Ja’Marr Chase (left) and Joe Burrow are off to a productive first three games in 2021 (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
STATS & ANALYSIS

Ja’Marr Chase: How Historic is His Start in the NFL?

The rookie wideout and former LSU teammate Joe Burrow look to power the Bengals to a 3-1 record Thursday against the Jaguars.

At risk of making too much out of a 2-1 start to a young NFL season, it appears that the Cincinnati Bengals might be better than we all thought.

Not that it’s saying much, of course; the Bengals weren’t expected to be competitive in 2021. But with just a three-point loss at Chicago blotting their résumé, they have a shot to make a statement Thursday in primetime against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is a major reason why.

Three games into his career, an uneven preseason is already distant memory for 2021’s No. 5 overall pick, and the impressive numbers speak for themselves. The LSU product has 11 catches for a team-best 220 yards and four touchdowns — the rest of the team has only three receiving TDs combined.

That makes for more than just a great start; it’s historic. He’s only the 10th player since 1970 to catch at least one touchdown pass in each of his first three career games.

Notably, Chase did not play football in 2020, opting out of the college season amid the COVID-19 pandemic in order to focus on preparing for the NFL. It doesn’t seem to have mattered, as the start of his rookie year is eerily reminiscent of his star turns at LSU.

Right down to the QB who’s tossing him the rock.

The Bayou Bengals Connection

The 2019 LSU Tigers showcased one of the greatest offenses in the history of college football. And it just so happens that the unit’s starting quarterback and his favorite target are now Bengals teammates.

Cincy gunslinger Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy as a Tiger that year, piling up record-breaking performances on a run that ended with a College Football Playoff National Championship. He left Baton Rouge with the NCAA’s all-time record for touchdown passes in a season (60) and single-season LSU records for passing yards (5,671) and QB rating (202.0).

Chase accounted for 20 of those touchdown receptions and 1,780 of those yards.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the duo has picked up where they left off, and their on-field chemistry is apparent — both on tape and in the media.

“Ja’Marr came to me before that play and he was like ‘Just throw it up to me, just throw it.’ So I was like, okay, I’ll just throw it up and he went and got it,” Burrow said after Week 2’s win over the Steelers. “I thought the corner, [James] Pierre, had pretty good coverage. But Ja’Marr just out-physicaled him and got to the ball. That’s why you draft a guy like that to make those plays.”

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Ja’Marr vs. Jefferson

Speaking of former Tigers, Chase’s first three games have earned him comparisons to a rookie Justin Jefferson. Jefferson, who came out of LSU to join the Vikings with the 22nd overall pick in 2020, didn’t get his first start until Week 3, but earned every snap he played. He finished his rookie season with 88 receptions for an all-time rookie record 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns.

The biggest highlight came in Week 15 when he broke Randy Moss’s Vikings rookie record by catching eight passes, putting him at 74 for the year. Moss’s record had been 69.

Chase still has a long way to go to approach Jefferson’s 2020 — literally. It’s only been three games. But the parallels are there, starting with both of them breaking a record that Moss once held. 2020 Jefferson out-gained Chase’s current pace, but Chase has averaged more yards per target. Jefferson had 12 catches in his first three games, while Chase has 11.

However Chase has found the end zone four times compared to just once through three games for Jefferson.

How 2021 Chase stacks up against 2020 Jefferson will continue to be a fascinating subplot, but don’t expect them to consider themselves legit adversaries any time soon. The two even swapped jerseys at the season opener.

Those LSU ties run deep, on and off the field. But only one of these celebrated Purple and Gold wideouts gets to continue catching dimes from Burrow, which might just be the special sauce that puts Chase over the edge into the most rarefied kind of rookie air.

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