One of the biggest reasons bad teams stay bad is by missing on top draft picks. When a team picks a bust at the top of the NFL Draft, that team not only misses out on the production from that player but also misses out on what the players they passed on could have provided. The Cincinnati Bengals have been a bad team for five years now and, if their top pick in 2021, Ja’Marr Chase, is a bust, there’s a chance they’ll be right back at the top of the 2022 draft.
So far, Chase has struggled in preseason action. The Bengals coaching staff is saying that they’re not worried. However, Cincy fans may already be second-guessing the team’s pick, especially as the alternatives are getting rave reviews on other teams.
Ja’Marr Chase has struggled in the NFL so far
Chase was a standout receiver for then-LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and the National Championship-winning Tigers in 2019. The wideout led the team, which included Vikings 2020 Pro Bowl rookie Justin Jefferson, in receptions (111), yards (1,780), and receiving touchdowns (20).
He opted out of the 2020 college football season but still became the No. 5 overall pick of the Bengals in the 2021 NFL draft.
Despite his lofty draft status, Chase has struggled in his NFL action so far. In his first preseason game against the Washington Football Team, he dropped all three passes thrown to him. These struggles are continuing in practice as well. PFT reports that the pass-catcher dropped two more balls in Sunday’s practice. One of the passes was even picked off by a nearby defender.
It’s still incredibly early in the 6-foot-1, 200-pound playmaker’s career. That said, if he doesn’t start improving soon, the Bengals might not get much production, at least early in the season, from one of their most important players.
The Cincinnati coaching staff says they’re not worried about Chase’s struggles
Following Chase’s struggles, the Bengals coaching staff have rallied around the young player and have said all the right things. Head coach Zac Taylor recently told reporters, per ESPN:
By no means are we down on Ja’Marr. He’s just going through some of the things rookies go through in training camp, and we expect him to improve over the course of this week.Zac Taylor on Ja’Marr Chase
While this certainly sounds good, the fact that the head coach has to address the team’s top pick’s struggles on the eve of the regular season is not great. It is hard to imagine that the team isn’t at least a little concerned about Chase, no matter what the sound bites are.
It is even harder to imagine that Bengals fans aren’t already feeling a little buyer’s remorse as well. Especially since the team passed on two possible cornerstone linemen in the draft to take the flashy pass-catcher.
The Cincinnati Bengals passed over two tackles in the draft
Last season’s good feelings in Cincinnati abruptly ended when Burrow went out for the season with a torn ACL. When the injury happened, he was in the midst of a stellar first campaign. In just under 10 games, Burrow threw for 2,688 yards with 13 touchdowns and a 65.3% completion percentage with just five interceptions.
The injury hurt the Burrow and the team’s momentum, but the Era of Optimism was still alive in the Queen City. Most observers believed that if the team could just beef up the offensive line to protect Burrow, the Bengals might have a real QB for the first time in a long time.
This is why it was a bit of a surprise when the club selected Chase over two potential franchise tackles. Oregon tackle Penei Sewell went two picks after Chase, and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater came off the board six picks after that.
Sewell is playing well so far in Detroit. In the team’s last preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he struggled at times but, overall, held his own against veteran pass-rusher Melvin Ingram.
Slater is generating even bigger buzz on the West Coast with the Los Angeles Chargers. The rookie tackle earned the highest grade of any rookie blocker so far in the preseason, according to PFF. He’s even looked dominant at times in practice blocking his Pro Bowl teammate Joey Bosa.
If Ja’Marr Chase doesn’t step up this season and Sewell and Slater do, it could be bad for the Bengals. If the oft-injured tackle Jonah Williams and free-agent signing Riley Reiff don’t hold up and Burrow gets hurt again, it will be an abject disaster.