Ja'Marr Chase's Fantasy Outlook After Bengals Select WR in 2021 NFL Draft

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2021

LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase catches during a drill at an NFL Pro Day at LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

Without a doubt, Ja'Marr Chase is one of the most fascinating rookies to analyze from a fantasy perspective after being the No. 5 overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2021 NFL draft. The talent is unquestionable, but fantasy players might have some concerns. 

Let's break it down.

Without question, Chase brings immense upside to Cincy. He was spectacular in the 2019 season, pairing with Joe Burrow to catch 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. There's a good chance he would have been the top overall wideout off the board in last year's draft were he eligible. 

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

Random draft quote of the day from a top evaluator — on #LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase: “Best WR prospect since Julio.” Some players lost steam after opting out of college in 2020, but not Chase. The consensus No. 1 in a very good receiver class.

In late March, the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah ranked Chase as the No. 3 prospect in the 2021 draft, calling him "a dominant player on tape" and a "faster version of three-time Pro Bowl selectee Anquan Boldin."

He noted that Chase "creates separation off the line of scrimmage and he can also find another gear when the ball is in the air" and is "at his best after the catch," making plays with the football as a runner with his speed, elusiveness and strength. 


"When you have a dude that big, that strong, who can create separation with route running as well... that's a quarterback's dream." @realrclark25 on Ja'Marr Chase at LSU’s Pro Day 👀 https://t.co/ymOPYGDcuM

But Chase sat out the 2020 college football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning he'll have gone nearly a year-and-a-half without game action. Wide receiver already has one of the bigger learning curbs between the college and NFL games, while Chase will also have some rust to kick off. 

And while rookie receivers are making a bigger and bigger fantasy impact year after year, it's still never a certainty that they'll offer you immediate production. Let's take a look at the numbers posted by last year's first-round wideouts: 

  • No. 12 overall Henry Ruggs III: 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games. 
  • No. 15 overall Jerry Jeudy: 52 catches for 852 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. 
  • No. 17 overall CeeDee Lamb: 74 catches for 935 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games. 
  • No. 21 overall Jalen Reagor: 31 catches for 396 yards and a score in 11 games. 
  • No. 22 overall Justin Jefferson: 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games.
  • No. 25 overall Brandon Aiyuk: 60 receptions for 748 yards and five scores in 12 games. 

With first-round wideouts, the seasons from players like Jeudy, Lamb and Aiyuk are generally about as good as you're going to get. And, hey, you'll take it: Lamb was a WR3 in 10-team leagues, joining fellow rookies Chase Claypool and Tee Higgins in that range. Aiyuk settled into a WR4 designation, while Jeudy was a WR5. 

Jefferson was a dramatic exception, setting an NFL record for rookie receiving yards and finishing as the No. 6 receiver in fantasy football. Since 2000, only 12 rookie receivers have exceeded 1,000 receiving yards, or put another way, less than one per draft class.

In other words, selecting Chase and expecting him to put up those types of numbers immediately—even if he's arguably a more talented player than Jefferson—is an enormous risk. 

It's safer to assume his ceiling is around the WR3 range, which still makes him a valuable target in the middle rounds in redraft leagues. His value is far higher in dynasty leagues, obviously. 

Having a talented quarterback like Burrow, who he's already familiar with from their LSU days together, will help make his transition easier. The Bengals do have talented options in Higgins and Tyler Boyd at wideout, however, which should eat into some of his potential targets. 

Assume Chase's upside is in the WR3 range. Don't be surprised when he settles into WR4 territory. Rookie seasons like the one we saw from Jefferson last year are rarer than rare.