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Better Know a Freshman: Ja’Marr Chase

Smooth WR should make an instant impact.

It’s fair to wonder why top flight WR talent continues to flock into Baton Rouge. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry aside, it’s hard to stack up the numbers of LSU WRs in the past 15 years and think excellence. Even players that were strong contributors at LSU, like Brandon LaFell, Rueben Randle and DJ Chark, when compared to nationally elite players at the position, look like no. 2 and no. 3 WRs, not the team’s leading target. Many of these players wind up drafted, and most of them were highly ranked HS prospects, but in the in-between they are just kinda... average.

So here we are again, with yet another star-studded WR class, yet again banking on potential. Is this yet another chapter in the same story?

The Story

Ja’Marr Chase took the long road.

I make no secret that I have openly questioned Chase during the recruiting process. It’s never been about his ability nor his work ethic, but his recruitment played out like a circus bit complete with juggling flaming bowling pins. So let’s start from the beginning.

Before his Junior season, Chase started receiving offers. Arkansas State. Ole Miss. TCU. Arkansas would come through in September. Indiana and Tennessee in January. Then, after taking a visit with a handful of New Orleans prospects, Chase shockingly pulled the trigger on a commitment to Kansas, who hired Tony Hull from famed Warren Easton in New Orleans. Most of the world knew better than to believe that commitment would stick. Kansas is... well Kansas and Chase is a prospect hitting in a different stratosphere.

Eight days later Chase backed off the verbal pledge. Just three days later, LSU came through with their offer. It’s worth asking: Why did LSU wait until the Spring before Chase’s senior season to extend an offer? The true story isn’t likely ever to be told, but there’s plenty of rumor to suggest that the previous coaching regime may not have been as fond of Chase as his national perception. By comparison, LSU offered his classmate Kenan Jones in July... before his Junior season. What lead to that decision making is mystifying, but the result is clear: Chase distanced himself from LSU. He made the home team earn it.

Chase collected a handful of more offers. He camped at LSU. He took an unofficial visit to TCU. He lined up a public commitment announcement with the NFL network, live from the Opening on July 2nd. The NFL Network made a scheduling boo boo, putting a damper on the entire affair and forcing Chase to re-consider his options. At the time, most expected him to verbally pick TCU.

Later that month, he took an unofficial visit to Florida and wound up pulling the trigger on a commitment to the Gators on the heels to that trip. If you are keeping score, that’s two verbal commitments and one more attempt to make a verbal commitment thwarted not of his volition.

Slowly, LSU chipped away. WR coach Mickey Joseph remained ever present, dialing up the relationship along with Orgeron. The two didn’t press for a commitment. They played the persistent game. You want a lesson on how to fix a damaged relationship with a recruit? This right here is your example. News began leaking that Chase may be re-considering LSU.

Chase took a visit to Florida, unofficially, to take in the LSU/Florida game. LSU won the game and got Florida’s coach fired. Chase had a lot to think about. At the end of October, Michigan offered, piquing Chase’s interest. A week later, Chase de-committed from Florida, re-opening his process.

Now at the end of his football season, Chase dug in for official visits. Michigan in late November. TCU in December. Finally, in mid-January, Chase visited LSU officially. Despite a strong visit, Chase pressed on, taking in Auburn on the last weekend before National Signing Day.

By this point, the world knew Michigan were eliminated due to lack of proximity to home. TCU, one of his former top interests, also faded to the back. Heading into the first Wednesday in February, Chase narrowed to a pair of SEC schools: LSU & Auburn. But he remained tight-lipped.

On national signing day, rumors swirled that Chase may ultimately wind up at Auburn. One reporter even claimed Chase told him as much. Some may find fault with the lie, but imagine being hounded at every corner for an answer. I would say whatever it took to get reporters to leave me alone as well. Later that day Chase made it official and signed with LSU. If winning an in-state recruiting battle can be an upset, this was an upset. Mickey Joseph earned his pay check and Orgeron proved he still had some of that mojo that made LSU enticed to hire him.

The Numbers

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has “can’t miss” talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Ranking: ****
247 Composite Rating: .9589

Chase ranks 84th nationally and as the 15th best WR in a very, very stacked WR class. I’ve read more than one recruiting expert insist they would take Chase over any WR in this class, including his more heralded co-signee, Terrace Marshall. At 6’1”, 195, Chase doesn’t have quite as much length as Marshall, but he’s already built like a RB. Physically, he’s similar to former Clemson WR and current Texans stud DeAndre Hopkins. They list at the exact same height & weight coming out of HS.

Chase accepted an invite to the Under Armour All-American game.

The Film

The first word that comes to mind when watching Chase is natural. He makes things, difficult things, often look effortless. With Chase, everything looks smooth and simple. There are athletes that pop on tape when it comes to speed and explosiveness and then athletes like Chase that look like they are consistently running in slow motion and yet, no one is catching them.

I’ve read some critiques that Chase lets the ball get into his body, but it doesn’t show up here. He’s very natural and extending and plucking the ball out of the air. I’m not saying he is to that level, but the way he catches the ball and the way he moves remind a lot of OBJ.

He shows some pretty serious leaping ability and a good feel for timing jump balls. He also looks pretty strong in the screen game, and can explode into the open field to turn short catches into big plays. He’s got some change of direction ability.

That said, this isn’t a guy that should live and die by screens. Running in the open field is not his best skill (though his ferocious stiff arm may beg to differ). I think he looks like a true outside threat. At 6’1” and what should be over 200 pounds, he should also be a strong blocker in the run game.

The Future

At various points I’ve questioned Chase due to the way his recruitment played out. I think HS kids should enjoy the process but the entire thing seemed to weigh on Chase differently. From feeling overlooked by LSU to flipping his commitment multiple times to a still weird failed TV commitment leading to no commitment at all, it all just sorta... irked me. Picking my favorite team in the end doesn’t dissuade me from that thought.

That said, he carries a pretty sterling reputation amongst his HS coaches. Chase is not afraid of hard work and this video will really have you believing. You watch that video and you wouldn’t believe for a second that that’s a kid that flip flopped between various schools during his recruitment. He seems a young man of conviction and drive.

Assuming that’s the player that comes to Baton Rouge, Chase should make an instant and lasting impact. LSU’s WR depth chart is crowded but lacking distinction. All eyes turn to Jonathan Giles to be the heir apparent to DJ Chark, but beyond him the coaching staff is still waiting for players to distinguish themselves. Chase’s co-signee, Marshall, arrived in the Spring, giving him a leg up on the competition, though he’s also recovering from injury. Chase arrived last week and so begins his climb to the top.

If Chase shows up more like the indecisive, impressionable kid of the recruiting process, well, he may never ascend to the top of LSU’s depth chart.

But I’m betting on a winner here. I think Chase shows a nice mixture of physical upside and work ethic. LSU’s signed plenty of high profile WRs in the last decade, but perhaps no signee duo can stack up to Chase/Marshall, who should finally restore great WR play to Baton Rouge.

High End: All-American. 1st round pick.
Low End: Extensive contributor and rotational starter.
Realistic: All-SEC. Top 3 rounds pick.