Ja’Marr Chase is the best WR in college football — but will changes at LSU slow him down?

When it comes to the No. 1 wide receiver in college football, there’s not much room for debate.

Instead, the question is whether Ja’Marr Chase can repeat his epic season amid a slew of changes at LSU.

After naming the top quarterbacks and running backs in the nation over the past two weeks, our Big Noon Kickoff crew ranked the top five wide receivers for this upcoming season — and the LSU standout almost swept the top spot on everyone’s list.

Which, you know, makes sense. Chase is coming off a historic true sophomore campaign, where he racked up 84 receptions for 1,780 yards (or 127.1 yards per game) and 20 TDs, breaking the SEC’s single-season records for both receiving yards and TD receptions in the process.

Six times he hit the 100-yard receiving mark, and three times he hauled in more than 200 receiving yards in a game, including setting a College Football Playoff Championship Game record with 221 receiving yards against Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers.

He was unanimously voted an All-American and won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football.

Now, Chase will look to become only the third receiver ever to win consecutive Biletnikoffs, alongside OSU’s Justin Blackmon and Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree. But in order to do so, he’ll have to overcome some major changes in the locker room.

Of course, Joe Burrow was the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Cincinnati Bengals. You probably heard about that. It was in the news.

And passing game coordinator Joe Brady left the program to become the offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers (where, by the way, he’s looking forward to reuniting with Teddy Bridgewater).

Other departures include wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with the 22nd pick in this year’s draft, and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 32nd pick.

But despite these changes, head coach Ed Orgeron has the utmost confidence in the new offensive cast for the fast-approaching season.

Junior Myles Brennan is the quarterback next in line after Burrow, as Orgeron explained on the Off The Bench show, while longtime NFL coach Scott Linehan will replace Brady on offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger’s staff:

“We’re returning Myles. He had a strong arm. He came here, he’s developed … Myles and his family stuck behind us, we have stuck behind him – now we feel that it’s his turn and that he has all the makings of an outstanding quarterback.”

As for Linehan? Our own Reggie Bush played for LSU’s new passing game coordinator during his days with the Detroit Lions, and he believes his former offensive coordinator will excel in his new role.

“Even though they lost Joe Brady, they did replace him with Scott Linehan, who has been in the NFL for a long time. He actually was the one who recruited me to Detroit, and I actually had my most productive season in the NFL under Scott Linehan. So as far as the LSU offense goes, they are in good hands because he’s going to run a lot of the same stuff, if not all of the same stuff that Joe Brady put in, which we know is the same stuff that we ran in New Orleans and that we won a Super Bowl with.”

Despite the fact that Chase will have to develop chemistry and a new relationship with some fresh faces, in the midst of dealing with limitations attributed to the coronavirus, Bush believes that Chase will have no problem navigating the road ahead.

He even went so far as to compare the wideout to another LSU great.

“Ja’Marr Chase, he reminds me a lot of Odell Beckham Jr. With him, [the defensive backs are] always in trail position. That’s not something that you want to do against a guy like Ja’Marr Chase because he’s fast, he’s explosive, he has great routes, he understands concepts. He understands also where to be quarterback friendly and when to be quarterback friendly.”

Matt Leinart agreed with Bush, and also cited LSU’s depth at the position as a bonus for Chase as he heads into his junior year.

“Remember there’s really good receivers back on this team too, so you can’t just double cover Ja’Marr Chase every single week. He was elite against elite athletes and elite defensive backs week in and week out in the SEC, which we know is the best conference in college football. Ja’Marr Chase still right now is the best receiver in college football this year.”

So, sure, there’s a chance Chase might not quite reach the record-setting heights he did in his sophomore season. He was pretty, pretty good, after all, and those are lofty standards to reach once more.

But he very well could. And either way, our crew is confident he’s still the cream of the crop.

As for the rest of this year’s Top 5? Well, Rob Stone was the only analyst who didn’t have Chase as his top pick, as he instead put Alabama’s Devonta Smith, who was the overwhelming No. 2 for the rest of the group, in the top spot.

Last season, Smith played in the shadows of elite wideouts Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, both of whom were selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft – Ruggs was the first receiver off the board at No. 12 to the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos selected Jeudy at No. 15.

However, Smith outshined both statistically, after leading the team in receiving yards (1,256 – 96.6 per game), yards per reception (18.5) and receiving TDs (14).

Leinart praised Smith for his playmaking ability, and believes he has all the tools needed to be prolific on offense for the Tide for a second consecutive season.

“Last year he was phenomenal, and he had a great season – talk about just doing highlights every week. He always came up. But he was that third wheel. He was overshadowed by those guys who were two first round picks but … you talk to people around Alabama, and a lot of them say he’s probably the most complete receiver they even had last year above those other guys.”

Speaking of the comparison game, we even had a comparison to Bush on the show, when Meyer likened his favorite Big Ten receiver, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, to Bush because of his versatility.

Said Meyer:

“You almost need to have a hybrid position and a wideout position – to me he’s not a pure wideout. He’s a guy you get the ball in his hands. He’s the Reggie Bush, he’s the Percy Harvin, and I say that with great respect because those are the guys that can do it all.”

Moore suffered a leg injury and missed the last eight games of the 2019 season, finishing his abbreviated sophomore campaign with only 372 receiving yards and 2 TDs. But his freshman year was one for the books, as he was crowned the first true freshman consensus All-American in Big Ten history and broke two Purdue records — most all purpose yards in a season and most all-purpose yards in a single game.

One thing’s for sure: we’re looking forward to seeing Smith and Moore both pursue Chase for the title of best receiver in college this upcoming season.

For more Top 5s from the guys headed into the 2020 college football season, take a look at their Top 5 QBs:

And the top 5 RBs:

And check back next week when the team starts up the debate once again, as we inch closer to the college football season!