Heisman Watchlist: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Rarely, if ever, do wide receivers receive serious Heisman Trophy consideration. Since Michigan’s Desmond Howard won it in 1991, only three receivers finished in the top-3 in the voting, with Amari Cooper being the most recent in 2014. Virtually every big season by a receiver is complemented by a massive campaign from the man slinging him passes – quarterbacks can’t win the Heisman Trophy without their receivers, but the receivers rarely receive credit. Take last season’s LSU team for example; let’s skip all the standard ‘Joe Burrow had the greatest season ever’ because we know that, and it’s a boring and old way to waste words in this story. Rather, I wanted to look at Joe Burrow’s game versus Oklahoma. Burrow was incredible in firing seven first half touchdowns, but on nearly every toss, his target did a majority of the hard work.

On three of his TD passes, Burrow found a receiver with at least two yards of separation, twice hitting LSU receivers without an Oklahoma defender within six yards. On another two, Justin Jefferson had his man beat by a step or two, and Burrow actually threw behind him, forcing tougher catches than necessary, and on the two scoring passes not mentioned yet, Burrow hit his receivers on short crossing patterns. Now Burrow deserves plenty of credit for extending plays with his legs, making the throws, and all the standard tangible attributes QBs get praise for, but virtually no talk or conversation after the game discussed how insanely easy the LSU receivers made it for Burrow. Throwing it back a few weeks earlier, to Burrow’s viral ‘Heisman’ play against Georgia, and you’ll see him find Jefferson, open by about 8-10 feet. None of this is to say Burrow didn’t deserve the Heisman and didn’t have a great season, but the lack of credit receivers get is astounding. 

And if there was ever a receiver to be in a position to get more attention than the quarterback, it is LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. Chase was one of the bevy of LSU pass-catchers making Burrow’s life easy last season, and this year he has a far more unproven quarterback in Myles Brennan throwing to him. Chase didn’t do too much in the Oklahoma game, but he was the receiving star in the National Championship, catching nine passes for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns against Clemson. His 1,748 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season led the nation, and earned the sophomore star the Biletnikoff Award, presented to the most outstanding receiver. With fellow stud Justin Jefferson graduated to the NFL, Chase will be the top target for Brennan in 2020, and his highlight reel alone has got to make LSU fans excited.

Ja’Marr Chase is always open – check out this highlight mix from Bryan Mallett (@Bmalmedia on Instagram)

With Chase’s explosiveness, he doesn’t even need Brennan to light up the SEC. Last season, Chase caught a pass for at least 40 yards in eight games, and at least 20 yards in 13 of LSU’s 15 contests. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is unlikely to ask Brennan to be the hero for LSU, given his lack of experience as a starter, but expect him to be dialing up plays for his new signal-caller to hit Chase deep once or twice a game. Chase can get open against virtually anyone, and his hands are some of the best in the nation. A projected top-10 pick in the 2021 draft, Chase is undoubtedly going to be a focal point of the offense in the Bayou. LSU is hoping to avoid being a one-hit wonder, and they’ll lean on Chase to be even more explosive and precise than he was this past year. 

Top Games For Heisman Moments

@ Florida, October 10

Going into this game, LSU *should* be 5-0. Their only real test is a home game vs. Texas, and although Texas may actually be good this season, they will be underdogs in Death Valley, and they don’t really boast the defense that can take advantage of an inexperienced LSU offense. However, this October 10 contest in Gainesville will be a brutal test for the Tigers. In a hostile environment – their first true road game of the season – LSU will look to Chase to help Myles Brennan navigate the difficulty of playing away from home in the SEC. Florida will be the stiffest defense Brennan and the Tigers have to face in the first two months of the season, so if (and when Chase gets open) the headlines should be about his performance if LSU gets the victory. 

Game To Ruin Heisman Hopes

Vs. Texas, September 12

I’m worried that this game becomes a battle of Texas’s offense against LSU’s defense, and Orgeron may look to the ground game, to take the pressure off of Brennan in his first real test as a starter. As said before, I anticipate LSU winning this game, but the potential of an early-season trap game, and my gut feeling that Chase won’t be the go-to guy on the offense makes it tough for LSU’s star wide receiver to put up big numbers in a big win, which will be critical if he’s to be a legitimate Heisman candidate as a receiver.

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