Here’s a blind comparison between two wide receivers from the 2019 college football season:
Player A: 107 receptions, 2,093 receiving yards, 23 touchdowns
Player B: 111 receptions, 1540 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns
One of these players is Justin Jefferson, wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings and potential NFL offensive rookie of the year. The other is his former college teammate, LSU WR Ja’marr Chase.
If you guessed that Player A was Chase, then you would be correct. Chase won the Biletnikoff award in 2019, which is given to the best wide receiver in college football. Chase showed his talent every game with fantastic catches, breakaway speed and elusiveness. However, he decided to opt-out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, so he has not put on the pads since the National Championship on January 13, 2020. Despite this, draft analysts have Chase ranked as a top 3 wide receiver in this draft class, and will likely be selected in the first 10 picks.
Typically, I do not endorse drafting a wide receiver in the first round. The rate at which general managers miss on receivers in the first round is far too high. From 2010-2019, 34 wide receivers were selected in the first round. Of them, just 9 remain on the teams that originally drafted them. These are:
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
N’Keal Harry, New England Patriots
Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
Harry, Williams, Brown and Ross all have not lived up to expectations in their first few seasons and without a big step forward, they will likely not be back with their teams at the end of their rookie contracts. Three others, Bengals WR A.J. Green, Texans WR Will Fuller and Titans WR Corey Davis, played for the teams that drafted them this past season, but are slated to become free agents this offseason.
I traditionally believe that a team should only draft a wide receiver in the first round if they have a complete team and are simply in need of an extra boost to the offense to put them over the top. However, Ja’marr Chase is an exception to that belief in my opinion. Chase has an impeccable release off the line of scrimmage, amazing speed in the open field, and can make defenders miss. He’ll run through and around defenders in the blink of an eye. Ja’marr Chase can be the type of receiver that an offensive scheme is built around, not inserted into.
Chase is the top receiver on my draft board, even ahead of Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith. While a top 5 selection for a wide receiver is a little rich in my eyes, Ja’marr Chase could easily be selected third overall by the Miami Dolphins and be extremely productive right away. If Chase is drafted by a team with a decent quarterback, I could see him having a Justin Jefferson-esque rookie season.