Will Joe Burrow Dominate 2021 Fantasy Football with Ja'Marr Chase? - Roto Street Journal
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Will Joe Burrow Dominate 2021 Fantasy Football with Ja’Marr Chase?

After absolutely ravaging college football in 2019, Joe Burrow flashed plenty of promise before ACL and MCL tears cut his rookie season short. Despite a grueling recovery and question marks surrounding his offensive line, Burrow’s 2021 fantasy outlook improved infinitely this offseason thanks to one man’s arrival: Ja’Marr Chase.

The last time these two shared a field as LSU Tigers, Chase hauled in 111 receptions (T-1st in NCAA), 1780 yards (1st), and 20 TDs (1st), outshining Justin Jefferson who just set multiple NFL rookie records. Chase is among the best WR prospects in the last decade, perhaps ever. His addition gives Burrow among the best WR trios in the NFL before he even plays an NFL snap, especially given their preestablished rapport.

Will that be enough for Burrow to join the fantasy football elite in 2021 though? Let’s dig in.

TALENT

Joe Burrow certainly isn’t short of talent. In his senior year at LSU, he threw for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns, and only 6 interceptions, while completing 76.3% of his passing attempts. Ultimately, Burrow took home the 2020 NCAA National Championship MVP award along with winning the 2019 Heisman Trophy with a record 90.7% first-place votes. Simply put, the dude had one of the greatest college seasons of all time and is an immensely talented prospect. 

Burrow followed up his impressive senior college season with a formidable rookie season before tearing both his ACL and MCL in Week 11. Burrow finished the season with 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions and was on a 16 game pace of 4,300 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. That pace would have had him 7th in the NFL in passing yards ahead of MVP Aaron Rodgers and just behind ROY Justin Herbert.

My favorite Joe Burrow statistic from last season though was his insane usage: an average of 40 passing attempts per game. 40 attempts per game put him on a 646 passing attempt pace, which would have topped the league. 

Despite the 40 attempts per game, Burrow had a TD Rate lower than Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Drew Lock! I mean DAMN! His 21 passing touchdown pace would rank in Jared Goff territory so it’s pretty evident this was a weak spot in his rookie season. Burrow only threw touchdowns on 3.2% of his attempts which was 28th in the NFL among qualified QBs. Thankfully, he and Chase connected for 20 scores the last time they shared a field. I think that’ll help.

Additionally, Burrow does not have the elite athleticism to unlock the “Konami Code” with his legs. If we’re ever to see Burrow become a matchup proof fantasy QB, he’s going to have to start throwing touchdowns. Thankfully, TDs are some of the more volatile and least-predictive stats, and with his improved cabinet, they could come in bunches.

Even with a significantly below-average TD rate, Burrow flashed the potential to be a high-end NFL QB. He finished inside the top 12 at the position four times in 10 games in his rookie campaign, and only once fell outside of the QB2 range:

Though those numbers are nothing to get super excited about, it illuminates the floor Burrow already had before reuniting with Chase. Now, Burrow should see plenty more QB1 weeks.

Mind you he did this all with PFF’s 27th ranked pass blocking offensive line. Speaking of…

SURROUNDING TALENT

The Bad: Offensive Line

The Bengals have had one of the worst offensive lines in football for years now. Here are their PFF pass-blocking grades over the last 4 years: 

2017 – 68.5 (24th) 

2018 – 67.0 (24th)

2019 – 63.0 (26th) 

2020 – 58.3 (27th) 

While foregoing Penei Sewell may be a mistake in many eyes including my own, the Bengals didn’t exit the draft empty-handed. In Round 2, they selected mammoth Clemson OT Jackson Carman, before adding East Carolina OT D’Ante Smith in the fourth round. It’s wishful to think this line will suddenly morph to even decent, but it can’t be worse… right? In fact, they ranked fourth on PFF’s list of 2021’s most improved lines.

Additionally, former first round pick, Jonah Williams, returned from a torn labrum in 2020 and appeared in 10 games for the Bengals. Williams had a PFF pass blocking grade of 75.8 last season which is a promising sign from the young (hopefully) franchise left tackle. Williams is a key part of the Bengals future and if he figures things out in 2021, that will work wonders for Joe Burrow and the rest of this Bengals offense. 

The Good: Weapons

As mentioned, Chase’s addition gives Burrow one of the Top-5 WR trios in the NFL, perhaps even the best should Chase hit his ceiling.

How high is that ceiling? Just look at some of the NFL’s and fantasy’s top analysts:

Chase is a size-speed terror who’s vertical and broad jumps matched or bested DK Metcalf and Julio Jones, two of the NFL’s poster boys for “freak.” He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout while sharing the field with Justin Jefferson, and we all saw how he translated with the Vikings. There’s not a route Chase can’t run, and he’s deadly both with the ball in his hands and at the point of attack. He will step in as a Day One Alpha, affording weaker coverage for two very talented wideouts beneath him.

Including Tee Higgins, who flashed immense upside as a rookie. He led the Bengals in receiving, using his imposing 6-4, 216 pounds to dominate over corners. More than just a long body, Higgins consistently burned deep, finishing finished last season with the 10th most deep targets in the NFL (24). Stir in Tyler Boyd, a dominant possession receiver who would’ve likely gone for his third straight 1,000-yard season if Burrow had stayed healthy.

How do you stop these guys?  Especially when defenders must respect Joe Mixon. For all his injuries and frustration inconsistency, a healthy Mixon has easy top-10 talent at the position. Check out my stock watch for more on Mixon.

After ranking 29th with 19.4 PPG, don’t be stunned if the Bengals vault into the top-15 and add a TD or more per game in 2021.

Scheme: Zac Taylor Has No Excuses Noww

Zac Taylor and Bryan Callahan found the key to maximizing Burrow’s effectiveness last season: the quick and intermediate passing game. Through Week 10 last season, Burrow ranked fourth in expected completion percentage on throws under four seconds, according to NFL Next Gen. When Burrow held the ball for more than 4 seconds, it was a completely different story. Burrow ranked third to last in total expected points added on extended throws.

Chase could help the Bengals maintain a quicker strike attack while still producing big passing plays — an area they struggled with last year. Chase was fifth among all Power 5 receivers in yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information, a skill Taylor praised and plans to maximize:

“He’s got speed and he’s got great hands, but his ability to make that first man miss or break that first tackle to get additional yardage there is really exciting to watch when you turn on his tape from 2019.”

After an underwhelming first year as coach, Taylor did step up his creativity, pace, and passing rate… at least while Burrow was healthy. Via Pat Thorman:

Taylor’s offense with Burrow was a passing-game bonanza, leading the NFL with nearly 40 attempts per game. The volume, pace, and creativity should all be there for Burrow. Married to the perfect weapon’s cabinet, this offense could truly explode.

Porous Defense

This Bengals defense was pretty terrible last season. They had the 23rd ranked defense per PFF and this led to ample opportunities for Joe Burrow to sling the ball. Their defense allowed 26.5 points per game in 2020 (20th) and allowed for two of their better defensive players in William Jackson and Carl Lawson to depart in free agency. But the Bengals added 6 defensive players in free agency including Trey Hendrickson, who was 2nd in the NFL in sacks last season. They also added four players to their defense via the draft, so maybe we see this defense take a leap in 2021. 

Personally, I don’t see it. I think this defense will probably finish in the middle of the pack at best in 2021. The Bengals additions on the defensive side of the ball will not be enough to prevent the offense from getting plenty of snaps and playing the majority of their games from behind — positive scripts for Burrow to chuck early and often.

RISK

Reconstructive knee surgery obviously brings risk. Still, modern athletes are returning at faster rates than ever before. Recent reports came out that Burrow is “all systems go” for their regular-season opener against my Minnesota Vikings. More suggested Burrow “showed off some serious mobility” as he danced around the pocket and made all the throws, seemingly effortless.

Even if Burrow’s 100%, be wary of a slow start still. The Bengals early schedule isn’t pretty: vs. MIN, @CHI, @PIT. The Vikings may have faltered in recent years, but Mike Zimmer shouldn’t be counted out with more talent added this offseason, and the Bears and Steelers are perennial tough matchups. Planning on Burrow to be your QB2 for the early weeks may be prudent.

Summary: Joe Burrow’s 2021 Fantasy Outlook:

Burrow’s major knee injury is scary. Alongside a tough early schedule, Burrow may require a bit of time to get his legs back under him.

Working in his favor: one of the NFL’s best WR trios with Chase now added, inside a fast-paced and pass-happy attack that averaged the most attempts per game when Burrow was healthy. All this, behind a (slightly) improved line. Though Burrow’s TD rates were abysmal as a rookie, scores are the least consistent statistic. Chase’s presence alone changes the entire complexion of this offense, and 15+ more TDs is well within Burrow’s reach this year.

The Wolf has Burrow as his QB13, and I’m just slightly lower given the early-season roadblocks and poor offensive line. Still, no one would be too surprised if Burrow goes for 4700 & 35+ TDs if Chase hits his limitless ceiling from Day One.

Check out The Wolf’s latest 2021 Fantasy Football Big Board & Rankings to see where all the rookies and veterans fall following the NFL Draft!

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Author

  • Fantasy football enthusiast & writer for Roto Street Journal. Graduate of Saint Joseph's University Class of 2019.

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