just two years of collegiate experience and will vary his tempo and stride length to disrupt defensive backs. He also shows a good sense for locating and sitting in voids in zone coverage. Chase is a very physical receiver at the catch point with natural ball skills. He has a natural feel for tracking and locating the ball, as well as a great sense of timing to delay looking for the ball as long as possible. He shows no hesitation fighting through contested catches and routinely extends to pluck the ball out of the air.
Chase has some ability after the catch, fighting through tackles with good play strength and balance, as well as picking out running lanes. That physicality and competitive toughness extends to his blocking work as well. He is a willing blocker who generally blocks with good form and technique, and doesn’t shy away from imposing his will on defensive backs.
There are few weaknesses in Chase’s game, but he isn’t quite as big as he plays. He is willing to take on contact and be competitive at the catch point, though he can be overwhelmed when fighting through double coverage. He also has a slight tendency to throttle down and be a spectator when he knows he won’t be involved in the play.
Overall Grade: 9.4 - This prospect has the physical and mental skillset to start and produce at a high level as a rookie. He should earn Pro Bowl honors before his second contract.
Ja’Marr Chase projects as a starting wide receiver at the NFL level with the skill set and traits to produce immediately for the team that drafts him.
Chase has the size, speed and physicality to line up as the “X” receiver in a traditional “Pro” offense, but has the versatility and to play in any alignment in any offensive scheme. Chase was used all over LSU’s offensive formation, from the “X” receiver position to the backfield and produced from each alignment. That experience and versatility gives a creative offensive coordinator a legitimate weapon with which to work.
While he measured out a bit smaller than expected at his pro day (by just a few pounds of body weight), Chase confirmed that he is an explosive athlete, with a 4.38 second (unofficial) 40 yard dash and a 41-inch vertical leap. He has the explosiveness to take the top off a defense on vertical schemes, as well as the quickness to win underneath.
Chase only has one year of high production, and there is, of course, the concern that Chase’s 2019 season is as much a product of Joe Burrow’s incandescent play as his own ability. However, he produced consistently throughout the 2019 season and against many top defensive back prospects in the country. That should give confidence that he can carry that success forward to the NFL.