It is far, far too early for fantasy football analysis. We just found out who teams are playing against but with little to no injuries about injuries and contract holdouts or the like, it is hard to come up with cogent arguments.
This series will review the value of specific rookies and as we are far out I will focus on rookies who are the most likely to have a starting role, who will have one from the get go and how I believe that will project outward. At the end, I will indicate where I think the given player SHOULD be drafted. This way, if you miss out on the player because someone pulled the trigger too prematurely, you can smirk and pick someone more valuable when the pick comes around to you. Likewise, if the player no one believes in falls to you, it’s time for a mental fist-pump.
***before we get started each week I will remind everyone that the analysis in this series is based on regular, season-long point per reception scoring. It also assumes you play in a 12 team league***
Ja’Marr Chase is a stud. He’s 6’1” 200 lbs and seems to play even bigger. His ability to use his body as well as create separation had many believing that he was the stud WR in this class. He was picked 5th overall and was the first wide receiver to be chosen in 2021.
There are things that I really like about the LSU standout. What he lacks in route running refinement he makes up for with his explosiveness and ability to win balls in the air. He also has a body type that lends itself well to adaptability and I think his upright positioning and footwork can be improved by NFL level coaching.
All of that is well and good from a “true-football” perspective. However, what does this mean from a fantasy analysis. Firstly, Chase’s body is NFL ready so he’ll be able to play in most if not all packages immediately. Opportunity will be there from the get go. Despite their finish the Bengals looked decent while Joe Burrow was healthy.
The receiver room can be crowded in Cincinnati. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are legitimate threats. However, they all do somewhat different things. This is especially true of Boyd. Despite Boyd’s non-prototypical size for the position (6’2” 203 lbs) he played 76.6% of snaps from the slot last season and I don’t expect that to change.
In a lot of ways I expect Tyler Boyd to be the number one receiver. Burrow seemed to like to throw the ball in between the hash marks and is a player who averaged 4.5 deep passes per game (which ranked in the bottom ⅓ of quarterbacks last season). Burrow does have the LSU connection with Ja’Marr chase but, as we’ve discussed in previous editions of my “Way Too Early Fantasy Analysis” series, these narratives rarely hold up.
There is also a question of Burrow’s health. He’s coming off of an injury and his athleticism is part of what made the Bengals offense look dangerous at times last season. He holds the ball long and has an ability to escape pressure that allows him to buy time. Given the severity of the knee injury, it remains to be seen if he can return to form. Afterall, it is WAY TOO EARLY.
Where Chase benefits the team is in the downfield/ball winning scenarios that I’ve detailed. Given the injury, I think the Bengals will run even more play action than last season and this will help protect the young QB as well as give Chase a chance to get open down field. Additionally, I think the Bengals defense will have taken a step back and I expect them to trail in a lot of games in a season that has “middle of the pack” written all over it.
So let’s assume the team will have about 5-6 deep attempts per game. Given that Chase is the best downfield threat and isn’t likely to emerge as the number 1 receiver early in the season, expect 3-4 of those attempts to go to him. These are low efficiency targets and I can’t imagine a scenario where the higher percentage throws go to him more than a couple of times a game. Boyd and Higgins are, at this point, more refined route runners. Joe Mixon also takes a lot of these efficient opportunities away as he’s an underrated pass catcher who ran routes on 10.9% of the Bengals plays last season (while being targeted 4.3 times per game). This means that in a good game Chase will get about 7 looks and about half of those have a lower than 50% efficiency rate.
There is one argument that lends to tremendous upside. Firstly, he’s a freak. Secondly, when it came to deep ball efficiency the Bengals ranked dead last in Supporting Cast Efficiency. That indicates that Burrow was actually better at throwing deep than it appeared. His supporting cast really let him down which clarifies exactly why they drafted Chase and how they intend to use him.
Where should you draft Ja’Marr Chase: The upside is there and I feel like Chase will become the number 1 threat for the Bengals eventually. However, I think that may be more so in year three than his rookie campaign. Given that we expect Boyd to get the significant volume we’re left hoping for higher priority targets for Chase. His early ADP projection is mid-level WR 3. I see him more as a lowest level WR3/high tier WR4 with massive upside. Still I wouldn’t reach to pick him. I’d rather trade for him if he doesn’t produce early in the season.
Quick Analysis: I like the talent, I like the direction of the Bengals but there is some coaching that needs to be done with him. Additionally, the role is one that has you big-play and touchdown dependent. I don’t think Ja’Marr Chase is a boom or bust guy per se. However, he may lose you a week if he can’t capitalize on what I expect to be low efficiency targets.