With the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
The pick was considered a surprise by many fans and draft pundits.
Cincinnati entered the draft with a clear need at offensive tackle.
Not only did starting quarterback Joe Burrow suffer a torn ACL due to a sack, but the Bengals as a whole allowed 48 sacks on the year, fifth-highest in the NFL.
Former Oregon tackle Penei Sewell was available at No. 5.
He was considered the best offensive line prospect in the draft.
That doesn’t mean Chase doesn’t bring considerable potential.
In two years at LSU, Chase caught 107 passes for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.
He also played with Burrow in 2019, when LSU won the National Championship.
Clearly, the Bengals liked what they saw in Chase and liked the chemistry he would bring with Burrow.
They made him the first wide receiver taken in the draft for a reason.
Not The Ideal Start
However, things have gotten off to a bumpy start for Chase and the Bengals.
In the team’s Week 2, 17-3 preseason loss to the Washington Football Team, Chase dropped three passes.
Bengals rookie WR Ja'Marr Chase (fifth overall pick) with three targets, three drops in his second preseason game. 🏈 pic.twitter.com/hQw1Ak2y0U
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) August 21, 2021
Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic reported earlier in training camp that Chase struggled with getting separation against NFL cornerbacks.
“His skill set is that unique,” Dehner writes. “You see flashes of that early, but you also see somebody tentatively getting used to a new offense, new league and not playing football since January 2020. He has not shown as much separation as you’d hope, and the contested balls haven’t gone his way much, either.”
To make a long story short, Chase is not off to the best NFL start.
However, despite these struggles, Bengals fans shouldn’t panic just yet on their first-round draft pick.
For starters, Chase hasn’t played organized football in over a year.
He sat out the 2020 season due to CO-VID19.
When he last played, with Burrow in 2019, he caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.
— ESPN (@espn) January 14, 2020
Heading into the draft, he was lauded for his ability to turn any play into a massive gain.
NFL.com’s Lance Zeirlein predicted he would not only be an early starter, but a future Pro Bowler.
Furthermore, Chase seems to be turning a corner and has strung together a few solid practices at training camp.
No question this was the bounce-back day the Bengals and WR Ja'Marr Chase were looking for. Had a ton of good catches, including the contested grab to punctuate the day.
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) August 23, 2021
Cincinnati’s brass has clearly noticed as Bengals head coach Zac Taylor gave Chase some credit prior to that practice, which took place on Sunday, August 23:
“By no means are we down on Ja’Marr,” Taylor said before Sunday’s practice. “He’s just going through some of the things rookies go through in training camp, and we expect him to improve over the course of this week.”
During that 2019 season, Chase had six drops on 124 total passes.
Drops are going to be something that Chase will need to improve on as he makes his way through the NFL.
But this is still a wide receiver who could turn the Bengals into a feared offense in the league.
Yes, the offensive line needs work, but a core of Burrow, Chase, Higgins, Boyd and running back Joe Mixon is one that could be feared if all are healthy.
Right now, Chase just needs reps.
He has been away from the game for the year and needs to get up to game speed at the NFL level.
Clearly, there have been some bumps in the road.
But the Bengals wouldn’t have passed on a talent like Sewell if they didn’t think Chase was going to completely change their franchise.
It’s acceptable to be a little concerned after seeing Chase drop three passes in a preseason game.
But this is the same receiver who helped Burrow lead LSU to a National title and the Heisman Trophy.
Seeing early results would be nice, but if Chase lives up to his potential, the Bengals and their fans will be more than happy with what Chase brings to the football field every game and every day.