Ja’Marr Chase is an outlier. This statement is obvious, but it’s worth repeating ahead of the AFC Championship Game, when he’s bound to draw the attention of Kansas City’s secondary.
The 99th percentile receiver prospect, Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite, record-breaker and top receiving threat on a team one game away from going from four wins to the Super Bowl in a year’s time put together arguably the best season by a first-year wide receiver ever. But let’s not argue. Rather, let’s simply enjoy the absurd stats that comprise Chase’s Second Team All-Pro rookie campaign.
Chase reunited with his college quarterback, Joe Burrow, in Cincinnati and made a lot happen with (comparatively) a little this season. The NFL’s three leaders in receiving yards—Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson—were all in the top five by targets. Chase’s 1,455 receiving yards were the fourth-most in the league and most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. That was despite him seeing the 19th-most targets (128).
Even relative to the rest of his team, Chase was not peppered with targets. Tee Higgins missed three games and came close to beating out Chase for the most targets on the team (110). Higgins’ target share was actually slightly higher than Chase’s, edging him out 23.57% to 23.25%.
Chase also wasn’t among the 10 receivers to top 100 catches this season. He was much further down that list, tied for 20th with Darnell Mooney and behind Cole Beasley and Jakobi Meyers.
What he did with the 81 passes he hauled in over 17 games set him apart.
A 70-yard score against the Packers, an 82-yard bomb against the Ravens and a 72-yard touchdown against the Chiefs represent part of what made Chase great. He averaged the second-most yards per catch (18) among qualified pass-catchers behind only Deebo Samuel (18.2). Many of the other players among the league leaders in yards per catch were straight up deep threats, like Bryan Edwards, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Deonte Harris.
Chase was one of three receivers in the top 10 in yards per catch to surpass 1,000 yards (Samuel and Tyler Lockett are the other two). He also had the most catches of any player in that grouping.
He beat defenses by going deep and turning relatively short catches into big gains. Chase finished seventh in yards before catch (804) and third in yards after catch (651). He was one of three receivers—along with Kupp and Adams, good company once again—to be top 10 by both metrics.
Chase’s average depth of target of 12.6 yards ranked 25th in the NFL—the highest mark for a Pro Bowl receiver. Again, many of the qualified receivers ahead of him were less productive, less frequently targeted deep threats a la DeSean Jackson, Zay Jones and Nelson Agholor. Other top-flight receivers like Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, Mike Evans and Terry McLaurin had a higher average depth of target than Chase, but they were not nearly as efficient as Chase after the catch, further driving home Chase’s unique playmaking abilities.
Other rookie pass catchers matched—or surpassed—Chase’s numbers in certain categories. Kyle Pitts and Jaylen Waddle also topped 1,000 yards; Waddle caught 104 passes, breaking the rookie catch record in the process; Pat Freiermuth established himself as a premier red-zone target. Chase put it all together in Year 1, though, which is why he’s being compared to the league’s stars rath
er than his fellow rookies. He wasn’t great at one thing—he was great at everything.
Chase’s college teammate Jefferson exploded as a rookie and was even better in his sophomore season. The hope for Chase in Year 2 is to do the same, and he’s already getting first-round buzz for 2022 fantasy drafts.
There will be plenty of time in the offseason to talk about Chase’s draft stock. And it’s because of Chase’s greatness, in part, that Cincinnati’s offseason has yet to begin. The Bengals have a Sunday afternoon date with the Chiefs—the team they beat in Week 17 behind Chase’s 266-yard game—that could send them to the Super Bowl. They’ll need Chase’s help to get there as the legend of his rookie season only grows.