Fantasy Football Booms and Busts: Ja'Marr Chase breaks the game

Ja'Marr Chase made a list and he checked it twice.

Wrap up the AFC North title? Check.

Win fantasy championships for some football fans? Check.

Set a new rookie record for receiving yards in a game? Check.

Put his name on the Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy? Well, we’ll see about that. Sunday’s tape and box score make a compelling argument.

Chase was the signature player in Cincinnati’s instant-classic victory on Sunday, a 34-31 comeback win over the Chiefs. Chase collected 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns, and all of the scores were suitable for framing.

Ja'Marr Chase lays waste to Chiefs defense in Week 17

Do you like catch-and-run touchdowns? Marvel at Chase’s first score, a 72-yard bob-and-weave through the Kansas City team defense.

Maybe contested catches get your blood pumping. In that case, observe Chase winning on an 18-yard score at the right pylon.

Perhaps an old-fashioned “run by everybody, catch ball” touchdown is your go-to. Chase did this too, sneaking past Kansas City’s coverage for a 69-yard score in the third quarter, walking it in with style.

When you post this kind of monster game, we dust off the record book. By standard scoring (44.6 points), it’s the seventh-highest scoring fantasy game for a rookie since the merger, and if we pivot to full-point PPR (55.6 points), it jumps up to the second place. Jerry Butler’s 1979 game (10-255-4) remains the gold standard. Current fantasy managers might remember Corey Dillon in 1997 or Doug Martin in 2012. A collection of stars (Adrian Peterson, Clinton Portis) and one-offs (Jonas Gray, Jahvid Best) decorate the list. History is fun.

And so is the present. The Bengals are going to be a popular team at the draft table next year, as their Big 4 of Chase, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and Joe Burrow is sure to command pricy ADPs. We love a narrow usage tree in fantasy, and especially when we’re talking about these types of talents.

To be fair, Chase dominated the box score Sunday — Mixon (86 total yards) and Higgins (just five targets, 3-62-0) were both held out of the end zone. But Mixon entered the day as the RB2 in fantasy, and Higgins the WR13. They drove plenty of teams deep into the fantasy playoffs; you just needed some help on championship Sunday.

Burrow’s comeback also deserves lofty praise; his second season is miraculous when you consider that he tore up his left knee in November of 2020. Imagine how good Burrow can become if the Bengals shore up their offensive line a little bit, and Burrow’s pocket awareness gets an eyelash better.

About two years ago, he was on top of the college world, a Heisman Trophy winner smoking a championship cigar in the LSU locker room (sharing the joy with Chase and Justin Jefferson). Sunday was the same image, as Burrow and the Bengals celebrated their fresh AFC North title.

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Cincinnati’s defense deserves a hand as well — although the Chiefs did spring for 31 points and 414 total yards, the Bengals were able to keep the KC receiving stars in check. Ten Tyreek Hill targets went for a modest 6-40-0, and although Travis Kelce had a touchdown catch, his five looks only totaled 25 yards.

Patrick Mahomes crushed the Raiders twice in the second half of the year, but otherwise, his recent form has been solid but unspectacular. He commonly lands in the 250-300 yard range and throws 2-3 touchdowns, but that’s been the ceiling. He surely didn’t lose Sunday’s game — a 26-for-35 line, with 259 yards is fine, especially with no turnovers or sacks. He had two touchdown passes.

But if you were up against Mahomes in the fantasy finals, that line didn’t beat you, either. The Chiefs have turned their season around over the last couple of months, but it really hasn’t been on the strength of its passing game. Andy Reid has plenty of things to figure out in the offseason.

Worshipping The Sun God

One of the purest measures of receiving dominance is how a receiver produces when his starting quarterback is unavailable. Think of how Mark Andrews has dominated all year, no matter who's throwing him the ball.

With that in mind, marvel at Amon-Ra St. Brown. Detroit made a direct hit when it stole this USC receiver in the fourth round of the 2021 draft.

Brown started to spread his wings with Jared Goff in the second half of the year — and Goff, by anyone’s estimation, is an ordinary talent — but Brown hasn’t slowed down without Goff the last two weeks. Remember, the Lions have one of the weakest backup quarterback situations in the league; Tim Boyle was awful in college. But St. Brown posted a tasty 9-91-1 line last week at Atlanta, and then threw 134 total yard and two scores at Seattle.

Here comes the sun. St. Brown is unstoppable.

It’s common to see USC receivers develop into NFL stars, and it doesn’t seem to matter where they are drafted. St. Brown, as mentioned, went in the fourth round. Michael Pittman Jr. was a second-round pick two years ago. JuJu Smith-Schuster was another second-round pick. Robert Woods went in the second round in 2013.

Even the lone first-round USC receiver pick in the last 10 years — Nelson Agholor — has been a useful pro. And I still think Marqise Lee would have been a factor if not for repeated injuries. Fight On. (Drake London is the next USC name to know; he'll be an early pick in next spring's draft.)

When should we target St. Brown next year? Does the fifth round sound right, or is that wishcasting? Fourth round? Share your projection in the comments.

Speed Round

Devin Singletary is a quickness and burst runner, but he’s been a low-return receiver, just 4.3 yards a target. The Bills are wise to feature him, but it’s a shame this offense doesn’t have some of those easy yards to grab, a dangerous pass-catching back.

• The Bears had a two-touchdown lead by the end of the first period, and yet the Giants still attempted just 11 passes (okay, with four sacks thrown in). It’s almost like Joe Judge is trying to flip off his front office.

Carson Wentz managed just 5.5 YPA against a mediocre Raiders defense, and his one deep connection was a forced pass into double coverage, a fluke really. The Colts will still likely make the playoffs, but Wentz will ensure they can’t win the AFC.

• I don’t want to render a Tua Tagovailoa verdict until he plays a full season with a field-stretching receiver, but Tennessee had no problems shutting down a Miami offense that can’t scare anyone deep. It’s so difficult to move the ball when the field is constantly congested.

• Arizona is probably more dangerous in the playoffs than it was in the middle of the season because Kyler Murray will likely throw caution to the wind and run more proactively, perhaps even recklessly. And there’s no good way to defend a quarterback like that — predictable zones are easy to solve, and when you switch to man, it’s a gift for a mobile, athletic runner.

• The best way to describe the Ezekiel Elliott erosion is to examine his work as a receiver. His yards per target have gone down in each of the last five seasons. Dallas prioritizing Elliott over Tony Pollard is a gift to every opponent.

• The Antonio Brown saga overshadowed the Buccaneers and Jets, but give Tom Brady credit for breaking out the phone book passing tree and finding a win where Cyril Grayson, a compromised Mike Evans, and Cameron Brate caught touchdowns. The Bucs even got three useful catches from Le’Veon Bell.

• As for Brown, his time in Tampa Bay is through and perhaps his NFL career. That’s the least of any reasonable concern. Brown has made most of his own problems and he’s done harm to others on several occasions, that’s undeniable. But his erratic behavior has to make you worry for his mental health. He’s a person, perhaps a hurting one. Obviously he needs to be accountable for his actions, but I also hope he can find the help he likely needs.