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Ja'Marr Chase's Potentially Historic Rookie Year Has Bengals Ahead of Schedule

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 25, 2021

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 24: Ja'Marr Chase #1 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates a touchdown during the second half in the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

A 21-year-old rookie with one strong college football season under his belt now leads the AFC in receiving yardage, yards per reception and is tied for the conference lead in touchdown receptions.

After catching eight passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in the Cincinnati Bengals' blowout victory over the division-rival Baltimore Ravens in Week 7, it's safe to say that Ja'Marr Chase is running away with the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The LSU product could be the first rookie first-team All-Pro receiver since Randy Moss in 1998, as he's now on pace to shatter Justin Jefferson's single-season rookie record of 1,400 receiving yards. 

In fact, Chase is on pace to post one of the five highest single-season yardage totals in league history (1,831). 

NFL on ESPN @ESPNNFL

Ja'Marr Chase HOUSE CALL‼️ An absolute star 🤩 (via @NFL) https://t.co/8u170Ox77B

But more importantly, Chase's sudden dominance is a key reason the rebuilding Cincinnati Bengals are contending right now. His best games statistically have come against bugaboo-like AFC North rivals as well as a fellow contender in the Green Bay Packers. The Bengals shockingly outscored the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers 65-27 in one-sided victories, which is particularly amazing when you consider that both wins came on the road, and that those two teams outscored Cincinnati 63-13 in Bengals road games last season. 

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Chase's presence has sped up the maturation of sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow, who put up 416 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, and the rest has fallen into place from there for a Bengals team that finds itself in first place in that division following a 5-2 start. 

Bill Barnwell @billbarnwell

Ja’Marr Chase has more receiving yards through his first seven games than any player in NFL history. He’s at 720+ with a quarter left to go and only two other players have topped 600.

Few expected this to happen so fast, but Burrow and Chase teamed up for a legendary 2019 season at LSU and their chemistry has already become undeniable and overwhelming at the NFL level. 

When Burrow completed 76.3 percent of his passes for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns to just six interceptions in that Heisman Trophy-winning 2019 campaign in the SEC, Chase accounted for nearly one-third of those yards and exactly one-third of those touchdowns. This year, he's on a similar path with six of Burrow's 17 touchdowns already. 

It's scary to imagine how much better the two can make each other in the years, months, weeks to come. And by extension, how special this Bengals team could be. 

Cincinnati's two losses have come by six total points against quality opponents outside of the conference. Burrow, Chase and Co. now have the second-best points differential total in the AFC, behind only the Buffalo Bills. And as long as they get take care of the lowly New York Jets next week, they'll officially enter November in the AFC North driver's seat with three of their last four divisional games coming at home. 

Of course, this isn't just about Chase, or even the Burrow-Chase connection. The defense ranked fifth in the league with just 18.5 points per game allowed before holding the high-powered Ravens to 17 on Sunday. They entered the week ranked fifth in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) on that side of the ball at Football Outsiders, and they should remain in that top tier as they head to New York for their fifth road game of the season on Halloween. 

Sam Monson @PFF_Sam

This is the best cover guy the Ravens have and one of the best in this league. Jamarr Chase treated him as if he wasn't there https://t.co/lQkyUsGLGN

Burrow isn't the only Bengal crushing it coming off a season-ending 2020 injury. Interior defensive lineman D.J. Reader is also in those shoes, and he's been dominant in run defense. Meanwhile, Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard and B.J. Hill have a combined 13.5 sacks already after Hubbard and Hendrickson combined for 3.5 in Sunday's win.

The acquisitions of Hendrickson, Hill and Chidobe Awuzie look like strokes of genius from the front office. Star safety Jessie Bates III no longer has to do most of the heavy lifting on his own.

Can it be sustained across the board? There are no assurances, but an inferior 2020 Bengals team was regularly competitive before Burrow went down with a knee injury and the remaining schedule is certainly favorable. 

We knew the key pieces were in place this year, but now we have to start looking at these rebuilt Bengals as a full-fledged contender featuring one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. 

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.

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