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Does evidence prove LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase is a natural underachiever?

Ja’Marr Chase is projected as a top wide receiver Prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft but former NFL scout Daniel Kelly has some questions.

Scouting Report: WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) Clocked 40: in high school reported 4.66, but at LSU reported 4.40 

Natural born and complete receiver with an elite skill set. Opt-out in 2020. Said he opted out for non-covid related reasons. Showed he can dominate at all route levels. He has a dynamic flare and feel to him. Able to achieve leverage and body positioning advantage at all route levels with strong and thick upper-body. Outstanding and confident hands.

Plucks the ball with his hands. Sure-handed. Burst onto the scene in 2019 with 84 rec/1,780 yards, 21.2 avg/20 TD, with a long of 78 (espn.com). In two years at LSU, Chase had a 79.3% catch rate (‘18) and 75.7% (‘19) according to playerprofiler.com. Consistent catcher. He is a threat every time he touches the ball. Showed ability to catch short to intermediate depth routes and pick up additional yardage. Slippery and somewhat elusive after catches.

He can shake defenders. Excellent “YAC” ability (yards after catch). Excels at running crossing and slant routes. Has combination of quickness, pure speed and toughness to go across the middle. He does not shy away from contact. Competitor. Fights for additional yardage. Also has ability to go deep and hit home-runs. He is able to take it to the house. Excellent instincts and ability to time jumps on 50-50 balls. Excellent ball skills and ball tracking skills. Shows excellent focus and concentration even with defenders in his face to haul in passes.

Showed ability to run away from defenders when he turned on the jets and he can also get behind a defense. Can kick it into another gear. Break-away speed. Chase is demonstrative after making plays, he lets everyone know he is the man. Showman. Plays with emotion. Complete receiver in every sense of the word, who is capable of even taking a handoff out of the backfield when he is called upon to do so. Dominated at the level he was at, almost looked like he was “toying,” with defenders at times. Decent, but not a great motor. Commitment and underachieving concerns. Talent wise, he is a big play-receiver who is capable of coming in, contributing and producing immediately. Should-be starter from day one.

Very capable of producing a monster rookie season. It will be very tempting for Cincinnati to take him at 5 and forego the tackle given his synergy and previous production with Bengals QB Joe Burrow, while the two played together at LSU. 

Where would I draft Ja’Marr Chase?

Daniel Kelly’s Draft Board: If I needed a star receiver and somehow he slipped down, I would strongly consider taking him between (10-32) in the first round. My scouting mentor taught me to “stick with the dynamic ones,” and Chase brings dynamic play-making ability. He is a game-changer and these are exactly the type of players who help win games. His game will also challenge everyone else to step up their game too when he is on going all-out. He exudes confidence. He knows he is good. My decision to either take him or not take him higher or at all would be based on how he responded to my questions below and based on what level of satisfaction I get about my concerns. There is no question just in terms of raw skill-set and talent, Chase is a top-10 talent. 

If I were a GM, I need three questions answered in my mind about Ja’Marr Chase: It is not a big deal, but I would want to look him in the eyes and ask him to explain why he committed to Kansas University and then decided to decommit eight days later. I would just like to hear that out, to gain a better understanding of his level of commitment in general. 

My second question is: tell me in detail as much as you can about what you have been doing this past year away from the game? 

My Top 5 concerns about Chase: 

1. I have the same concern with every player who opted-out. Will the year away from the field affect him? Will we get the same Chase in ‘21 we saw in ‘19? Bill Parcells had a saying, “Two years in the NFL is a lifetime.” A year away from the game can affect players from a physical and conditioning standpoint. It increases the risk upside. I would have to see him at a pro day as well to ensure nothing with him as dramatically changed in terms of his physical abilities (as much as a pro day would reveal). There is no real substitute for game film. 

2. How will he work with a new quarterback who is not named Joe Burrow? Since he stated he opted-out for non-covid related reasons, was the real reason he opt-ed out because he was afraid he would not be able to re-produce his 2019 production with a new signal-caller at LSU and he did not want to run the risk of affecting his NFL paycheck if his production went down? 

3. Burrow was LSU’s QB in 2018, but that season, despite playing in nine games, Chase’s season totals were dramatically much lower that year (17 rec/220 yards/12.9 avg/2 TD). 

4. I always have concerns or would need clarification on a player who “bursts onto the scene” for one year where there is not a steady and reasonable production ascent. He literally exploded onto the scene in 2019 and that is all we have to go off of. Why was he so dramatically better statistically in 2019 vs. 2018? Was it game-planning? Was it a motivation to get paid? Level of competition? What is the reason? 

5. Did not look or feel like he was going all-out all the time on film in 2019. Decent, but not a great motor. At times looked like he was running faster than at other times on film, especially when he was running away from a defense for a touchdown. Is he naturally an underachiever unless he is playing for a contract? The fact he was a two-star recruit (who ran a reported 4.66 coming out of high school) and then suddenly he ran a 4.4 at LSU might suggest so? The fact there was a night and day difference statistically in his 2019 season vs. his 2018 season might also suggest so? His history and production seems to suggest he only turns it on when he wants to — and strongly suggests he is an underachiever. 

How will NFL defenses shut-him down? Pray and lock their best corner on him one on one in man. Bracket coverages. Double coverages. Do everything possible to keep him from killing a defense with inside slants and crossing routes. Chase is an emotional player, try to get under his skin trash-talking him and relentlessly talk to him about what he is doing wrong. Get in his head with veteran defensive backs. 

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK. 

NFL Draft Diamonds was created to assist the underdogs playing the sport. We call them diamonds in the rough. My name is Damond Talbot, I have worked extremely hard to help hundreds of small school players over the past several years, and will continue my mission. We have several contributors on this site, and if they contribute their name and contact will be in the piece above. You can email me at nfldraftdiamonds@gmail.com

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