Mon, 14 Jun 2021

Bengals Chase Down Prized Burrow Target At No. 5

Cincinnati Bengals
30 Apr 2021, 21:58 GMT+10

Geoff Hobson

The Bengals re-united college football's record-breaking quarterback-receiver combination during Thursday night's first round of the NFL Draft with the hope that LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase can help Joe Burrow repeat history with a Super Bowl championship.

In what appeared to be a close call with Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell at the No. 5 spot, the Bengals opted for Chase's vertical threat and a past with Burrow that encompasses the magical 2019 season they led the unbeaten Tigers to a national championship.

Both Chase and Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, but that didn't prevent the Bengals from ranking them high up their board.

While Burrow won the Heisman Trophy with an NCAA-record 60 touchdown passes, Chase caught an SEC-record 20 of them to go with another league-best 1,780 yards.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time in the 54 years of the common draft that an NFL team has selected a quarterback-receiver combo from the same school in the top five during consecutive drafts.

The 6-0, 200-pound Chase, 21, the first Bengal born in this century, now lines up across from last year's first pick in the second round in wide receiver Tee Higgins to take throws from last year's overall No. 1 pick as head coach Zac Taylor adds another weapon to his playbook for the 2020s.

But it's a pick that can have immediate impact in 2021 given Chase's familiarity with Burrow and the LSU wrinkles the offense incorporated in the wake of last year's draft.

"It's not a negative, that's for sure," Taylor said earlier this week of Chase's history with Burrow. "You get a chance to see at LSU in particular, they've had a lot of players come out the last two years. Some of them didn't play this year, some of them did. You get a chance to see an offense that is very similar to a lot of pro systems so there's not a lot of guess work in terms of how they're going to translate."

Burrow has said he hasn't lobbied for Chase or any of the top prospects and he didn't watch the March 31 campus workout at Baton Rouge, where Chase ripped off a 4.38-second 40-yard dash to go with a massive 41-inch vertical leap.

But Burrow told former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth on his podcast last week that Chase has his kind of work ethic.

"I didn't watch the pro day. I know what Ja'Marr can do. I didn't have to watch the pro day," Burrow said. "He's a lot like me. He was in there every Saturday with me throwing, getting up early. He's that kind of guy. He's a great person, great dude, great player. He and I got along very (well)."

As the Bengals move on from A.J. Green, the seven-time Pro Bowler who remains the Bengals' highest drafted receiver at No. 4 ten years ago, and John Ross, the No. 9 pick four years ago, they're looking for Chase to supply the deep threat that was missing last year.

Pro Football Focus graded Burrow with an off-the-charts 98.2 when he targeted Chase on throws 20 yards or longer two years ago. The web site had Burrow for just 61.5 on those 20-yard throws in his rookie year.

"Certain receivers just have a way of getting separation at the top of the route," Burrow told Collinsworth. "Whether they're accelerating past them or they get a little push, whatever it is, he's got that receiver ability to just run past people. He ran a 4.38 I think it was, but I didn't expect it. Nobody is catching him, though. He just has a great way of getting open. He has a great feel for zone, great feel for man. He's a complete player."

When Chase Zoomed with the media after the pro day, he said some of the Bengals stuff looks familiar but cautioned about the connection re-igniting right away.

"I would have an advantage if I was to play with him only because we played a couple of years," Chase said. "We would still have to get that groove back. Get a feel for it again. It's just not going to be there when throw again. We have to build that chemistry back up."

The Bengals no doubt solicited Burrow's opinion on Chase. Kevin Coyle offered one, too, to Bengals.com back in March. Coyle, the long-time Bengals secondary coach before becoming a defensive analyst at LSU, saw Chase every day and says he's got what it takes to be an elite NFL receiver.

"The thing I think a lot of people will be shocked at is just how strong this guy is," says Coyle, who coached the Bengals secondary for 13 seasons.

"He'll block. He'll knock the crap out of a safety. He'll lock up a corner. He's not afraid to get his nose dirty. You could put him at running back to get the ball in his hands. Pound for pound he's one of the strongest players on the team. Clearly he's one of the top players coming out in the draft ... There's nothing he can't do."

Chase, who grew up in suburban New Orleans with a list of goals on his mirror, reflected it all in what turned out to be the last game of his college career on Jan. 13, 2020. He returned home to help Burrow lead LSU to the national title at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with a College Football Playoff championship-record 221 receiving yards during a 42-25 victory over Clemson he showed all his wares.

He set up on one touchdown on a 43-yard catch-and-run screen pass and scored one on a 52-yard touchdown bomb from Burrow as he spotted Chase with a step ahead of Clemson cornerback AJ Terrell down the right sideline.

Terrell, later that year the 16th pick in the draft, came into the title game not giving up more than 60 yards in a game to a receiver, according to PFF.

"They played press-man coverage on me," Chase told the media after the game. "Joe wants to take that every time."

It's that time again.

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