The moment he chose to opt out of the 2020 season, LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was penciled in as the top wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft. What is it about Chase that inspires so much confidence? Should he be challenged for the mantle of WR1? The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner doesn’t have the recent tape that others do, but his record-breaking sophomore season left an impression that’s guaranteed to last.
Ja’Marr Chase NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 208 pounds
Position: Wide Receiver
Current Year: Junior
Wide receivers who possess dominant traits have the luxury of advertising those dominant traits to teams in the NFL Draft. Some receivers have decent all-around skill sets but take on a master-of-none distinction. This can limit their projection when NFL teams seek out a game-changing player. Having a dominant trait gives a receiver something to build around.
Over time, Ja’Marr Chase has been able to forge an imposing profile around his ability to catch.
The process is obviously more complicated than simply catching the football. But it takes time for a wide receiver to add more tools to his arsenal. Chase was well on his way when he was listed as a four-star recruit in 2018. In his senior year at Archbishop Rummel School for Boys, Chase picked up 1,011 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on 61 catches. Even in high school, Chase boasted the big-play gene. That element of Chase’s game drew the LSU Tigers to him.
Chase received offers from numerous Power Five teams, including the Auburn Tigers, Florida Gators, Michigan Wolverines, and the Georgia Bulldogs. But ultimately, Chase chose to stick with the hometown team. Just an hour away from his high school, LSU presented a prime development opportunity. However, not even Chase could have expected how far he’d ascend.
Ja’Marr Chase’s illustrious career at LSU
Always undaunted, Chase adjusted quickly to the college football scene. He avoided the redshirt designation and saw the field often as a true freshman in 2018. On the year, Chase appeared in ten games, logging 23 catches, 313 yards, and three scores. It was a recalibrating year for LSU’s passing offense, but in 2019, the group’s production would spike, and Chase was one of the catalysts.
In the 2019 season, Chase was one of the key cogs in a historically efficient offensive attack directed by coaching wunderkind Joe Brady.
Catching balls thrown by Heisman winner Joe Burrow, Chase amassed 84 receptions for 1,720 yards and a whopping 20 touchdowns, averaging 21.3 yards per catch. Working side-by-side with 2019 first-round pick Justin Jefferson, Chase took the league by storm. The LSU wide receiver became the talk of the 2021 NFL Draft, even as it lingered almost two years away.
In the span of four months, Chase went from unknown to top NFL Draft prospect, and he recognized the change in perception. To preserve his health and draft stock, Chase opted out of the 2020 season and declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. The decision to opt out might have been challenging for others, but for Chase, it was easy. They say when you sell something, sell high. And after his 2019 season, it would be difficult for Chase’s stock to rise any higher.
Ja’Marr Chase’s 2021 NFL Draft scouting report
It’s important not to fall into the habit of loving prospects for their stats alone. But at the same time, it’s hard not to love Ja’Marr Chase’s stats. The LSU wide receiver was absolutely dominant in 2019, and from an analytics standpoint, he’s close to a sure thing. His breakout age speaks to natural talent that will be translatable at the NFL level, and his efficiency will undoubtedly tantalize NFL scouts.
Corroborating the numbers with the film is the next step in the process. There, we can see just how Chase wins, and more importantly, how he’ll translate to the NFL. Looking at the film, Chase makes evident that his premier trait — the dominant aspect around which he builds his game — is his ability to convert on contested catches.
Ja’Marr Chase builds his game around relentless consistency at the catch point
When it comes to hauling in jump balls, there is not a better receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft than Ja’Marr Chase. Chase couples excellent vertical athletic ability with uncanny body control and contortion ability, and he also has the coordination to use these traits effectively. Additionally, Chase possesses incredibly active, reliable hands, and he’s always in control of his motions in midair.
Catching is the primary occupation of the wide receiver, but few WRs have the sheer instinct for catching that Chase does.
Chase’s ability to extend the catch window and fight for 50-50 balls is valuable, but lost in that emphasis is the fact that Chase is also a good lateral athlete as well. He doesn’t have great fluidity or agility, but he has speed in the high 4.4’s or low 4.5’s, and when he hits open space, he can turn on the jets and create distance between himself and defenders.
Chase also has good contact balance after the catch, and while his elusiveness isn’t a staple of his game, his 208-pound frame and exceptional balance allow him to shed contact and keep churning out yards.
Are there any potential areas of weakness?
Matt Valdovinos made a good observation in an earlier piece about Chase. Wide receivers who rely only on contested-catch ability tend to be limited at the NFL level. While this is Chase’s best area, however, he offers more than enough in other departments to earn a sense of security. Chase has the speed to get open vertically, and his toughness extends to his work after the catch, where he can break tackles and keep himself upright.
Additionally, while Chase doesn’t have elite natural suddenness, he has an understanding of route nuance. As he develops this, he’ll only get better.
Ja’Marr Chase’s best 2021 NFL Draft fits
The top receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft class is a matter of subjectivity. Chase monopolized the conversation at first, but now, other receivers have entered the discussion. The lack of recency bias won’t hurt Chase too much, however; his 2019 season was simply too good, and he’s remained healthy in preparation for the draft.
For now, Ja’Marr Chase’s NFL Draft range is similar to other receivers. Depending on how teams view his skill set, he could go anywhere from the top 10 to the mid-20s. It’s simply the nature of the position. Regardless, Chase should be a first-round pick. Certain teams will gravitate to his playmaking proactivity and vertical athleticism.
Schematically, which teams gel with Chase’s skill set?
A.J. Schulte made Chase the first receiver off the board in his recent 3-round mock draft, mocking the LSU wide receiver to the Dolphins at pick No. 7. In addition to the Dolphins, the Chargers, Lions, Eagles, and 49ers could all benefit from Chase’s presence, just to name a few. Chase does have some RAC utility. But since he doesn’t specialize there, offenses predicated more on RAC production might prefer other receivers.
For teams that relish the opportunity to take shots downfield, however, or teams that desire to add a more potent downfield threat, Ja’Marr Chase is a near perfect match. He built his game around the big-play gene. In the NFL, that kind of game-changing ability is always at high demand.