NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the sixth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
Leading up to this year's NFL draft, I stated that the 2020 class of wide receivers was the deepest group I'd seen since I began scouting in 2003. It was absolutely loaded with starting-caliber talent. However, the best wide receiver in college football during the 2019 season wasn't even eligible for the 2020 draft. That player is LSU junior Ja'Marr Chase. Here are my notes after studying his film:
Height, weight: 6-foot, 208 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 84 catches for 1,780 yards (21.2 average), 20 touchdowns.
Game tape watched: All of his targets during the 2019 season.
What I liked: Chase has an exceptional blend of quickness, strength and playmaking ability. He lines up outside and inside in the formation. The Louisiana native incorporates a variety of releases to defeat press coverage, although sometimes he will bull his way through contact before getting into his route. He's a very crisp/clean route runner, and he understands how to use leverage to keep defenders walled off, both underneath and down the field.
He has strong/powerful hands to attack the ball and win in heavy traffic. He shows no fear working the middle of the field. Chase tracks the ball naturally over his shoulder and can high-point it, as well. However, his best asset is his ability after the catch. He's an angry runner! He powers through tackles and always competes for every last inch before going down. He also has the speed and burst to pull away after escaping the first defender.
Where he needs to improve: Chase is a complete wide receiver. The only blemishes on his tape are a couple drops on balls thrown to his back hip. That is easily correctable. Now, he doesn't have elite height for the position, but he plays much taller, with his combination of leaping ability, ball skills and play strength. He's in a special category for every other wideout-specific trait/skill.
Biggest takeaway: As I was studying Chase, I couldn't help but notice how many quality cornerbacks he dominated last fall. The SEC is littered with NFL-caliber defensive backs, and he got the best of almost every single one. His competitiveness is off-the-charts impressive. He just refuses to give himself up. You never see him run out of bounds with the ball in his hands. He will lower his shoulder against defenders and, like most outstanding wide receivers, he can find another gear when he needs it. Once the ball goes up in the air, you can see him accelerate and separate. He's a special, special talent.
He reminds me of: I can't pick only one guy here for a comp, because I saw glimpses of several different players when I studied Chase. His competitiveness and run-after-the-catch ability reminded me of guys like Steve Smith Sr. and Anquan Boldin. They have different builds, but they play with the same nasty/physical demeanor with the ball in their hands. There are also times when Chase does things that remind me of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Both guys can access another gear when needed, and they seem to relish working in traffic. In my opinion, Smith and Boldin are both future Hall of Famers and Smith-Schuster is one of the best young talents in the NFL. Chase has that type of upside.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.