History Says to Be Bullish on Ja'Marr Chase's Fantasy Football Outlook as a Rookie
The 2021 wide receiver draft class was highly touted leading into NFL Draft night, and it was Ja'Marr Chase, ultimately, who wound up being the first of them drafted.
The Cincinnati Bengals landed the LSU prospect with the fifth overall pick, forgoing investment in a struggling offensive line. That should tell us plenty about how they view Chase's potential and immediate impact on the offense.
What does such high draft capital suggest for Chase's fantasy prospects, and where is numberFire's algorithm landing on Chase as a rookie?
The Best of the Best
Since 2006, we have seen 15 wide receivers drafted within the top 10. (For these purposes, we'll count Kevin White's four-game 2016 season as his rookie year.)
Among the dozen of these 15 who played at least 10 games in their first year, half of them finished as top-30 receivers in half-PPR scoring formats, and a seventh (Calvin Johnson) was the WR37.
On a per-game basis, 8 of the 12 finished as the WR45 or better with three top-20 seasons (Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and A.J. Green).
More specifically, receivers drafted in the top five finished as the overall WR37 five of six times. Only Corey Davis failed to do so.
So, the odds are quite good for Chase to have a productive first year if this small group of elite talent is indicative of anything.
The Team Fit
Chase will be reuniting with his college quarterback, Joe Burrow, in Cincinnati.
Chase emerged in 2019 as a sophomore with a receiving line of 84 catches on 121 targets for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns with Burrow leading the charge under center.
(For comparison, Justin Jefferson, who posted a top-10 fantasy season as a rookie last year, in the same offense saw 134 targets, 111 catches, 1,540 yards, and 18 touchdowns.)
Now, Chase will contend with last year's 33rd overall pick, Tee Higgins, and slot receiver Tyler Boyd for targets.
Even projecting them for similar volume (numberFire is anticipating 135 targets for Higgins, 127 for Chase, and 127 for Boyd) leaves enough room in the high-volume passing game for plenty of fantasy relevance for Chase.
Just how good can he be in 2021?
Ja'Marr Chase's 2021 Fantasy Football Projection
numberFire's algorithm is projecting Chase to finish as the WR21 with a line of 83 catches on 127 targets for 1,166 yards and 6.4 touchdowns.
My projections expect Chase to lead the team in target share but are still a smidge lower based on expected output -- but not by much.
He's the WR24 in my projections with an expected rookie line of 130 targets, 81 catches, 959 yards, and 5.6 receiving scores. That's well within the range of mid-level WR2 output with better-than-projected yards-per-target data or touchdown rate.
The volume is going to funnel through the team's top three, and that puts Chase on the path for a WR2-level rookie season with some obvious upside for one of the better recent rookie seasons we've seen from a receiver.
His NFC average draft position slots him in right in this range as the WR23 since the start of May. There may not be much draft value on him at that spot, but the historical precedent says we should be bullish on Chase in 2021.