One could not blame Joe Brady for leaving, and one cannot blame Ja'Marr Chase now either
BATON ROUGE — In the end, LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who has decided to skip the 2020 season and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, faced a situation similar to that of LSU pass game coordinator Joe Brady late last season.
Brady, who was hired by LSU to his first significant coaching job in January of 2019 at age 29, opted out for the NFL and the offensive coordinator job with the Carolina Panthers after orchestrating one of the greatest passing seasons in college football history with quarterback Joe Burrow. He knew he was leaving before LSU beat Clemson for the national title on Jan. 13.
The Tigers finished as 15-0 national champions, blowing away their last six opponents by gaudy scores of 58-37, 56-20, 50-7, 37-10, 63-28, and 42-25. Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and finished with an upper division NCAA record 60 touchdown passes in a season and was third all-time in passing yards in a season with 5,671. Burrow became the first player picked in the 2020 NFL Draft by Cincinnati.
Brady, who was named the Frank Broyles assistant coach of the year, was likely never going to do better as a college pass game coordinator. Because he was likely never going to have a quarterback better than Burrow. Brady wanted to be an NFL coordinator, so he made a business decision as he would likely never be a hotter college assistant.
As Brady's star rose last season, it was widely reported, and, unfortunately, more widely believed that Brady was going to stay at LSU because LSU was going to sweeten the pot. But you never know about coaches leaving or staying until the very end of a season. And Carolina's pot was much more plentiful.
Chase won the Biletnikoff Award last season that goes to the nation's best wide receiver. He led the nation in receiving yards with 1,780. He broke the Southeastern Conference record for receiving yards in a season that had been held since 2001 by LSU's Josh Reed of Rayne at 1,740. His 20 touchdowns broke the SEC record that had stood since 1996.
Chase was not going to do better in 2020 than in 2019, even if new starter Myles Brennan becomes the best LSU quarterback in history this season, other than Burrow.
Few players entering their junior season are as highly credentialed as Chase, who has been projected to be a top five pick in the 2021 first round for several months. Even in a non-COVID-19 season, a good argument could be made for Chase to skip his junior year and work out to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. But without COVID-19, he likely would not be skipping.
Now, enter the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if everything goes great from now on, and there is not a significant number of cases in the SEC, and no athletes die for reasons related to the virus, this is still going to be a strange, asterisk season. This is a season that has health risk written all over it, especially now that class is in session at LSU. And everyone knows students are not likely to be the most COVID-19 careful.
So, Chase deciding to sit out is more understandable than it would be if he just sat out to sit out in a normal season.
Or Chase could be conveniently taking advantage of COVID-19 so he can sit out because he realizes he cannot have a better year than last year without Burrow, and he doesn't want to risk injury with a record 10 SEC games.
Either way, his loss will significantly hurt the team, particularly Brennan. In that sense, Chase is letting the team down because Chase has the talent to make Brennan look better than he is. And now, LSU has only one receiver who has proven he can also do that — junior Terrace Marshall Jr. of Bossier City.
After that, it's thin. Senior Racey McMath caught 17 passes last year. Senior Jontre Kirklin, and sophomores Jaray Jenkins and Trey Palmer combined to catch eight last season.
There are three incoming freshmen receivers, led by Kayshon Boutte - the No. 6 receiver in the nation and No. 1 overall prospect in Louisiana by Rivals.com out of Westgate High in New Iberia. Koy Moore, the No. 5 prospect in the state from Rummel High in Metairie, and Alex Adams of South Pike High in Magnola, Miss., are the other prospects.
There was also a widely circulated story early this month that Chase would play at LSU this season. But that story featured Chase's father, Jimmy Chase, doing all the talking. Ja'Marr was not quoted in the story. It was also too early, much like the Brady stories last season that said he was staying. So, a story about Chase being "locked in" to this season never appeared here.
Obviously, sports agents could have gotten word to Chase and the family that he should exit now.
Chase also saw how 30 LSU football players tested positive for COVID-19 last June. There have been a few here and there in recent weeks. Chase saw teammate Kary Vincent Jr., a senior cornerback, decide to sit out this season recently to focus on the NFL Draft.. And Vincent is only a middle to late round prospect.
Maybe Chase just wants to quarantine himself for the next eight months, stay healthy, and get stronger.
This year, who can blame him?
LSU up to 18 commitments
The Tigers added two commitments over the weekend to get to 18 for the Class of 2021. Nate Wiggins, the No. 9 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, committed out of Westlake High in Atlanta. He is the No. 12 prospect in Georgia and No. 132 overall prospect in the nation.
Also committing was No. 34 tight end Jalen Shead of Olive Branch, Miss. LSU's class is ranked No. 8 by Rivals.com.