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Ja'Marr Chase - NFL Prospect Profile

The 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Profile Series features prominent 2021 NFL Draft prospects with film analysis and scouting insights. I have experience working in college football and have been studying the NFL Draft for over 15 years. My analysis is based on film study and analytics.

A common misconception about the NFL Draft is that the college and pro games are very similar. They are not. Besides the obvious difference in speed and skill level, a college field has different hash mark distances and different rules. There are specific schemes and plays that NFL teams copy from college and vice versa. But the differences between the two are understated in NFL Draft coverage. There's a reason many highly-productive college players are not considered legitimate professionals.

To that end, scouting prospects is not about evaluating college performance, it’s about projecting traits that translate to the next level. This is not limited to just physical traits. There are certain football traits that are evident in college film and will translate to the pro game. For example, a wide receiver being able to get in and out of breaks efficiently will not change from college to pro. On the flip side, an edge rusher who got most of his sacks due to hustle or missed offensive line assignments may not have shown translatable traits on film. We will continue our draft coverage this year with LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

Ja'Marr Chase: Profile

Ja'Marr Chase put up one of the best WR seasons of all-time as a 20-year-old sophomore in 2019, catching 84 balls for 1780 yards and 20 TD en route to a National Championship with LSU.  He opted out of the 2020 season, but his standing as the consensus WR1 in the 2021 NFL Draft has been mostly unchallenged.

While his stats were certainly helped by an extraordinary supporting cast, including OC Joe Brady, QB Joe Burrow, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire and WR Justin Jefferson, Chase was the alpha WR1 on that historic LSU offense.  Chase's film is obviously impressive - you don't luck your way into that type of production - but in this series, we look to do more than just show you highlights.  You can see his strengths in this highlight reel, including great balance, hands, high-points, slants, suddenness, and run-after-catch ability.

Chase ran an unofficial 4.38 40 at his pro day, putting to rest any questions about his long speed.  He also showed explosion, jumping 41 inches on his vertical and 11 feet on his broad jump.  Chase is an elite athlete with elite production.  Let's dig into the film.

 

Dominating Pros

Florida CB C.J. Henderson was drafted ninth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  In the clip below, he attempts to tackle Ja'Marr Chase after the catch.

Alabama CB Trevon Diggs was drafted 51st overall in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.  In the clip below, Chase swipes Diggs' arms off and adjusts to the ball for the score. Chase's physical hands are one of his best traits, and allow him to beat press and win routes.

Clemson CB A.J. Terrell was drafted 16th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. In the clip below, Chase subtly works to stack him, and as the ball takes him outside (shoutout to Joe Burrow), he's able to hand-fight (push off so quickly and subtly - chicken wing style - that it won't be called) and gain a full two yards of separation for the score.

Terrell was exposed so badly by Chase in this game that the Clemson coaching staff stopped shadowing him with their No. 1 CB.  Instead, they tried Derion Kendrick, as shown in the clip below.

COME ON JOE!

But seriously, Chase's ability to win with physicality on the line of scrimmage and mid-route is special.  His strong hands and upper body, along with his uncommon suddenness, make him tough to stop in a phone booth.  Look again at the clip above.  Chase gives a double-hand swipe as he steps inside, leaving Kendrick in the dust.

 

Releases vs Press

Chase didn't run a crazy number of routes at LSU, and a lot of his production came from slants.  There are a bunch of ways to run slants against press.  In the clip below, he shoots his hands while taking an inside release, then pushes vertical before breaking to the inside.  The CB starts with inside leverage but loses it, and Chase earns position to box him out.  There are multiple instances of this on film where he simply uses his physicality to play "ball-me-man."

The clip below shows another slant release, this time with arm extension to bench press the DB off of him.

In the clip below he's matched up with C.J. Henderson in the slot.  Henderson is playing the motor technique (pressing without making contact with his hands), and Chase is able to use his suddenness to gain ground, keep Henderson on his hip, shoot his head outside, and break to the inside.

In the clip below, he's matched up with current Minnesota Viking Cameron Dantzler. Dantzler attempts to press, but Chase is too quick and works his violent hands and feet in unison, forcing Dantzler to fall down.

Kudos to LSU OC Joe Brady for seeing it, as he went to Chase on the clip below. This time Chase fakes inside and works a pull-down technique. Look how twitchy, violent, and compact his release is.  That's how it's done.

 

Suddenness 

Chase plays higher than most receivers, and will likely have to work on the intricacies of certain breakpoints (especially speed cuts) at the NFL level. He even mentioned at his pro day that he was working on lowering his hips.  He certainly has the athletic ability to develop into a terrific route-runner. It's kind of crazy how smooth he can win routes without really using much arm action. The clip below shows his uncommon suddenness on the snag-to-jerk route.

The clip below is probably my favorite Chase clip. He's running a dig and subtly stems outside right before the break. He hides in the DB's blind spot then suddenly accelerates flat to get separation. It's beautiful.

 

Areas to Improve

So we've seen Chase win vs press, win deep routes, high-point the ball, run-after-catch, and do basically everything you want in an alpha WR1.  His hand-fighting, physicality, and even in some reps blocking, make him the complete package.  But his film is not perfect which is kind of scary, because he still has room to grow as a player.

There main question surrounding Chase is whether or not he can consistently gain separation.  There are many reps on film where he fails to separate.  In the clip below, he runs a vertical and is dominated by the opposing CB.  It's a lazy route that doesn't display his explosion.  He turns his head too early, doesn't work to stack, and he can't re-gain position after losing.

The clip below is similar.  Chase does get even against off coverage, but the DB executes a good look-and-lean and impedes Chase's vision enough to not allow him to make the catch. For what it's worth, there is a very similar missed over-the-shoulder grab against Clemson. Maybe he's more comfortable running verticals on the right side of the field.

My suspicion about his lack of consistent separation is that he's so used to winning almost nonchalantly that he almost gets bored at the beginning of his routes.  Chase knows he can win late, so instead of exploding off the ball low (his stance and start is abnormally high), he banks on his suddenness winning for him at the top of the route or the catch-point.  When that doesn't happen, he looks like a guy who can't separate.  He absolutely can and will in the NFL. The weak parts of his game are correctable.

 

NFL Outlook

I thought there would be a Ja'Marr Chase vs DeVonta Smith debate this draft season. After Chase ran a 4.38 and DeVonta Smith decided not to weigh in, let alone run a 40, Chase has secured his spot as WR1. One of the most underrated traits in scouting WRs is the ability to deal with press coverage. Chase is elite in that area and has physicality and hand-fighting traits that translate in a big way. I expect him to be drafted in the top five and produce as a WR1 as early as his rookie year. He's that good.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more draft content in the coming days.

Read past Prospect Profiles here:

Trevor Lawrence - QB, Clemson

Trey Lance - QB, North Dakota State

Justin Fields - QB, Ohio State

Zach Wilson - QB, BYU

Mac Jones - QB, Alabama

Kyle Pitts - TE, Florida

DeVonta Smith - WR, Alabama

Rondale Moore - WR, Purdue

Elijah Moore - WR, Mississippi



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