When the Bengals took wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase with the fifth overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, there were people who thought they should have taken tackle Penei Sewell and those voices didn’t quiet down when Chase had issues catching the ball during the preseason.
Chase was able to quiet them down once the regular season got underway, however. Chase caught a 50-yard touchdown from Joe Burrow in a season-opening win over the Vikings and kept putting up big plays from there.
Chase finished the season with 81 catches for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns and saved some of his best work for late in the year. He caught 11 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 win over the Chiefs in Week 17 that clinched the AFC North title for the Bengals.
That performance gave Chase the record for rookie receiving yards in a single game and he also set a new mark for rookie receiving yards in a season in the Super Bowl era. With two catches for 26 yards in the final game of the regular season, Chase also set the franchise record for single-season receiving yards.
Chase’s production throughout the year made him PFT’s choice as the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.
There were several other impressive rookies on the offensive side of the ball. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones helped his team to the playoffs, Dolphins wideout Jaylen Waddle set a rookie record for receptions in a season, Falcons first-rounder Kyle Pitts became the second rookie tight end to hit 1,000 receiving yards, Steelers running back Najee Harris posted 1,200 rushing yards, and Chiefs center Creed Humphrey helped solidify the offensive line in Kansas City.
All of them deserve praise, but Chase wound up standing above the rest.