It’s rare for college football stars to immediately replicate their success at the NFL level. It’s even rarer when it happens with multiple teammates on the same team.
What makes the Joe Burrow-Ja’Marr Chase connection then? The former LSU teammates and stars didn’t miss a beat during their sophomore and rookie seasons with the Bengals, recreating a deadly connection that haunted SEC defenses during college football’s championship playoff season. 2019 Tigers.
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Simply put, Burrow and Chase are both stars — whether it’s college or pro is irrelevant. The fact that they were able to continue their incredible chemistry is a testament to not only their individual talent, but also the rapport they built in Baton Rouge as part of a record breaking offense.
Burrow previously broke the Bengals’ franchise record with 4,611 passing yards in 2021, a record originally set by former Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton in 2013 (4,293 yards). Burrow’s favorite target to break that record was Chase, who leads the 2021 Bengals in targets (128), receptions (82), receiving yards (1,455) and touchdown receptions (13).
Incidentally, Chase’s single-season mark of 1,455 yards also breaks some notable records: the NFL’s single-season rookie receiving record (formerly 1,400 yards, set by the Vikings wide receiver and former standout of LSU Justin Jefferson in 2020) and the Bengals single-season record (formerly 1,440 yards, set by Chad Johnson in 2007).
Burrow and Chase look like the NFL’s next great quarterback-receiver duo. But you can’t fully appreciate what they’re doing now until you see how – and where – they started. With that, Sporting News heads back to college to watch the duo’s time at LSU:
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Joe Burrow-Ja’Marr Chase LSU Stats
Burrow combined to complete 621 of 906 passes (68.5%) for 8,565 yards and 76 yards for 11 interceptions in two seasons at LSU. The majority of those stats came from his record-breaking 2019 season, in which he completed 402 passes for 5,761 yards and 60 touchdowns for just six interceptions.
Chase, a freshman when Burrow transferred from Ohio State to LSU in 2018, combined for 107 receptions for 2,093 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns, also in the 2018 and 2019 seasons (he retired from the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic). Like his quarterback, Chase had an explosive campaign in 2019 in which he had 84 receptions for a team-leading 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Oddly enough, Chase never caught passes from Burrow in his college career. Backup quarterback Myles Brennan combined to complete 28 of 46 passes for 418 yards and a touchdown for an interception in 2018 and 2019, but none went to Chase. The only other player to complete a pass in those seasons — aside from Burrow — was running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who completed an 11-yard pass against Texas A&M in 2018.
In total, Chase accounted for 17.2% of Burrow’s career completions at LSU; 24.4 percent of his career yardage; and 30.2% of his career touchdowns. These numbers become even more impressive when they focus only on the 2019 season: 20.8 of his receptions; 31.3 percent of its footage; and 33.3% affected.
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College football records of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase
Naturally, the Burrow-Chase connection in LSU produced several school, SEC and national records. Below are the records the two players helped each other set during their two seasons together:
Ja’Marr Chase Single Season Records
- 2019: 20 receiving touchdowns (SEC record)
- 2019: 1,780 receiving yards (SEC record)
Chase’s single-season SEC records were broken a season later, when Alabama’s DeVonta Smith had 1,856 receiving yards and 23 receiving touchdowns in 2020.
Joe Burrow’s Single Season Records
- 2019: 60 touchdown passes (NCAA record)
- 2019: 65 total touchdowns (NCAA record)
- 2019: 402 completions (SEC record)
- 2019: 527 attempts (SEC record)
- 2019: 5,671 passing yards (SEC record)
- 2019: 76.3 percentage of completion (SEC registration)
- 2019: 6,039 total yards (SEC record)
- 2019: 402.6 total yards per game (SEC record)
- 2019: 642 total readings (SEC record)
Joe Burrow Single Game Records
- Eight touchdowns responsible for (SEC single-game record, vs. Oklahoma)
- Seven touchdown passes (SEC single-game record, vs. Oklahoma)
Burrow still benefits from numerous records he set at LSU in 2019, only two of which have been usurped since leaving for the NFL. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones set the SEC single-season record for completion percentage (77.3%) in 2020. The following season, Bailey Zappe of West Kentucky, broke Burrow’s NCAA single-season record for touchdowns, with 62. He also tied his NCAA record for total touchdowns in a season (65).
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Why did the Bengals draft Ja’Marr Chase against Penei Sewell?
Many expected the Bengals to return to a position of need in the 2021 NFL Draft: offensive tackle. This decision made sense for several reasons, not the least of which is Burrow suffered a torn ACL and MCL late in the season after being hit in the backfield of the Bengals game against the Washington Football Team. The injury happened in Week 11 of the 2020 NFL season – at the time he was injured he had been sacked 32 times. Only Russell Wilson (33) of the Seahawks and Carson Wentz (40) of the Eagles had taken more at this stage of the season.
Additionally, the Bengals were in a prime position to land Oregon’s Penei Sewell, the top offensive tackle in the draft, with the No. 5 overall pick. After selecting quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance with the top three draft picks, only Atlanta prevented the Bengals from getting their man. The Falcons ultimately chose Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
The Bengals then had a choice to make: go with an offensive tackle, a position of need, or reunite Burrow with one of his favorite LSU targets?
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan admitted the Bengals viewed Sewell, Pitts and Chase as clearly the best prospects available at the time they were given a pick. By the Bengals:
“After quarterbacks, we felt like we ended up looking at the top three players in the draft,” Callahan said. “These guys were a cut above what’s to come and they’re going to be good players. But these guys are in the elite. The best in their position. … It’s not a decision easy. We went back and forth on these guys.”
Burrow’s relationship with Chase helped inform the Bengals’ decision to sign him, especially during a season when the receiver produced no tapes and had interviews with teams limited to Zoom calls. Callahan also considered Chase — who had shown remarkable success against future NFL corners, including Alabama’s Trevon Diggs — one of the best receiving talents in recent memory.
“At the end of the day, he’s a guy who can make a difference on our offense. He’s so explosive,” Callahan said. “For me, he’s the best receiver of the last three years. He’s worthy of this place where guys like AJ (Green) and Julio (Jones) got drafted. It’s hard to pass up that kind of talent. “