For the first time in nearly a decade, the Cincinnati Bengals believe they have something at the receiver position that’s been missing all these years: Versatility.
Now, for the last decade the Bengals did have AJ Green — a perennial top five talent — at receiver, so it’s not like the Bengals finally addressed the position ahead of the 2021 season. They’ve never had a receiver quite like rookie Ja’Marr Chase though.
Selected fifth overall out of LSU, Chase reunites with former college teammate Joe Burrow, providing the Bengals with big-play talent and (there’s that word again) versatility at the position being able to line up inside or outside and run a full route tree.
ESPN NFL Nation Bengals’ beat report Ben Baby writes that while Green was almost exclusively lined up outside the numbers for the bulk of his career, Chase has the flexibility to be used across the formation, which could unlock a new level to the Bengals’ offense.
“I think we got a lot more balance and can just call anything now,” Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd told reporters Tuesday. “We don’t gotta worry about guys being in certain spots.”
Though Boyd is almost exclusively a slot receiver in Cincinnati, having a guy like Chase that can move all over the formation can help create mismatches offensively for the Bengals with Boyd, Chase, and Tee Higgins likely getting one-on-one matchups against opposing defenses.
Chase was in the slot on almost 40% of his snaps in 2019 in his Biletnikoff Award-winning season at LSU, so he’s familiar with the position, which gives Cincinnati that dynamic they lacked with Green. In his 10 years with the Bengals, Green lined up outside on 84.7% of his snaps, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Out of the 9,430 career receiving yards Green racked up in his career with the Bengals, 81% of them came when he was positioned near the boundary, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
With Chase, he says he’s looking forward to the extra space the NFL field offers compared to the college fields he tore up, largely due to the placement of the hashmarks.
“It’s going to take time to get used to, but I actually like it,” Chase said after rookie minicamp on May 14. “It feels like the field is way wider, bigger, and I think that’s actually better.”
With the added versatility, the Bengals’ passing game could take a significant step forward in 2021 with Burrow leaning heavily on guys like Chase, Higgins and Boyd. Of course, that’s all assuming the Bengals can actually protect him this season.