WR Ja’Marr Chase is talented and ready to impress in year one

Is Ja’Marr Chase ready to dominate in year one?

By: Brady Akins

With the option on the board to select an offensive lineman at their biggest position of need, the Cincinnati Bengals went all in on operation ‘Make Joe Burrow Happy,’ selecting a wide receiver for the team’s presumed quarterback of the future.

Not only a receiver, though, but Burrow’s former teammate at LSU — Ja’Marr Chase, the presumed top receiver from the 2021 NFL Draft.

Time will tell if Chase can live up to those high expectations, but as far as his rookie season is concerned, there are reasons for both optimism and pessimism that the former Tigers standout can thrive at the next level.

Optimistic

The last time Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase hooked up to toss around a football, it went fairly well.

As in ‘National Championship, highest-scoring offense in college football historic, individual recording break for both Burrow and Chase’ well.

As teammates with the LSU Tigers, Burrow and Chase thrived to a 15-0 championship season that was largely effortless. That team success came in huge part from the offense, which broke the record for most points scored in a season with a staggering 726. 

And the success of that record-breaking offense largely came from the passing attack– which earned Burrow a Heisman trophy on the heels of a 60 passing touchdown season, an all-time record, and earned Chase what was at the time an SEC record for most receiving touchdowns in a season with 20.

And wouldn’t you know it, those two record breakers at the helm for a record-shattering championship year in 2019 have now found themselves on the same NFL roster. 

History favors that connection continuing to thrive, especially considering the circumstances around the Bengals roster. In order to draft Chase fifth overall, Cincinnati first had to pass up on the opportunity to select a high-ceiling offensive line prospect, one that you could argue was more necessary than addressing the wide receiver group.

That decision may prove to be fatal for the offense as a whole, but it could benefit Chase in the short term. Clearly from their time playing together at LSU, Burrow has come to trust Chase enough to make him the leading receiver on a Tigers’ offense stacked with skill position talent. And with Burrow missing six games of his first professional season, there’s a chance that the quarterback hasn’t had enough time to establish that same level of trust with any of his new pass catchers.

So, when the pocket collapses and the play goes off script, who is Burrow going to be looking for? The answer, hopefully, will be Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow attempted 40.4 passes per game in 2020, the third-highest rate in the NFL. If Chase’s skill is as advertised, and the chemistry the two Tigers’ developed through their time in college stays strong, Burrow could be looking to his rookie receiver early, especially in times of duress in the pocket.

Hopeful Projection: 85 Catches, 1,250 Yards, 12 Touchdowns

Pessimistic 

Of course, for Chase to have any chance at all of fantasy football relevance, he’ll need Burrow to stay on the field. Easier said than done.

The injury Burrow suffered in Week 11 isn’t the average everyday season-ender. The quarterback tore his ACL and MCL on the same play, and is now expected to miss the entire preseason in an effort to play it safe.

That missed time, especially for a pair of young players like Burrow and Chase, could prove necessary in order to re-establish the chemistry they once had at LSU. And even if (that’s a big if, by the way) the two players are completely healthy and both on the same page– it doesn’t guarantee that their play will mirror what it did in college.

Burrow and Chase weren’t the only two people making that elite offense what it was. They were among the two biggest on-field contributors, sure, but they also had Joe Brady calling the plays– the man now coordinating the Carolina Panthers offense who generated a fair bit of head coaching buzz this past offseason. They had the help of Justin Jefferson, the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round superstar, taking pressure away from Chase. They had Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the backfield, making sure the defenses couldn’t simply drop eight defenders in coverage. 

And the Bengals have talent, sure, but relative to what LSU had on offense compared to the average SEC defense, Cincinnati doesn’t come close to that talent/play-calling mismatch. Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow aren’t in Kansas anymore. Or rather, in Baton Rogue. The defenses are tougher, and the man responsible for calling the plays of LSU’s offensive spectacle is off in a different conference. 

And let’s talk about talent for a second too. Because the Bengals do have it at receiver. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd were both factors in the Cincinnati offense, each with over 65 catches and 800 yards. And that was without Burrow in the lineup for a chunk of time. You don’t draft a receiver fifth overall unless you expect him to be the top guy in an offense, but that doesn’t make Higgins and Boyd non-factors. Rather, Chase will be competing for touches with that already established, proven pro-ready duo.

The Bengals drafted Joe Burrow’s favorite target in college, partially due to their established connection and chemistry. But that decision could end up blowing up in their faces in year one.

Doubtful Projection: 60 Catches, 790 Yards, Six Touchdowns

Realistic

Here’s the thing about those doubtful projections. At the end of the day, if Chase hits that worst-case scenario, he’s still doing pretty well. 

Definitely not a fantasy football star. Definitely not someone you would be happy to rely on in a 17-game season. But in terms of real-life football, that would be a strong rookie season, considering the questionable health of his quarterback and the recent struggles of the Bengals offense.

But here’s the reality. Ja’Marr Chase was drafted fifth overall for a reason. I won’t put on the role of NFL scout and break down Chase’s strengths and weaknesses, but I will trust the guy that was seen as the near-consensus best wide receiver in a draft that included the first Heisman winner at the position in three decades.

Without Joe Brady, expecting LSU numbers at any point in Chase’s career in Cincinnati would be foolish. Even with him, making 20 touchdown catches the expectation is somewhere near insanity. Especially considering who Burrow was as a player his rookie year. A solid, athletic, accurate young player with plenty of promise, but a guy who managed just 13 passing touchdowns in 11 games– a far cry from the 60 he had his final year in college.

That struggle to hit the endzone will reflect poorly on Chase, but will likely be made up for by the high-passing volume coming from the Bengals’ offense. Cincinnati was a bad team last year, even with Burrow. The Bengals won four games overall, and spent most of their time throwing the ball in a desperate effort to catch up. Cincinnati’s overall fate should still remain the same, with plenty of passing attempts in Burrow’s future. 

And yes, the connection between the two LSU teammates should not be overlooked. Even with other mouths to feed in the receiving corps, Burrow and Chase thrived together with the Tigers, and will head into Week 1 with instant chemistry, cutting out any annoying growing pains from Chase’s fantasy production.

Chase should be good in 2021. Good enough to consider drafting as a high-end FLEX option.

Realistic Projection: 75 Catches, 1,050 Yards, Eight Touchdowns

Why Trey Hendrickson is a serious Dark Horse DPOY candidate

Bengals Trey Hendrickson may win DPOY in 2021

By: Will Baptist

Trey Hendrickson will shoulder a lot of responsibilities after signing a 4 year $60 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. He will be the most talented pass rusher on the roster, and the Bengals need his presence to be felt immediately. After tying Aaron Donald for second in the NFL in sacks with 13.5 last season, he has become a force for opposing tackles to deal with.

Hendrickson has shown drastic improvement over the past two seasons and has blossomed into a dominant edge rusher. He has slowly started to take the field more often on early downs as he continues to develop as a run stopper. He played 53% of the Saints defensive snaps last year and if that number continues to grow, he can put up gaudy sack numbers. If he can successfully build on his breakout 2020 season, Hendrickson has a legitimate chance to compete for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

He will have his fair share of competition with Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt, Jalen Ramsey and so on. Aaron Donald won the award last year while also racking up 13.5 sacks, and has clearly been the best defensive player in the NFL over the last few seasons. Donald played 85% of the Rams snaps, while Watt played 83% of the Steelers snaps last season and finished with 15 sacks.

Watt, Donald and Hendrickson all racked up similar sack numbers, but Hendrickson played about 300 fewer snaps than both of them. That amount of production in only 53% of the snaps is extraordinary and will push him to develop the rest of his game in order to stay on the field more. If he can play up to at least 70% of the Bengals defensive snaps this year, he could potentially hit 20 sacks on the season.

There have only been 12 instances where a player has racked up 20 or more sacks in a season since sacks have become an official stat. With the additional game this season, it could become slightly more common, but it still will be extremely rare. Hendrickson would be in an elite company if he could get to 20 sacks but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

He has to play close to 800 snaps and remain healthy, but he also needs the players around him to be dominant at their position. If he is constantly getting double-teamed due to his teammates struggling, then it will be tough for him to win the award.

Talent surrounding him

Hendrickson had a terrific defense around him with the Saints, and Cam Jordan on the opposite side of the line to wreak havoc. Jordan drew most of the attention throughout the year and finished with 7.5 sacks, but Hendrickson has now made a name for himself. For Hendrickson to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, he needs a lot of talent around him such as he did last year.

One dominant defensive lineman can only do so much, but luckily for Hendrickson, the Bengals defense is much improved heading into the season. The line should take a massive leap forward with the return of D.J. Reader clogging up the middle and stopping the run. Sam Hubbard will be the other starting edge rusher and he just inked a new contract and is poised for a stellar season.

Hubbard had a somewhat disappointing 2020 season with only two sacks, but he excelled at stopping the run. He can work his way back to being a great pass rusher like he was in 2019 when he racked up 8.5 sacks in his second season in the NFL.

The secondary will be much better with the additions of Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, along with Trae Waynes returning from injury. Hendrickson can tally up coverage sacks as he did with the Saints if the secondary can play up to their potential in Cincinnati.

The Saints were an excellent team last year and finished the regular season at 12-4. Opposing teams were often losing and forced to throw the ball considering how good the Saints offense was. This helped Hendrickson with the ability to constantly rush the passer due to the Saints leading in most of their games.

The Bengals will need similar offensive production to get early leads and give Hendrickson the opportunity to get after the quarterback. If the Bengals do not improve much from their 4-11-1 record, the opposing teams will be run-heavy, and this will not play to Hendrickson’s strengths. With Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon healthy, the offense should not have an issue jumping out to early leads. Which should also lead to winning a lot more games for the Bengals.

Hendrickson will have his work cut out for him in the stacked AFC North and the firepower on the offensive side of the ball in that division. Chasing around Lamar Jackson will be a daunting task, but he showed how great he can be last year, and this franchise clearly believes in his talents and ability to grow.

The Bengals will need to be much better in order for Hendrickson to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. All the stars are aligning for the Bengals, and Hendrickson has the best chance of any player on the team to secure the award. His knack for getting after the quarterback and his extremely high motor are traits that translate to any franchise and system.

The 26-year old can prove that he can be one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and make the Bengals fans forget about losing Carl Lawson in free agency. If he can accomplish winning this award, or even be in the discussion for it, then the Bengals hit the lottery with this signing. He has all of the tools to win the award, it is simply a matter of remaining healthy and growing as an all-around defensive end to stay on the field more often.

3 reasons why the Bengals have a “chance” to win the AFC North

Can the Bengals win the AFC North?

By: Jake Rajala

The young Cincinnati Bengals team led by now second-year quarterback Joe Burrow finished last in the AFC North in 2020. As training camp kicks off for Cincy, there’s a lot of reason for new optimism heading into the 2021 season. 

The Bengals have upgraded the offensive weapons for Burrow, reeled in big free agent names on defense, and retained excellent Bengals. With a new-look team and attitude, the Zac Taylor mentored squad has their sights set on accomplishing great feats in 2021. Kay Adams, who leads the Good Morning Football crew, boldly predicts that Burrow will even lead the Bengals to a playoff berth. 

I believe that a playoff trip is very possible and the Bengals will be serious competitors in each of their 17 game slate. Yet, I want to take the bar a step further. It appears to be the potential playoff team should be in the conversation for a division title. It will be a serious hurdle for the 4-11-1 Bengals squad from a season ago to transcend into divisions, but it’s a real possibility

Here is why the Bengals stand a chance to win the AFC North in 2021.

  • Much improved pass rush

The Bengals passed the ball the second-most in the league with Joe Burrow under the helm. If Burrow’s offense is going to try and blow defenses out of the building, they need to be able to prevent offenses from torching their own defense. It doesn’t matter if the Bengals can put up high-scoring efforts if they can’t stop any opposing signal-caller. The Bengals were dreadful in 2020 at chasing QBs, as they ranked dead last in sacking the QB.

In 2021, there’s a lot of confidence in the Bengals front seven to have a turnaround and harass opposing QBs at will. The biggest difference will come from newly acquired pass rusher Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson had more sacks than Aaron Donald, despite missing one game and playing in a rotation with Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. The Bengals may have lost Carl Lawson, but they will have Sam Hubbard to lean in as a replacement. Hubbard notched 8.5 sacks in 2019. 

  • Ravens and Steelers QB situation

The Ravens and Steelers have undoubtedly stacked teams. Nonetheless, there are shaky factors with the Ravens QB and Steelers QB. These negative sides of the two divisional QB profiles could arise in 2021. 

The Steelers and Ravens carry the hardest course of schedule in the NFL. Lamar may be very electric, but he’s struggled mightily when tasked with facing quality teams on the big stage. He lost most of his CFB championship games, he’s been mostly porous on MNF showdowns, and he carries a 1-3 playoff record. Unfortunately, Lamar will be facing more talented teams in 2021 than he has in his career. 

Big Ben has often been a clutch player in big moments and he’s a sincere season veteran. However, the Steelers QB is clearly on the downhill of his career. The QB recorded a career-low Y/A in 2020 (6.3), which was a yard lower than his previous career-low (7.3). The Steelers QB is clearly on his last legs and he may see a sharper decline in what appears to be his last season in the NFL. I believe if the worst-case scenario at QB shows up for Pittsburgh, they could realistically squeeze out 7-9 wins, while the Ravens could get only 8-10 with a down year from Lamar. 

Truthfully, the Browns are AFC North favorites (no surprise) and real Super Bowl contenders. The Bengals will have to beat the Browns at least once, but it would be a tight finish for the prize if everything goes exceptionally well for the Bengals. The Bengals would need to reach their ceiling of 11 wins while beating the Browns at least once. Outside of beating the Browns head to head, a below-average version of OBJ and Clowney will have to surface for CLE throughout most of their season, while the pass defense needs to struggle if the Bengals want to edge out the Browns for AFC North glory.

Why the Bengals should consider signing Mitchell Schwartz

By: Will Baptist

It is no secret in Cincinnati that protecting franchise QB Joe Burrow is the key to success for the Bengals. After suffering a devastating knee injury that ended his season last year in week 11 against the Washington Football Team, he is on track to begin the year fully healthy.

There are still numerous talented offensive linemen on the free agent market that could provide a much needed boost to the Bengals line. The Bengals had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season, and they must continue to improve this group, to keep Burrow upright.

The player that stands out above all is OT Mitchell Schwartz, who could provide leadership and solidify the RT position for the Bengals. Schwartz has been a staple of the Chiefs offensive line for the last five seasons, and after battling injuries throughout 2020, he is a free agent, and the Bengals should aggressively pursue him.

Schwartz is 31 years old, and played 357 snaps last season, and only recorded one penalty and allowed two sacks. He recorded a PFF grade of 74.7 last season, while being Second-Team All-Pro in 2019. The Bengals desperately need consistency and leadership on their offensive line, and Schwartz is the perfect match, and would not be overly expensive to bring in on a one-year deal.

Schwartz is a former Super Bowl champion, and still has plenty left in the tank. That type of playoff experience could prove to be just what the Bengals need as they are trying to take the next step as an organization.

Bengals Additions to the OL

The Bengals lone outside signing on the offensive line during free agency was Riley Reiff, who has the ability to slide into guard, while Schwartz could make an immediate impact at RT. Reiff is 32, and along with second round pick, OG Jackson Carman, will be the only additions to the Bengals offensive line.

The Bengals still have over $20 million in cap space, and they have not done enough in the offseason to drastically improve the offensive line to ensure Burrow stays healthy.

After missing on multiple top tier free agent offensive lineman, and selecting WR Ja’Marr Chase over OT Penei Sewell, the Bengals offensive line remains a concern. They did improve the line by bringing back OL coach, Frank Pollack, who is a massive upgrade over his predecessor, Jim Turner.

Pollack was the OL coach in Cincinnati in 2018, when RB Joe Mixon had the best seasons of his career. The players and coaching staff are elated to have Pollack back in the building, and hopefully he can contribute to improving this group.

The Bengals have the talent to be a much improved group in 2021, led by LT Jonah Williams. Williams had his season cut short due to injury last year, but the former first round selection showed he has the potential to be an elite LT for years to come if he can remain healthy.

They will also be relying on C Trey Hopkins to make a full recovery after tearing his ACL in week 17 last year. It is concerning that the Bengals best offensive linemen and quarterback are coming off serious injuries, and they have to rely on them to bounce back next season.

Adding more offensive lineman, regardless of the cost, has to be the priority for this franchise. They cannot be complacent with just bringing in Reiff, and drafting Carman, they have to continuously look to improve the OL, to keep Burrow satisfied. The Bengals bringing in Schwartz would show they are committed to winning and keeping Burrow healthy, and could prove to be a steal if Schwartz remains healthy.

Why the Bengals will have the highest passing offense in 2021

Bengals passing offense can be the top in the NFL

By: Reese Nasser

With the Cincinnati Bengals choosing to take Ja’Marr Chase with the 5th overall pick in the draft, they are clearly making a commitment to both Joe Burrow and their offense as a whole. The willingness to pass on a talent like Penei Sewell and go with Burrow’s college teammate proves that they will do whatever to make their QB1 happy. You have to assume that Burrow had some sort of input on the decision. The reconnecting of two of the greatest college football players ever should put the rest of the NFL on notice. With an offense consisting of Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins, the addition of Ja’Marr Chase could make this a top-5 unit in the NFL and maybe the best passing offense the NFL has seen in years. Let’s take a look at why this could happen.

The 2020 Passing Offense 

Before looking ahead to next season,taking a look at the 2020 season could provide some needed insight. When looking at the Bengals passing offense in 2020, there was a high usage Play Action. Burrow had 78 play actions attempts which resulted in over 500 yards. Brandon Allen, who replaced Burrow after his season-ending injury, also excelled in play action. Allen had 35 attempts and 236 yards in just 5 games. With receivers like Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, who excel after getting the ball in their hands, the usage of play action makes sense. Boyd finished the year with 350 yards after the catch and Higgins finished with 310. While the offense was riddled with injuries there is a lot of promise and potential. 

Joe Burrow’s Production Pre-Injury

Prior to Quarterback Joe Burrow tearing his ACL, the Bengals threw the ball more than nearly any team in the NFL. During a week two loss against the Cleveland Browns, Burrow threw the ball 61 times, the second most ever by a rookie. The willingness to let Burrow sit in the pocket and throw the ball is a sign that this offense can be explosive. Through ten games last season, Burrow also had 404 pass attempts on the season, which put him at nearly 41 attempts per game, one of the highest in the NFL. With a coach like Zac Taylor who is very pass orientated, it is clear that the Bengals are committed to the passing game. This, plus Joe Burrow reunited with his favorite weapon Ja’Marr Chase, the passing production may be even higher. In 2012, Matthew Stafford had the most ever attempts with 727. Don’t be shocked if Burrow at least comes close to this. As long as he is fully healed from his ACL, the Bengals will be expecting big things from their QB1. 

Offensive Line Improvement 

With the signing of veteran tackle Riley Reiff and the selection of guard Jackson Carman in the second round of this year’s draft, the Bengals offensive line already looks much different than last years. All of this, plus the return of Jonah Williams should excite both Bengals fans and Joe Burrow. The improved protection from the offensive line could unlock this offense. 

The Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase Connection

The final key to unlocking this offense might just be Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow and Chase revolutionized college football in 2019 when they led LSU to a national championship. Burrow finished with 60 passing touchdowns and 5668 yards through the air. Chase caught 20 of those touchdowns and also had 1780 receiving yards. This is arguably the greatest quarterback-wide receiver duo that college football has ever seen. So why would it not translate to the NFL? It has been well documented that the Bengals biggest issue last season was pushing the ball down the field. This is something that Burrow and Chase excelled in at LSU. According to PFF, Burrow had a 61.5 passing grade on throws more than 20 yards down the field. While targeting Chase at LSU, he had a grade of 98.2. They also combined for 16 touchdowns of more than 20 yards. 

Even with choosing to opt-out of the 2020 college season, Chase still led the NCAA in touchdowns of more than 20 yards since the 2019. The instant threat that this duo brings to the team could be league altering. The addition of former LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss could also lead to some strong LSU flashbacks. 

A New Offense

Burrow, Chase, Boyd, Higgins, and Joe Mixon, protected by a revitalized offensive line with an offensive minded coach in Zac Taylor. This offense has all of the pieces. With a full off-season to perfect this squad, the Bengals could be absolutely electric this season. This passing game has all of the potential, and should be the best in the NFL this season. 

Grading the Bengals Free Agent Signings

Trey Hendrickson Brings Elite Talent

The Cincinnati Bengals are looking to be the team that takes the biggest leap from the 2020 season to the 2021 year. Joe Burrow is entering his second year and third-year head coach Zac Taylor is sitting on the hottest seat in his tenure thus far. 

To rise to the winning occasion, the Bengals have to win the first phase of the offseason: free agency. As of late, the Bengals have impressed in the 2021 FA period. Despite Peter King believing the Bengals haven’t done enough in FA, the big picture looks bright for Cincy. With that being said, I’m going to hand out report cards for the marquee signings in Bengals nation.

Trey Hendrickson: A+ 

I give absolute props to the Bengals for landing Trey Hendrickson. The Bengals need a defensive monster in their pass rush to complement the high powered Bengals passing offense. Hendrickson tied Aaron Donald’s sack number (13.5), while playing 200 fewer snaps. Another bright mark for Hendrickson lies with his potential — coming to Cincy at 26 years old. The Bengals would appear to many as the team that Hendrickson shouldn’t take if he wants a Super Bowl ring, but he’s still a young asset — plus he’s a high motor player mid round draft pick defender, NO worries about Hendrickson being a bust.

Mike Hilton: B+ 

The Bengals showed that they want to revamp the defense in the NFL free agency period. AND THEY DIDN’T DISAPPOINT. 

The Bengals landed a franchise slot corner with the addition of Mike Hilton. The 27 year old recorded three INTs, three sacks (9.5 in his career), and he’s a force at a position that’s hard to find quality players. 

Riley Reiff: B-

They may have lost Kevin Zeitler and they haven’t replaced him at this point, but the Bengals got a STEAL at RT with Riley Reiff. The 32 year old will be on the Bengals for a one year – $7.5 million year deal. 

Reiff is a quality pass blocker and this was a big need, as they face the likes of T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett in the division. Expect the Bengals to obtain a guard in the second-third round of the draft, while they may make a move for Pewell at OT early on.

Chidobe Awuzie: B

The new Bengals CB has four years of experience for Dallas. Chidobe Awuzie was drafted as a second round pick and he hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations. Awuzie has four ints in four years, along with 37 pass deflections in his short career.

Awuzie is under contract until 2023 and he will be able to resurrect his career with lower expectations. The Bengals have been sharp with adding talent at CB, so this will give the 25 year old time to improve his craft without being leaned on heavily.

Larry Ogunjobi: D+

I believe the Bengals didn’t need to break the bank at OL in free agency, but I would have liked to see the Bengals bulk up at DT in free agency. The team cut ways with the long time DT Geno Atkins, but downgraded with the once Browns DL. Ogunjobi recorded a mere 2.5 sacks in 2020 and 5.5 in 2019. Adding Hendrickson is huge, but the team didn’t take that significant jump by replacing Atkins with a lesser version of himself. The Bengals will likely bring in competition in the mid rounds and a veteran DT in FA for more beef in the interior DL.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑