For all the critics who convinced themselves that Ja’Marr Chase opting out before the start of the 2020 LSU season would make him less coveted in the 2021 NFL Draft, the former All-American receiver left them a message at the Tigers’ Pro Day on Wednesday.
That was Chase’s 40-yard dash time before an indoor football field filled with scouts and front office personnel of all 32 NFL teams.
“I kinda of surprised myself, I was going for a low 4.4,” Chase said. “But last night, I was feeling good about my starts, I felt like I could run a 4.3 this morning. That’s really what I’ve been going for.”
His blazing 40 came minutes after his vertical jump was measured at 41 inches.
“I wanted to jump 41,” Chase said. “I’d been jumping 39 at EXOS (training facilities).”
Chase’s performance, plus the sight of his chiseled and sleek 201-pound physique, left no doubt his decision to sit out what would have been his junior season at LSU was a correct one.
He thought of opting out last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic ended LSU football spring practice and all other sports around the nation.
As the NCAA allowed football teams back on campus last June and then with the release of a revamped 10-game schedule, Chase’s struggle to make a decision intensified.
The obvious reason to leave was it would be tough to top what Chase did as a sophomore when he had Heisman Trophy quarterback throwing to him who also was one of three first-round 2020 NFL Draft choices plucked from a record-setting offense on a 15-0 national championship team.
There was nowhere to go but down from his mind-blowing 2019 numbers. He had 84 catches and led the NCAA in yards (1,780) and TD catches (20) and finished No. 2 in yards per game (127.1).
He won the Biletnikoff Award as the college football’s wide receiver and was also already heralded as a top 5 2021 NFL Draft pick.
He could use the uncertainty of how a COVID-19 season would play out as another reason if needed. His family helped him gather information for an informed decision, which he made last August 31.
“We weren’t influenced by an agent, we don’t have an agent,” said Jimmy Chase, Ja’Marr’s father on the Baton Rouge-based ESPN 104,5 FM morning sports show Off The Bench after his son announced his decision. “If you listen to what I’ve been saying the whole time, this has been a fluid process. Ja’Marr and I have been processing this thing since the beginning and everyone wants to know why we waited for now to do it. When is the best time to do it, you know?
“The boy wants to play football but he’s torn between playing football and not playing football. The problem is, getting from understanding he can play or may not play, to making a decision to play or not play. In between that is when days get confusing.”
It was important, though, a decision was made before the season started.
“I didn’t want to play a few games and opt out,” Chase said. “That doesn’t look right. If I’m going to play in some games, I might as well finish the whole season.”
Chase never regretted his decision, never second-guessed himself. But he admitted it was difficult watching LSU struggle through a 5-5 season.
“Watching those guys lose games we were supposed to win was the hardest thing I had to do,” Chase said. “Sometimes, I turned it off.”
It was also a transition for Chase to improve without the daily benefit of supportive teammates. His encouragement came from his family and other close friends.
“My work ethic is pretty big,” Chase said. “I have a big support system, so they keep me going. I just want to be great. I don’t want to sit down and be lazy and get passed up every day. I know someone is always outworking me somehow, someway. I gotta remember that and keep working.”
His immediate workout plan for most of his time away from football didn’t include catching passes.
“When I opted out, I was working on a lot of my speed stuff,” Chase said. “After awhile, I started getting used to running my routes again and just getting comfortable again. Lately, I’ve been just catching balls, getting back into my groove.”
He seems to have paced himself nicely and plenty of NFL teams in draft position to choose Chase have talked with him.
The most notable is Cincinnati, quarterbacked by Chase’s former LSU battery mate Burrow, which has the fifth overall pick.
Burrow said in January he wouldn’t mind rekindling his explosive pairing with Chase.
“JaMarr’s a really good player, it’s pretty easy to throw to him when he has five yards of separation every snap,” Burrow said. “He’s an exciting player and a great guy and a friend as well. He was fun to play with.”
Chase likes the idea.
“I wouldn’t mind going back with Joe,” Chase said. “If we get back together, we’ll try and get back the chemistry and have some fun.
“I would have an advantage with him because we played a couple of years (together). But we’d still have to get that groove back, we have to work hard and build that chemistry back again.”
Burrow and Chase have the same drive and attention to detail, something Burrow developed with Chase and the rest of the Tigers’ receivers in his first-full off-season at LSU in the summer of 2019 after transferring from Ohio State in late summer 2018. With such a past connection, acclimating the best pass-catch duo in Tigers’ history shouldn’t be a problem if Chase becomes a Bengal.
If he doesn’t, he won’t be crushed. He just wants to hear his name called in the opening half-hour on the first night of the draft on April 29.
“I can’t wait to be in the NFL,” Chase said. “This is a dream come true to me, I’ve been thinking about it since I was like 9, 10 years old.”