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2022 REWIND: Ja’Marr Chase…Did I Miss This Pre-Draft 2021?

Date:
July 18, 2022 5:39 PM
July 18, 2022 5:33 PM

 

2022 REWIND: Ja’Marr Chase…Did I Miss This Pre-Draft 2021?

 

*Putting this one out on the public view area of the site, for reasons that will become clear as you read through 3,500+ words of this piece.

INTRO:

I’ve been waiting to get to this.

A rewatch of Ja’Marr Chase’s 2021 season to see just how good he really is/was in 2021, but mostly wanting to take this study on with the undertones of – how did I miss this pre-NFL Draft/did I miss this pre-Draft 2021?

In the 2021 NFL Draft, we had no NFL Combine…we worked off of sketchy Pro Day data and relied on the tape to try and make sense of his Pro Day. When I looked at the data and the tape, I saw a good college WR on the best offense in the history of the game with the best QB in the history of the game in his 2019 season at LSU…then he skipped his 2020 season, so we couldn’t see what would happen without being with Joe Burrow. On tape, I didn’t see Chase doing anything radical that I’ve never seen before – he was pretty good within an all-star, all-time cast in 2019. I thought he was ‘OK’…a somewhat limited route WR using his athleticism to defeat coverage (as he should)…seeing lesser coverage due to Justin Jefferson being such a presence as well. 2019 was a perfect storm for Chase.

When I watched Chase’s 2021 NFL preseason and saw all the drops (remember when that was a big thing?), and it started to confirm what I wondered in my mind on Chase – talented athlete, decent/overhyped WR…and he joins into a great trio of WRs in Cincinnati, so how is he going to shine brightest among them as a rookie, as the 3rd-best WR of the group?

I was skeptical of what I’d seen and studied on Chase prior to the NFL regular season 2021…borderline ‘mocking’ and reveling in his preseason drops issue and ‘too high’ ADP. I would soon have all that skepticism rammed up my backside.

Before the 2021 NFL season began, everyone on the football analyst planet saw the same thing with Chase – he was proclaimed a god, and that’s that. When the NFL world is on one side of the scouting…then I ‘know’ the opposite side, if I see it different from the mainstream, is usually the right side. I was more confident in my anti-Chase stance when I saw the entire planet on the other side of the trade. The people who all beat their chest over proclaiming Chase great, before he hit the NFL, were the same ones calling Trevor Lawrence ‘generational’. The mainstream war drums in unison on a particular player are meaningless to me…they love to show their individuality by all agreeing on the same thing they mostly know nothing about or did little study on.

NFL analysts on TV are the equivalent of an actor on TV wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope around their neck speaking of medical things. The public tends to trust the visual, the con.

But, in this Chase case…THEY won; they were right. Right? Chase had a fantastic 2021 season, FF-scoring hot right off the bat and finishing strong. I mocked it early, but he kept producing…then saw his midseason dip and took some solace, but then he finished stronger -- and I finally came around to ‘folding’ my bad poker hand (that Chase was more circumstance than talent). I wasn’t going to bet against Chase as a WR1 anymore. 

I usually do not lose scouting battles like this. If/when I’m wrong, it’s not by much or eventually goes my way in a few weeks or the next year, etc. So, with some Mike Tyson knocked out by Buster Douglas disbelief/curiosity, I entered this 2021 study – to see where I went wrong, with a slim chance maybe I’d find some proof that I wasn’t wrong.

 

THE STUDY:

So, I set out to rewatch Chase’s 2021 NFL season…from midseason on through the playoffs. Why start in the midseason? I feel secure in bypassing the 1st-half of the season because rookie WRs start out with some degree of confusion and I’m sure that’s what I’d see with Chase. I know his early FF-work/scoring was coming from big plays that were more aberrations than great QB-WR work. I want to give him a few games into the season to start judging him.

BUT my main reason to start in the middle is that Ja’Marr Chase started to falter, statistically, in Week 8 vs. the Jets – where he would embark on a seven-game stretch where he was under 55 yards receiving in six of those 7 games…under 40 yards in a game in four of those 7 games. I wanted to see what had happened when he turned downward in output for a chunk of the season…but also knowing he would begin to explode, statistically, in Week 16 as the Bengals went on a tear to get to the Super Bowl. Chase’s new rise began Week 16 vs. Baltimore (7-125-0)…but the week prior he was held to one catch on 4 targets for 3 yards by Denver/Vic Fangio. What caused the statistical dip and then take-off to stardom through the playoffs? Skill? Luck? Burrow? Chase?

So, I watched every game from Week 8 to Week 17, and then all four playoff games – I wanted to see what I would ‘see’…a progression to greatness? Luck? Best WR in football? Will I even find an explanation?

Let’s find out…

 

WHAT I SAW…

This is usually the ‘part of the show’ where I write thousands of words trying to describe what I saw on tape game-by-game. However, I don’t think I need to do that here. I think I can be more simple/less complicated than that to describe my feelings/logic from this 2021 season re-watch.

The simple conclusion is = Ja’Marr Chase is a really good, very dangerous NFL WR.

How good? Is Ja’Marr Chase an all-time great, or just really good, or just plain old ‘good’…is he an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade wide receiver? I don’t think my opinion on that really matters. I could argue ‘A’ vs. ‘B’, or whatever degree within the A/B grades…but, for Fantasy Football purposes – we can simply rest in the fact that he’s really good.

The simple connection is = Ja’Marr Chase is an A/B wide receiver talent, and he works wonderfully with ‘A’ talent, future Hall of Fame QB Joe Burrow. This equation is the more important matter/conclusion.

When I watched the 2021 tape, I saw a very solid WR who has the full faith and confidence of his elite QB. I can’t say Chase is an ‘A’ grade wide receiver (for me). I mean, he’s not a technical assassin WR…but he’s fine. Chase doesn’t run surreal routes, but he does run routes well…and can continue to improve. He has high-end speed with a very solid build/frame…and is very good after the catch – not super easy to tackle and high-end quick/acceleration to separate. He’s not huge/tall but he’s not diminutive…he’s a perfect modern pass game era size 6’0”/200.

Chase’s worst attribute is his hands – he does drop more than his fair share of passes…but he also gets a lot of opportunities to catch/drop passes, but has as many great catches as bad drops…it comes with the territory as a ‘go-to’. And he is a go-to option for Burrow and he gets a lot of targets under heavy coverage and sometimes flat-out drops the pass, but sometimes makes a brilliant grab.

As Chase improved into the playoffs, teams finally got the bright idea to cover him with a safety help over-the-top…but he still found ways to get the ball. He can play a deep ball game. He can catch the ball fine in the intermediate game. He can play small-ball with tunnel screens, etc. He’s not easy to contain…and unlike the Chiefs coaching staff, the Bengals, more to the point Burrow, gets Chase the ball…or tries to. They don’t use him as a decoy like KC would waste Tyreek Hill doing too much…the Bengals/Burrow sees him as a weapon.

Whether I scout Chase, as a wine critic of such things, as an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ -- it doesn’t really matter. If I say/go down the road of… But if he were stuck with Trevor Lawrence or Daniel Jones, you wouldn’t care half as much about that conjecture, nor would I – because it doesn’t matter. He’s not with Daniel Jones – he’s with Joe Burrow, arguably the best QB in the game…and will be the best QB in coming years. And Burrow and Chase are close friends from college and now in the pros, and I can see the comfort Burrow has with Chase and I FF-respect it (just too late). I’m envious of it. I wish many other WRs that I like (as a scout) had the same connection opportunity. But it doesn’t matter – Chase has that connection.

Cooper Kupp has it with Matt Stafford.

Davante Adams had it with Aaron Rodgers…he may have it with Derek Carr.

Justin Jefferson has it with Kirk Cousins.

Ja’Marr Chase has it with Joe Burrow – and Chase is a better athlete/style for Fantasy Football within that then Kupp-Adams-Jefferson. They all might be technically better, and they are…but Chase is the best of them once the ball is in his hands. And Chase could improve his technique as we go…Cooper Kupp isn’t getting any faster as we go, etc.

Chocolate meets Peanut Butter with Chase and Burrow. Two great players with supreme confidence in each other…and in themselves. There’s no need to overthink it. You can argue that Chase + Burrow is a top 1-2-3 WR1 for Fantasy. The best single WR, due to age and situation, for Dynasty…and with the name appeal to the masses, and the lower-injury probability WR position – you could argue Chase is the single best Dynasty asset on the board regardless of position…and regardless of what my scouting grade was on Chase pre-NFL Draft.

You could argue that Chase + Brandon Allen is a WR2…across the board, all platforms.

It’s that simple.

 

Two bonus conclusions/notes… 

1) Yes, I am kicking myself that I did not figure this out ahead of time. I was a seller of Ja’Marr, due to the (what I thought was) astronomical price preseason 2021 and off his early regular season 2021 success I was willing to sell that value before (I thought) the bubble would burst. I was wrong. Way wrong.

What have I learned from this? Well, it’s dialed me in more on WR-QB relationships. You can gawk at all the college or pro air yards stats and/or yards per target and/or yards after catch or whatever trite ‘drop the mic’ Twitter stats you want – but Cooper Kupp met Matt Stafford and beautiful music was made. We all thought Kupp was good this time last year, but we didn’t see him as a top 10…maybe not even top 20 NFL WR talent. Now, today…is he the single best WR in the game?

Jaylen Waddle + his college teammate Tua (and through Week 16 last season, Waddle was right with Chase in PPR PPG for the season)

Diontae with Ben…and then the other non-Diontae’s were all-but shutout.

Davante with Rodgers, and probably Davante + Carr.

FF-pursue the WR-QB relationship as much as anything…only, with so many QBs changing teams and so many WRs flooding in from college and also changing teams, it’s gonna be speculative on where the new bull market relationships are. Courtland + Russ? Pittman + Ryan? Marquise + Kyler?

I just know that I’m taking Marquise WAY more seriously + Kyler than I ever have before.

I got my eye on Goff + Jameson, but we won’t know until into the 2022 season on that.

Being college teammates helps…a lot. Waddle + Tua…but you would think Hurts + DeVonta would’ve been better.

Whatever the lesson learned…the minimum lesson is -- Ja’Marr + Joe = very FF-good.

If I were the Bengals GM, I would trade everything for Justin Jefferson to put the LSU band back together. It’s possible Jefferson, CEH, and Chase are all reunited in a few years, right?

I guess Joe Brady wasn’t a genius offensive mind after all? Imagine that…coaches getting credit for positive things they had nothing to do with – besides eating at the same team cafeteria as the talent.

 

2) I do worry teams are gonna try and double-triple cover Chase now…which is why it would not shock me if Tee Higgins becomes a huge ‘winner’, a WR1 of this scenario…and even beats Chase in FF PPG in 2022 (and through Week 16, Higgins was effectively equal in PPR PPG with Chase). I’m not betting my life on Tee defeating Chase for FF 2022, but I can see the potential for it. At a minimum, Higgins is going to have a really nice season benefitting from the ripple effects of attention on Chase.

Tee Higgins is very talented.

Ja’Marr Chase is more talented/gifted, and better built for FF output.

Hayden Hurst could catch a temporary ride off all this.

Joe Burrow is elite and could become the best NFL QB of our generation…but leave it to the Bengals to mess this up somehow.

 

 

Three bonus conclusions/notes…

 

1) Yes, I am kicking myself that I did not figure this out ahead of time. I was a seller of Ja’Marr, due to the (what I thought was) astronomical price preseason 2021 and off his early regular season 2021 success I was willing to sell that value before (I thought) the bubble would burst. I was wrong. Way wrong.

What have I learned from this? Well, it’s dialed me in more on WR-QB relationship. You can gawk at all the college or last season as a pro air yards and/or yards per target and/or yards after catch or whatever trite ‘drop the mic’ Twitter stats you want – but Cooper Kupp met Matt Stafford and beautiful music was made. We all thought Kupp was good this time last year, but we didn’t see him as a top 10…maybe not even top 20 NFL WR talent. Now, today…is he the single best WR in the game?

Jaylen Waddle + his college teammate Tua (and through Week 16 last season, Waddle was right with Chase in PPR PPG for the season)

Diontae with Ben…and then the other non-Diontae’s were all-but shutout.

Davante with Rodgers, and probably Davante + Carr.

FF-pursue the WR-QB relationship as much as anything…only, with so many QBs changing teams and so many WRs flooding in from college and also changing teams, it’s gonna be speculative on where the new bull market relationships are. Courtland + Russ? Pittman + Ryan? Marquise + Kyler?

I just know that I’m taking Marquise WAY more seriously + Kyler than I ever have before.

I got my eye on Goff + Jameson, but we won’t know until into the 2022 season on that.

Being college teammates helps…a lot. Waddle + Tua…but you would think Hurts + DeVonta would’ve been better.

Whatever the lesson learned…the minimum lesson is -- Ja’Marr + Joe = very FF-good.

If I were the Bengals GM, I would trade everything for Justin Jefferson to put the LSU band back together. It’s possible Jefferson, CEH, and Chase are all reunited in a few years, right?

I guess Joe Brady wasn’t a genius offensive mind after all? Imagine that…coaches getting credit for positive things they had nothing to do with – besides eating at the same team cafeteria as the talent.

 

2) I do worry teams are gonna try and double-triple cover Chase now…which is why it would not shock me if Tee Higgins becomes a huge ‘winner’, a WR1 of this scenario…and even beats Chase in FF PPG in 2022 (and through Week 16, Higgins was effectively equal in PPR PPG with Chase). I’m not betting my life on that he defeats Chase, but I can see the potential for it. At a minimum, Higgins is going to have a really nice season benefitting from the ripple effects of attention on Chase.

Tee Higgins is very talented.

Ja’Marr Chase is more talented/gifted, and better built for FF output.

Hayden Hurst could catch a temporary ride off all this.

Joe Burrow is elite and could become the best NFL QB of our generation…but leave it to the Bengals to mess this up somehow.

 

3) Should I lose my college prospect scouting license over this?

This whole Chase situation got me to thinking deeper about my whole life as a scout/analyst/writer of football things…

I’m the first and hardest critic on the mainstream scouting in the NFL, so I deserve all the punitive measures here for sure. I didn’t think there was an ‘A’ grade prospect here – more a hard-to-figure (from the limited data due to COVID year) ‘B’ or generic ‘C’ grade one…a big miss. I could try to make excuses or use some scouting sleight of hand debate, but to what point? My top priority is getting things right in football assessments…even as these players are ever-changing in their careers and have ever-changing circumstances around them to try and interpret in the NFL.

I want to be the first to be ‘right’ on a player. Everyone does.

But if I’m off on my first-second-third impressions/evals, then I want to figure out the error of my ways and correct it and join ‘the winning side’…and that might mean to play catch up and then become that player’s biggest advocate…and actually catch up and surpass all the runners in the race, if the situation calls for it – as I did/tried to do with my wrong Josh Allen scouting. I wrote him off at first, as no chance of an ‘A’ grade and a likely bust -- but then when ‘it’ happened his year three…I dropped everything and was buying as much/as fast as I could to be ahead of the people who were then saying Allen’s hot start was a blip to sell-off.

However, I can’t get in higher than the consensus on Chase…he’s already universally beloved. Honestly, I don’t get the same feelings on scouting and re-scouting Chase as I did what I saw in Allen’s explosion season as it first unfolded. Regardless, I’m late to the Chase party…and all the food and drink are gone just as I’ve arrived. I ‘earned’ it.

How could I be in this profession and get arguably the best WR asset in Fantasy today…get it wrong on his scouting – when everyone else got it right? I’m not sure, honestly. It rarely ever happens to me (humble brag). I think back to scouting him in pre-NFL Draft 2021 and he was college-good in 2019 while playing on the Harlem Globetrotters of college football, a team who did what they wanted to whomever they wanted, and it was hard to see the individual transition to NFL greatness within that for Chase – the same as I thought Justin Jefferson was really good, but I never imagined he’d be one of the top five Fantasy WR assets either. Likely, I scouted/put too much of those two WR’s success on Burrow…which is easy/not illogical to do.

Still, this Chase thing makes me mad…and makes me question my own self too. I spend so much time in the (football) lab, and I come up with all kinds of wonderful studies and creations…and then I miss an obviously really good/great thing.

All I can say is: It will likely happen again.

If I were a national fantasy face on TV, on like an ESPN, I’d be known for getting the Chase scouting wrong for the rest of my life. No matter what I did outside of that…no matter what miracles, someone would always come back with ‘yeah, but you didn’t like Ja’Marr Chase’. And I would be unable to respond and not sound like a babbling idiot.

In Fantasy, and in most things in life, we are judged on the one thing versus a body of work (and sometimes that one thing is a positive/good thing). It’s easier to remember the one thing rather than the bulk of years of things with all their nuances. Who has time to track it? FantasyPros tries but it’s beyond a flawed model.

Knowing our memories…and our critical nature vs. encouraging ones…I know one event could define what a reader/listener of my work thinks about everything all in one litmus event. And I get that. As many of us were making FF title runs last season with some slick improv with guys like D’Onta Foreman (one of my greatest timing calls in my career, light years ahead of anyone else)…I was probably thinking more about how I missed out on Chase more than reveling in the D’Onta savior call when he wasn’t even signed by the Titans yet coming off the Derrick Henry injury event following week. I’m human, I look at the negative way more than the positive. We all do.

And here’s the problem with that nature in this football business – I make hundreds of scouting calls per year on college talent, and then hundreds of directional/value calls per week in pro players for Fantasy Football every week. I am going to get something wrong…way wrong…at some point, at lots of points. Eventually, everyone is going to ‘have cause’ to discard my scouting/projections in a given moment.

I can only overcome all that by…

a) Admitting my errors fast and trying to correct/examine/autopsy them.

I want my raw, honest mention of failures to be an asset – not something I hide and only try to promote all the positives. It’s why I don’t want ‘testimonials’ on the FFM website, because I know ‘testimonials’ on all websites are handpicking the best ones and trying to lead the potential client/reader in a direction. I cringe when I see testimonials on a website…picked and placed there by the website owners/managers.

In a sea of ‘we’ll help you dominate the competition’ parroted Fantasy advertisements and a world of football fans with a computer who can construct a cool analytic with a slick acronym name that proves they can predict the next breakout star because ___ name is an example from last year/s (and we just believe it as if one datapoint is everything)…I want to go the whole other direction of being known as the guy who is willing to question all/any analytics’ relevance (but I’m a big believer/creator of them) and examine my own work and admit/research out (publicly) my own mistakes way more than trumpeting my success/genius.

I am willing to speak passionately about the things I get wrong…almost to a fault. But I think the honesty and transparency approach is a better example of who I am/want to be in football scouting -- rather than being another ‘mic drop comment warrior’ analyst on Twitter. And if the football world doesn’t have like-minded people of my ilk, if they’d rather fight back and forth with forgettable social media blasts and crass/simplistic verbal daggers – then I am good to just walk away and do something else.

I just believe there is a home for the work we do/service we provide here…and the way we do it and have done it for over a decade of learning and evolving with the ever-changing game and the athletes.

 

b) Putting in more hours of study and writing/typing more words in this industry than anyone else annually, by a large distance.

I want to be the frontline eyes and ears for those who don’t have such time, like I used to be working my regular job and loving Fantasy. I want to inform and entertain, bring these players and prospects to life (or death) with the written word. It just so happens no one in Fantasy can duplicate my work effort or the library of football scouting things in my head/experience. I have a better batting average on scouting because I’m always doing the dirty excavation work every day, every week, every year. Processing tons of dirt trying to find some gold nuggets…daily.

If hard work pays off…this should all payoff for me someday, and not put me into a mental hospital – which the battle on those two outcomes is tied at halftime right now.

 

c) At the end of the day, I cannot be afraid to be wrong.

The reason everybody in football analysis agrees on everything (like Trevor Lawrence or Sam Darnold or Jameis Winston or Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb or T.J. Hockenson, for some recent examples, were mainstream generational talents) is the time-honored fear of being wrong…alone…strayed away from the herd and thus susceptible to attack by the hungry mountain lions in the instant online feedback culture we have.

It's also the reason like 147 players are labeled ‘sleepers’ each year by the football analysts, paid and unpaid. The slick way of leaving yourself an out if it doesn’t pan out, but simultaneously having put a chip on the roulette table in case the white ball lands on that random number. Win-win for the analyst. I try to ‘make the call’ every time, if I can see it. 

Being wrong on something like football scouting is impossible to avoid. The negative/personal criticism in the public, I try to avoid -- but will embrace-not-fight the issue most of the time when brashly/crudely confronted. No sense bickering about it…you never win those battles. I try to ‘God Bless you’ the cutting emails I get from a tiny minority of the planet. I want to spend more time writing and studying and not trying to ‘win’ a debate with a potential bot/fanboy. There are no wins on social media in football scouting…just a lot of dogs yapping.

I try to share my vision, my scouting view of things and continually follow up/go on the journey of discovery all calendar year…and I do not fear the criticism. I know it’s part of the gig. I hate it and I hate being wrong, but in this business -- you can’t avoid it…or, at least, I don’t want to. The errors are opportunities for me…to learn to share how/what I learned.

Hopefully, the ‘open book’ method has a place in the world…in a world where some want to burn my book for fun.

So, in summary, I missed the call on Ja’Marr Chase upfront and was too slow to adjust my scouting/thinking on it. Some of my reasoning and autopsy of it is above.

Place your bets on the next one I get wrong…because it will happen.

But know that most of my bets against the mainstream lockstep scouting narratives – I will win…immediately or eventually.

But it looks like they beat me on Ja’Marr Chase. Congrats to ‘them’. God Bless them :)…and you for making your way to the end of this tome.

 

 

 

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>