No ordinary rookie: ‘Rare breed’ Chase off to fast start for Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) and takes it in for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
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Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) and takes it in for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

No. 5 overall draft pick has caught TD pass in first five games

CINCINNATI -- Ja’Marr Chase had a chance to watch the league’s top receiver on Sunday while waiting for the Cincinnati Bengals offense to get back on the field, and he took the opportunity to make some mental notes.

As good as Chase has been through his first five games in the league, he knows there is more he can learn.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams shredded the Bengals’ secondary for 206 yards and one touchdown on 11 catches, and even Chase couldn’t help but be impressed by what he saw. Adams leads the league with 579 yards on 47 catches, including 10 for more than 20 yards.

“It’s hard to double somebody like that when he’s the best receiver in the league, and he just showed why,” Chase said Sunday after the game. “The only time I was watching him I was just trying to watch his releases coming off the ball. He gets so much separation which makes his route down the field that much easier.”

After the Packers won the game on an overtime field goal, Chase went over to Adams to ask for his jersey. Adams didn’t request Chase’s jersey, but the Bengals rookie receiver said he is going to send him one anyway.

It’s probably a jersey any NFL receiver will want to have.

Chase has made a name for himself, recording 456 yards on just 23 catches -- the most receiving yards by a rookie wide receiver through the first five weeks in the Pro Football Focus era, which started in 2006. He leads the league with four catches of more than 40 yards, and he has touchdowns in each of his five games, including a 70-yarder Sunday just before halftime.

“I think what he did in college has really carried over,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “It’s winning one-on-ones, making plays on balls down the field even when the opportunities aren’t always there. He just has a great knack for judging the ball down the field, which not everybody does. He’s physical. He’s got really good hands. He’s got good scramble awareness to get in phase with Joe like you saw on the play at the end of the first half. He’s in great shape.

“Not every rookie that comes into the league is in that kind of shape. That’s one thing you notice. He’s playing a lot of snaps. We try to take care of him where we can, but he just goes and gives great effort. Even in the fourth quarter he’s catching those go balls and back shoulders and things like that. He’s everything we expected him to be and hoped to be and so far through five games that’s what we’ve seen from him.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said last week he would like to see Chase getting 10-15 targets a game. On Sunday, Joe Burrow threw the ball his way 10 times, and Chase finished with 159 yards on six catches.

The former LSU wide receiver said he doesn’t have a number of targets in mind each game.

“I don’t how to answer that, honestly, because I’m just trying to play my role,” Chase said. “I know I’m a rookie and all, I’m just trying to play my role, and make this team go as I go. This is Joe’s team, I’m on Joe’s back, so I’m just here to play my role, make plays, and hopefully that’s making the team win, but I just want to play my role.”

There is no doubt Chase has been a game-changer for the Bengals, though, proving him worth that No. 5 overall draft pick.

Three of his touchdowns have been strikes right at the end of the first half, helping the Bengals build momentum for the second half. His 70-yard touchdown on Sunday was stunning. Burrow had 7.8 seconds to pick out his target and launched it down the field, where Darnell Savage whiffed trying to get a hand on it around the 25-yard line. Chase came down with it and ran it in for the touchdown.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd said he can’t even think of any other players like Chase.

“He’s kind of a rare breed to me,” Boyd said. “That’s why we picked him up our first pick, fifth pick. I can see the talent. There’s not too many people on his level, so I think honestly, he’s got his own game. He kind of can do it all. He lets the game come to him.

“I think it’s his athleticism. ... He can take the top off, he can run any intermediate routes. The way he’s running is so smooth, and then like the way he runs routes it looks like he’s really moving without pads, so he’s ... got that extra gear.”

Cornerback Mike Hilton said he’s not surprised by anything Chase does. He’s been seeing that since training camp, when the outside was focused on Chase struggling with drops. Now his confidence level is rising and he’s getting better every game.

“Ever since his first touchdown his confidence has taken off,” Hilton said. “You can just tell over these five games he’s putting up great numbers for us and making a lot of plays for us and he’s a guy we definitely are going to lean on.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Lions, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7