Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase entered the NFL with sky-high expectations. His early work at the pro level may be causing the bar to drop.
And drop is the key word.
Chase dropped three passes in Friday night’s preseason game at Washington. All three came on third-down plays. If caught, each play likely would have resulted in a first down for Cincinnati.
It’s still way too early for Chase’s underwhelming work in training camp and the preseason to cause concern for the Bengals. He opted out in 2020, so he’s still getting himself reacquainted with the game of football — and it’s happening at a level of football he’s never before experienced.
“I’ve got to take it slow,” Chase said earlier this month. “I realized this offense is very detailed. I had to take my time. The first couple of days I wasn’t doing so well. Of course. I kept pushing forward. Me sitting out that year, I’m not going to be so fast getting back to my normal self. It’s all mental. It’s all mental right now.”
The talent he displayed in 2019 at LSU is undeniable, and it came against the highest level of competition that college football has to offer. As he gets his preseason work without former teammate Joe Burrow throwing the passes, Chase understandably is going to need some time to get comfortable, especially when (as happened with one of the drops on Friday night) the throw takes him in the direction of a defensive back who would have been able to deliver a potentially big hit.
The question of whether the Bengals should have drafted tackle Penei Sewell has lingered since the decision was made to give Burrow not a protector but a weapon. Although anything that happens during the games that don’t count doesn’t matter, it’s definitely going to make some wonder whether the Bengals may have gotten it wrong. It will be up to Chase to prove through reps and time and far more catches than drops that the Bengals made the right call.
Still, the clock is ticking inevitably toward Week One, when Chase and the Bengals host the Vikings. That’s when Chase will, or won’t, begin the process of proving that the Bengals took the right guy.
Then there’s the fact that Chase’s career won’t be defined by anything that happens in his rookie season. Indeed, there was a rookie receiver who dropped a bunch of passes 36 years ago. Things ended up working out pretty well for him; his name was Jerry Rice.