LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase will become the latest high-profile college player to opt out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. And there’s a case to be made that he’s the most dynamic playmaker on an ever-growing list that includes names like linebacker Micah Parsons, pass rusher Gregory Rousseau and wideouts Rondale Moore, Rashod Bateman and Sage Surratt.

Chase ranked fourth on our aggregated preseason CBS Sports Top 100 players after only quarterback Trevor Lawrence, left tackle Penei Sewell and Parsons. As a sophomore in 2019, he had 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with a 21.2 yards-per-reception average. Chase was so good, in fact, that despite the historically deep draft class, had he been draft eligible after the 2019 season he would have been in the conversation for the top wide receiver on our board — right alongside Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, (LSU teammate) Justin Jefferson and Brandon Aiyuk, all first-rounders last spring.

Strengths

So what makes Chase so special? For starters: pound for pound, he’s one of the strongest wide receivers in recent memory, excelling at contested catches that often then involve dragging defenders downfield as they try to gang-tackle him. He’s listed at 6-feet, 208 pounds so it’s not like he towers over defensive backs — even though he plays like he’s four inches taller and 20 pounds lighter.

Chase broke 31 percent of tackles last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, which was No. 2 among all FBS wideouts behind only University of Tennessee’s Jauan Johnson (who was a seventh-round pick of the 49ersĀ in May). But that strength isn’t just with the ball in the air; Chase, who saw plenty of press-man coverage, consistently won at the line of scrimmage, man-handling cornerbacks as he got into his routes. We saw this all game long vs. Alabama where he was matched up against Trevon Diggs, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound cornerback who was a Cowboys second-round pick last spring.

Chase’s calling card is his strength and contested-catch skills but sometimes those traits overshadow his route-running ability though perhaps they shouldn’t:

Nine times during the 2019 season Chase had at least 100 receiving yards in a game, including matchups against Florida, Alabama, Auburn and a 221-yard effort against Clemson in the national title game. All of these defenses featured formidable secondaries that either had players go in the first two rounds in 2020 or will likely see them go that high this spring. The point: Chase wasn’t padding his stats against a bunch of kids who had no football future; he did it against some of the best players in college.

Weaknesses

We wouldn’t so much call these “weaknesses” as “things Chase needs to tidy up to be a bona fide playmaker at the next level.” Either way, in terms of athleticism he won’t test like Ruggs, and he’s average height for a wide receiver. But that’s about it. He’s dominant at the line, he’s dominant throughout his route, and he’s dominant with the ball in the air. He won’t run a 4.3, but he doesn’t need to.

In many ways Chase reminds us of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was 6-foot-1, 215 pounds at the 2017 combine and he ran a 4.54 40-yard time. Smith-Schuster had 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie and followed that up with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and 7 more touchdowns in Year 2. In the right system, that’s the type of production we could see from Chase.

Chase stood out on an LSU team that was littered with first-rounders and set all sorts of offensive records on the way to a perfect season. Given his mental toughness and his physical dominance there’s no reason to believe Chase won’t have similar success in the NFL.

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