Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase appears to be on his way to NFL stardom after his first regular season, one in which the rookie compiled 82 receptions, 1,455 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
And this, after taking a year off from full-time football to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Chase made the critical decision in August 2020 to forgo his final year of eligibility at LSU, where he was a unanimous All-America selection and Biletnikoff Award winner the previous year, in order to prioritize himself before his pro career. But it was a decision shaped largely by the circumstances of the moment, not just the potential money Chase could make if he stayed healthy.
With that, Sporting News breaks down Chase’s decision to opt out of his junior season at LSU:
Why did Ja’Marr Chase opt out of LSU?
Chase didn’t mince words in announcing his decision not to participate at LSU. In a since-deleted Tweet, Chase said he was prioritizing himself and his family amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While he said he wanted to play for the Tigers one more season, that desire wasn’t enough for him to keep playing at the college level.
“The competitor in me really wants to play out 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,” Chase wrote as part of his statement. “I can’t ignore what I feel in my heart and ultimately this is the best decision for me. I look forward to getting back on the pitch in 2021.”
according to a CBS reportHowever, the decision was not entirely based on the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, it’s possible agents simply contacted him and persuaded him to leave LSU to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Chase was considered one of the best wide receivers in all of college football during his sophomore campaign, when he caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow.
Ja’Marr Chase’s father, Jimmy Chase, said Baton Rouge TV station WAFB that the pandemic, coupled with outrage and protests across the country regarding social inequality and racial injustice, led the Chase family to make a decision about the trustee’s future.
“Ja’Marr has been struggling with his feelings and his emotions, and he hasn’t stopped,” said Jimmy Chase. “These are unprecedented times right now. He was fighting to play, but (also) he was fighting to see his future, and what could and could not be.
Jimmy Chase added that if “everything was normal,” his son probably would have played in 2021.
Did Ja’Marr Chase’s opt-out cause him to drop balls?
From a financial standpoint, Chase’s decision to opt out of LSU for his junior season paid off. He was selected fifth overall by the Bengals and was the best overall receiver chosen in the 2021 NFL Draft (if you don’t count tight end Kyle Pitts, which the Falcons ranked one spot ahead of him).
But that decision created uncertainty for the rookie, especially in the preseason, where he dropped four balls in three games and recorded just one catch for 16 yards. Chase’s difficulty catching passes from his former college teammate raised the question of whether his time off from fast-paced football had set him back; he hadn’t played at full speed in more than a year and a half, not since the 2020 college football championship game against Clemson.
Chase then offered an explanation as to why he was having a harder time adjusting to the NFL:
“The ball is different because it’s bigger,” Chase said, via Bengals.com. “It doesn’t have the white stripes on the side, so you can’t see the ball coming from the toe point, so you actually have to look for the strings on the ball at the top, which is hard to see. see why (all the ball is brown and you have the six strings that are white.
“But for the most part, I just have to get used to it and figure out what I’m comfortable catching with.”
“My shots come from not looking at the ball. Looking at the ball, I’m talking about aiming it high and looking at it and as soon as it hits looking away,” he said. “Me running before the reception. Me doing stuff like that and dropping it. I did it a couple of times.”
The problems Chase had catching the ball in the preseason seemed to go away once the games mattered. In his NFL regular season debut, he caught five passes on five targets for 101 yards and a touchdown in a 27–24 win over the Vikings. After the game, he acknowledged that he had heard criticism about his dropped balls.
“I’ve been hearing that,” Chase said at the time. “That’s just trash talk. Just block out the noise.”
Chase didn’t have the offensive explosion in any of his next three games, but he was solid throughout, combining to catch 12 receptions for 197 yards and three more touchdowns (including a two-touchdown outing in a 24-10 win over the Steelers). .
Since then, the rookie has gone to four more games with at least 100 yards, putting up 159 yards and a touchdown against the Packers in Week 5; 201 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens in Week 7; 125 yards against the Ravens in Week 16; and a rookie single-game record of 266 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 17.