Why did Ja’Marr Chase opt out at LSU in 2020?

    After an incredible NFL rookie campaign, why did Ja'Marr Chase decide to opt out of the 2020 college season at LSU?

    There is no denying how special a talent Cincinnati Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase is after he lit up the NFL in his rookie year. However, there was some uncertainty in the media and among NFL pundits after he chose to opt out of the 2020 season. What led Chase to opt out of his final season at LSU?

    Ja’Marr Chase dominated the 2019 season at LSU

    College football is just different. Pageantry, traditions, fans, crowds, environment — just everything. For my money, nothing beats it. Players who have great NFL seasons are remembered for a while. Those who do it in college live forever. The same goes for teams. That is why the 2019 LSU Tigers football team will go down as one of the greatest to ever suit up on a Saturday.

    Yes, they went undefeated while capturing the national title. But it was the way they went about it which set them apart. Joe Burrow set new NCAA single-season records for touchdown passes (60) and passer rating (202.0). Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a 1,400-yard running back, but the passing game set LSU apart.

    While Justin Jefferson had an incredible season on his own (recording over 1,500 yards), it was Chase who stole the show. He was a unanimous first-team All-American selection and set SEC records for touchdown catches (20) and receiving yards (1,780). Chase also won the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation’s best receiver.

    His final game on the biggest stage was also one of his best. In the CFB National Championship Game, Chase recorded 9 catches for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns, helping LSU throttle the Clemson Tigers. His body of work spoke for itself.

    Chase chose to opt out of the 2020 season

    College players choosing to forgo their final year in college is nothing new. If anything, it is expected. That’s why it is surprising when someone like Najee Harris chose to come back to Alabama for his senior year. Yet, what Chase did was even more surprising.

    Chase announced he would opt out his junior year, stating he was prioritizing himself and his family amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “The competitor in me badly wants to play the season and go to war with my brothers, but during this time with so much going on, this is what’s best for my family. I cannot ignore what I feel in my heart, and this ultimately is the best decision for me. I’ll look forward to returning to the field in 2021.”

    The last sentence is the part that seemed jarring to people. Chase was not opting out to go to the NFL — he was opting out and taking the year off to focus on the professional game rather than heading directly into the NFL Draft. Due to NFL rules, a player must be removed from high school a minimum of three years before becoming draft eligible.

    According to a report from CBS Sports, Chase’s decision to opt out was not solely based on the COVID-19 pandemic, which was just starting to grip the globe. Instead, Chase had been contacted by NFL agents and understood that he was already viewed as one of the top available receivers. Going back to LSU was unlikely to have elevated his draft stock further.

    Chase’s father also gave a statement about his son’s decision

    In an interview with Baton Rouge TV station WAFB, Chase’s father Jimmy Chase stated that the pandemic, along with nationwide protests and outrage surrounding racial inequality and social injustice, were all factors that played into the family’s decision.

    “Ja’Marr has been wrestling with his feelings and his emotions, and it was just nonstop. It’s just such unprecedented times right now. He was wrestling with playing, but he was (also) wrestling with looking at his future and what could and couldn’t be.”

    He went on to say that if “everything was normal,” Chase likely would have played for LSU in 2020. It is also worth noting that Chase would not have had several of his teammates around him if he had come back.

    Not only was Burrow the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he was one of five LSU Tigers selected in the first round. In total, 14 LSU players were drafted. Also, Tigers passing game coordinator Joe Brady left to take an offensive coordinator role with the Carolina Panthers. Given the changes on the team and the possibility of a down 2020 campaign, Chase went out on top.

    Decision to opt out clearly did not hinder his skills

    Selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Chase was reunited with his former college teammate in Burrow. Do you remember when people were freaking out over Chase dropping balls in training camp? That’s why you don’t overreact and must wait until guys hit the field.

    In his rookie campaign, Chase was electric and more than lived up to his draft billing. Playing in all 17 games, Chase caught 81 of 128 targets for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. He broke his former LSU teammate Jefferson’s single-season rookie receiving yardage record. He finished the year fourth in receiving yards and third in touchdowns, behind only Cooper Kupp (16) and Mike Evans (14).

    Chase will undoubtedly crown his season with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors as well, silencing all those who questioned his decision to opt out. He bet on himself and took down the house Ocean’s 11 style.

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