Ja’Marr Chase opted not to play during the 2020 season after his stellar campaign the year before, which saw him put up over 1700 yards with 20 touchdowns for LSU. Since he hasn’t played in over a year, the last meaningful pass he’s caught came from Joe Burrow.
With the Cincinnati Bengals having selected him fifth overall in April, so will the next one, as they reunite the Tigers connection in their offense, which cost them two top-five picks over the span of two years to do so. And they’re also counting on that connection carrying over, though Chase believes it will.
“We can look at each other and already know what we’re thinking”, he told reporters recently, even noting that it has been a common occurrence during OTAs these past two weeks, while Burrow is rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered in the second half of last season. “I just knew it. I just know sometimes. I had a feeling”.
The two were only teammates for two seasons, and Chase was not nearly as big a part of LSU’s offense in 2018 as he was during his breakout campaign a year later, but he still feels the strength of that connection that helped drive them and the school to an undefeated season that ended in a national title.
He told reporters that they have non-verbal communication on the field, the way Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown had, but he wasn’t worried about teams picking up on it, saying that they “make it unnoticeable”, noting full well that he understands NFL teams will pay attention to such things.
While Chase did not play last season, Burrow, of course, was a rookie starter for the Bengals, ultimately playing 10 games before suffering his injury. By then, he had completed 264 of 404 pass attempts for 2688 yards with 13 touchdowns to five interceptions.
Fellow rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins and veteran slot receiver Tyler Boyd were his primary targets, the only players to catch 50 or more passes. Higgins put up over 900 yards and Boyd not far behind him, combining for 10 touchdowns. A.J. Green caught only 47 passes on over 100 targets for 523 yards and two scores.
Green moved on in free agency, and it certainly felt like it was time, the former fourth-overall pick seeking a fresh start after injuries derailed his career. Chase is the new top-five draft pick, who hopes to have the same sort of impact.
The Bengals made the postseason five years in a row when they drafted Green in 2011, a franchise-first (they’d never even made it three years in a row before, and in fact, they only went to the postseason two years in a row one single time).
If they manage it, it will be on the strength of the bond shared between Burrow and Chase as they formulate the new nucleus of the offense for the next decade or more—in theory. Maybe this time they’ll even manage to win a playoff game, something that hasn’t happened in over 30 years.