Matt Waldman shares his pre-draft scouting report of 2021 NFL Draft prospect and Cincinnati Bengal WR Ja’Marr Chase, whose issues with dropped passes this summer generated a panic that belied his college tape.
RSP Ranking: WR1
Height: 6-0 Weight: 208 School: LSU
Comparison Spectrum: Roddy White/DeAndre Hopkins-X
Depth of Talent Score: 95.2 = Rare: Instant All-Pro upside; takes over games and changes teams.
The Elevator Pitch for Chase: Chase and Jaylen Waddle have the talent to elevate their respective teams’ fortunes with their play. Waddle is the most explosive weapon in this class. If you’re seeking a player to do a lot of what Tyreek Hill does for Kansas City and have the surrounding talent to install this offense, Waddle is that team’s priority choice in the first round.
However, Chase is the best all-around talent. Although Waddle doesn’t have to be in a Chiefs-like dynamic to have success, Chase offers more high-end production potential across a wider variety of roles. This is why scheme fit matters when looking at grades and why the RSP has a post-draft publication to forecast production within the context of the draft.
Independent of landing spot, Chase offers the versatility to play all three receiver roles. He’s physical, mentally tough, faster than people remember, and technically accomplished against press-man coverage.
Don’t get too glued to the drop data, more than most college receivers, Chase’s targets were closer in context to the Sunday game than we usually see. While Justin Jefferson was an underrated player, there are going to be some that forgot how good Chase was in 2019.
Unless we learn that Chase has spent 2020 goofing off, expect him to make an immediate impact for his new NFL team. He has the potential to be the best skill player in this draft class.
Where is the player inconsistent? There’s a more nuanced way of explaining this, but Chase doesn’t consistently make the difficult catches one would associate with a star receiver if you’re looking strictly at his high rate of drops. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make star-caliber plays. He absolutely does.
The drop rate may also be higher than what one would like to see because Chase earned a lot of tight-coverage targets. Many of these targets weren’t Joe Burrow’s best choices, especially when projecting them for the NFL game.
The fact that Chase even put himself in position to make a catch might mean the drop rate is overstated. Chase makes a lot of tough catches—high, low, and against contact and tight coverage.
However, the fact remains that Chase has drops of easier targets—passes that bounced off his hands that he initially caught but couldn’t secure after contact or while on the move. It wasn’t an alarming amount, but enough that I couldn’t give him a star-caliber great as a pass-catcher. And the rate is probably enough for nitpicking among those who need to create clickbait analysis to feel relevant.
Terrell Owens and Brandon Marshall also had these issues throughout their careers, so this dynamic with an elite receiver talent lacking consistently elite hands is not unprecedented. And I’m not convinced Chase will even fall into this category once he’s paired with a more experienced and discriminating quarterback.
What is the best scheme fit? He plays on the left and right sides of the formation as the split end and occasionally the flanker, slot, and even from the backfield. Chase can be a top producer who moves around like his former teammate Justin Jefferson or Michael Thomas or he can deliver in a more static role as a split end or flanker.
The best scheme fit for Chase would be a team that can move him around to draw mismatches. However, the best fit might have more to do with personnel, specifically a veteran quarterback who displays the wisdom of when to target Chase. Marry Case to a young passer who is either too aggressive or not aggressive enough, and the acclimation period could take longer.
What is his ceiling scenario? Chase has the upside to develop into one of the top primary receivers in the league—a Pro-Bowl option who can present matchup advantages based on his speed, route running, and physical play.
What is his floor scenario? While unlikely, Chase could lose confidence if his drops are frequent enough early in his career that his staff overreacts to the mistakes and doesn’t let Chase play through it. This could slow, if not stall his development trajectory.
Physical: Chase is a battler with a high comfort level for physical play. This is true whether he’s posting up at the sticks on a third-and-short with a defender draped over him like plastic wrap or working the vertical reaches at top speed with a top cover corner trying to distract him.
Technical: Chase is a savvy operator at the line of scrimmage. He’s an advanced player for his age when evaluating the first 7-10 yards of his routes. Like DeAndre Hopkins, physical play doesn’t faze Chase and he thrives in situations where he and his opponent are battling within the gray area of the rules.
Conceptual: Chase plays on the left and right sides of the formation and often plays the role of split end. When used as the single receiver, LSU often places Chase tight to the formation. He also earns looks from the slot. Chase understands the micro of his position and also has shown enough understanding of the macro part of the game to help his teammates, such as pointing out the corner blitz pre-snap to the quarterback.
Intuitive: Chase has a good feel for using his routes to tell a story. He sells defenders on the possibility of route options that they must guard against based on field position, offensive alignment, and Chase’s tendencies.
Build: Chase isn’t a huge player, but Roddy White wasn’t, either. White was a high school wrestler and that rugged physicality showed up well at the catch-point that reminds me a lot of Chase. Both players won off the line, came through for their quarterbacks with cornerbacks glued to them on timing routes, and they could win after the catch.
Releases: Chase cultivates a staggered stance with 80/20 weight distribution. His hands rest at either side of his knees and when it’s time to release, he rolls off the front foot with little, if any, wasted motion.
He uses shed releases against off coverage. At the top of his stem on a quick slant, Chase will use a double-arm swipe across the reach of the off-coverage defender. His release work from the initial stem to the hand usage is patient but sudden.
Chase also uses the double-swipe as the move after setting up as if he’s blocking the tight coverage at the line. His double swipes are often sudden and violent.
Chase has a double hesitation pattern off the line that sets up a shoulder reduction and wipe. The hesitation could be sharper and more sudden. He also uses this double hesitation pattern as the basis for a diamond release.
Chase will use a hip shift to force tight man-to-man at the line to shoot his arms first and then use a swat-and-rip combo with the outside arm swatting and inside arm ripping to work outside the defender and stack immediately.
He’ll also switch his foot position, wait for the defender to shoot his hands, and deliver a shed. This earns Chase an outside release.
He’ll also uses a quick-two step pattern combined with a shoulder shake and shed to work outside tight man coverage at the line of scrimmage. Chase also uses the two-step in conjunction with a blade release to reduce the front shoulder than the shed with that arm. However, the shed needs more violence.
His swat is good enough to pair with the quick-two and it’s successful when he uses it to get inside a defender on slants.
Chase also uses a hip shift to set up a swipe at the line, beginning with a J-step/sweep-step of the back foot at the beginning of the release before stepping forward. Most impressive is that Chase will continue to fight through a defender’s position if this combination doesn’t work, following up with shed as the defender maintains position and shoots hands.
With short targets near the line of scrimmage, Chase has a trigger step that’s violent enough to earn quick separation with a snap turn to the quarterback.
Chase varies his release footwork and timing. He may use a double hesitation for a diamond release on a slant during one rep and then use a one-step stretch or a trigger step, pause his feet, and drum his arms and hip shift before breaking inside on the next slant.
The hand technique that he uses the least often during the first two games watched is the one most receivers use too much—the chop.
Chase has the strength to swat through a jam at the line and force the man’s position to the outside with the maneuver. This allows Chase inside unfettered. To get inside, he’ll also use a quick-three paired with a shed if the defender shoots his hands.
When dealing with a defender playing him tight up the stem, Chase uses a shed to keep the defender’s hands off him and will use it repeatedly during the stem if needed. Off the line, Chase uses a dip-and-rip with his shoulder and inside arm to ward off the reach of a safety or linebacker shooting their hands from the inside.
Chase uses a double-up technique with his outside foot when stealing a release from the coverage during a running play.
Separation: Chase has the acceleration to win deep and his double moves are fluid enough to earn and sustain separation against man coverage in this range of the field. After the catch, Chase has the acceleration on in-breaking routes to defeat angles of multiple defensive backs as he works from the middle of the field to the sideline.
Chase will stack an opponent within the first 10 yards of the line of scrimmage if he earns a step on the cornerback. He has no problem earning separation 20-30 yards downfield when facing press coverage at the line.
According to the RSP’s data source, Chase has had one of the fastest displays of top-speed among this class of wide receivers during the past two years. This mark places him easily within the elite tier of this trait and it’s not a fluke occurrence.
Route Stems: Against off-coverage, Chase works off the line through his stem with his eyes forward, head up, and shoulders over his knees. Chase widens stems on slants to set up the break inside against off-coverage. He does the same with intermediate and vertical routes to set up breaks inside.
Chase varies his stems that set up breaks inside with initial dives inside against off-coverage, but then flatten out to challenge vertically before breaking inside at the last moment.
Route Setups: Chase also sets up breaks with a widening of the stem and then a stutter and inset to set up a break outside. He set up the end zone fade with the peek inside just behind the shallow coverage before working to the corner.
Chase will vary that peek inside on the end-zone fade with a full-on dive inside before stopping and reversing course behind the defender’s back by cutting back to the vertical line and then fading to the boundary late. When running a deep curl or comeback, Chase will sell the go route or post with a peek inside long enough while he’s stacked the defender to convince the defender that the ball is arriving inside. He’ll then make a sharp break on a curl or comeback.
When given the defender’s back, Chase will take it. When dealing with tight coverage holding onto him up the flat, Chase will lean and peek to the boundary as part of a stair-step to separate to the inside—even if it’s just to get straight downfield.
Route Breaks: Chase runs speed breaks with a break step, drive step, and line step. He snaps the turn and gets his head and eyes around to the quarterback while making himself a friendly target with the position of his chest and shoulders out of the break. His drive step is sharp enough to get a flat break with short routes. He breaks back to the ball on speed-outs.
He drops his weight well enough to deliver a quick-three break back to the passer after he’s set up the defender by working into the man’s back. Chase is also quick out of his weight drop back to the passer.
Chase also drops his weight well enough to deliver a hard break, drive, and line step after running a stem 30 yards down the field. He’ll work back to the quarterback immediately out of the break.
On routes breaking back to the quarterback, he will work back to the passer and the ball. Chase doesn’t pump his arms after the break, which slows him down and tips off his expectation of the target. He drops his hips well on the hitch-and-go double move against tight coverage.
Zone Routes: Chase runs the intermediate crosser effectively, flattening the break to get well under the safety. He’ll identify the shallow and deep defenders to determine where he’ll break into the zone between them and work beyond the shallow defender before making his break and throttling down to present an easy target. When the first break into an open area doesn’t earn a target, he’ll work towards another opening.
Route Boundary: Chase can extend for the ball away from his frame while in full stride and then make a sudden punch to get both feet inbounds against tight coverage. He also has the coordination to drag the foot at the catch-point and if there’s room follow up with tapping the front foot if he gets the drag foot to the ground first.
When running the comeback or sideline curl, Chase can extend for the ball outside the boundary, keep his feet moving inside the boundary, and transition back inside and up the field.
Pass Tracking: Chase tracks the ball over his shoulder as well as above his head and doesn’t leave his feet unnecessarily. He can work back shoulder with a defender inside and make the late turn and late extension of his hands to attack the ball efficiently. He also tracks the ball over his head near the boundary. On underthrown targets, Chase has a well-timed jump-back to the ball that he has shown he can do repeatedly.
Hands/Catch Radius: Chase attacks the ball at the earliest point above his head or away from his chest and without leaving his feet. When high-pointing, he catches the ball at the highest point and has a solid pull-down technique. Chase digs out low targets below the knee—even with back-shoulder targets against tight coverage. He gets his hands under the ball while leaning over his frame.
Chase uses the appropriate framing of the target, and he’ll use the high-range framing for beltline targets to attack at the earliest point. He pulls the ball to a secure position fluidly and immediately. He extends his arms well to get them ahead of his frame on sail routes against tight coverage. He also has the flexibility and hand-eye coordination to reach behind his breakpoint to attack the ball with his hands away from his back shoulder to pull the ball into his frame while his momentum is taking him downfield.
With low targets, he’ll use low-hands framing at knee height or below. Chase can reach behind his break near his back-hip to win a low target. He’ll even squat towards the target and keep his back to the defender with the hope of pivoting outside the defender trailing over top.
Position: Chase makes timely jump-backs on back-shoulder fades against tight coverage with an inside position on the ball arriving inside. He has a good pull-down to turn away from the defender’s reach. When digging out low targets, Chase will embrace the fall, turning his frame so he doesn’t land on the football.
Focus: Chase can make the high-point catch with a cornerback tight and in his chest reaching for the ball with his hand in the receiver’s face. He’ll also extend away from his frame with over-the-shoulder targets and a safety bearing down as he makes the grab—taking a glancing shot to his side as he does so.
Chase will take a hit to his hip from a safety over the top on a slant as soon as he secures the ball after extending for the target. He’s strong enough to bounce off the contact with a balance touch. Chase wins targets while taking hard hits to his back or shoulders that drop him hard to the ground as if he’s been ear-holed by the defender.
Transitions: Chase makes it a habit to catch-and-pierce upfield on routes breaking back to the quarterback. He’ll make a sudden spin to pull through the reach or wrap of a defensive back.
Chase has the explosion to extend behind his breakpoint on the slant and still turn upfield and break a tackle. He can also extend beyond his frame with the momentum of the break near the boundary, and curl back inside without leaving the field of play.
Elusiveness: When facing downhill pursuit in the open field, Chase has an effective juke with a shoulder and/or head fake to bait the opponent. He’ll use a spin to work through reaches and wraps.
Chase also uses his pads well enough to duck under reaches high to his frame. During the contact, he has the awareness to rotate his frame to allow the defender’s momentum to pass over him and break the tackle for him.
Chase doesn’t show this often, but he can open his hips and make sharp turns as an open-field runner. There’s a turn with 0:51 left in the half against Georgia in 2019 that belongs on Rondale Moore’s tape.
Vision: Chase will test pursuit with a stutter or another move in an attempt to freeze the defense, but he only makes an efficient move. If it doesn’t work, he’ll split the defense to get what he can from the run.
Power: Chase has a violent and quick stiff-arm to wipe away reaches or push opponents to the ground. He’s strong enough to pull through reaches and wraps from direct and indirect angles of pursuit, including linebackers. Chase will pull through multiple reaches and wraps when he’s working north-south. He finishes with a low pad level when splitting the defense.
Direct Contact Balance: Chase takes head-on contact to his hip and maintains balance with strong balance-touch technique that he’ll use with consecutive steps if needed. He’ll stalemate some linebacker contact head-on.
Indirect Contact Balance: Chase will often run with a wide base, and it helps him maintain his balance through reaches and wraps from indirect angles. He can bounce off glancing shots from defensive backs and linebackers.
Blocking: Chase will work downhill to the safety but didn’t show urgency to attack. He took contact from the safety and was late to bring his hands up for an interaction/attack.
Chase has an effective beginning with his stalk blocks in Man-Over-Me situations. He’ll break down a couple of steps from the opponent, get his knees bent, and shoot his hands with an uppercut and roll of his hips.
A tighter position to the defender when he begins his punch will earn him greater leverage because he’s taken the air out of the interaction and he’s less likely for the defensive back to lock out and shed with a push-pull effort.
When he’s shed, Chase will work back to the defender and deliver a shot to slow the opponent’s pursuit of the ball carrier.
He’s not consistent with his hands as a blocker. He’ll shoot them outward rather than with an uppercut and do so slowly on stalk blocks downfield against the off-corner.
When Chase does this, he doesn’t earn tight enough position and he’s prone to locking his arms out and the opponent controlling the interaction. When he delivers a good punch, which doesn’t happen every game (every 3-4 games), he can dominate the interaction with a defensive back or weakside linebacker.
He’ll set up angles on the single-receiver side of the field, working inside the cornerback and then fanning outside to create space underneath his block for the back working to the perimeter.
Ball Security: Chase secures the ball quickly to his frame after the catch and uses a high position to his chest. The elbow can be tighter to his side and the high position to the chest has lapses as he issues fakes.
When Chase has the room, he’ll switch the ball from his right arm upon catching it in the middle of the field to his left arm as he reaches the left flat and sideline.
Durability: Chase had no significant injuries during his career.
Pre-Draft Fantasy Advice: Is Chase the most productive fantasy receiver in this class? We won’t get a better indication if he’s in the running for that label until after the NFL Draft. Is he the most talented for the widest range of roles that NFL offenses use for the position? Absolutely.
I fully support anyone who believes that Waddle will drafted into a Hill-like role and therefore will make Waddle it’s WR1 for fantasy purposes. It’s a calculated gamble worth taking for some. Still, reminds me of a player with Roddy White’s speed in his prime and White’s and DeAndre Hopkins’ play in tight confines. That’s tough to pass up.
Boiler/Film Room Material (Links to plays):
- RSP Boiler Room: Game That Speaks In Complete Sentences
- RSP Boiler Room: When You Can’t Separate the Technician from the Athlete
- Ja’Marr Chase Career Highlights
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