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Fantasy Football: Ja'Marr Chase vs. Tee Higgins and why you should draft both of them in 2022

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The wide receiver position is full of quality options in today’s NFL, and in fantasy as a result. The recent influx of talent from the last four draft classes has flushed the position with solid starters.

Almost every team has at least one highly desirable fantasy player at wide receiver. Several boast two. Then there is the rare occasion when one team features two high-level fantasy WR1 types.

The Bengals' Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are that duo for the 2021 season.

There have been several instances over the last few seasons where we've seen a pair of teammates finish inside the top-12 scorers at the position in a single season. The Seahawks duo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett got close last year (WR12 and WR13) after doing the deed in 2020 (WR7 and WR9). Mike Evans and Chris Godwin did it in 2019 (WR2 and WR12).

The once famed Steelers duo of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster got there in 2018 (WR4 and WR9), as did Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for the Vikings (WR7 and WR11). We got Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams (WR1 and WR8) in 2016. Then in 2015, the random Jets pairing of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker barely missed the mark (WR3 and WR13).

As a team, if you’re going to pull this off, you either need to have a legitimate 1A/1B tandem as your top two receivers, a highly concentrated target share or both.

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Lockett and Metcalf are certainly a 1A/1B combination, as are Godwin/Evans and the same with Diggs/Thielen and Nelson/Adams at the time of their pairings. The other duos here featured an elite No. 1 and a fantastic No. 2 but were able to climb the ranks by volume. The 2018 Steelers threw 676 times and almost half of their targets went to either Brown or Smith-Schuster. The 2015 Jets handed out 50.7 percent of the team targets to either Marshall or Decker.

Will Higgins and Chase be the next WR duo to finish top-12?

Early best ball drafters are penciling in Chase and Higgins as this type of duo for 2022, as they both go inside the top-10 wide receivers. FantasyPros consensus ADP has Chase at WR3 and Higgins as WR12.

Tee Higgins #85 and Ja'Marr Chase #1 of the Cincinnati Bengals are fantasy stars
Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are both being considered in the top 12 fantasy wide receivers of drafts. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Bengals duo might have a bit more trouble than expected getting there on pure volume. During the regular season, Chase and Higgins combined for a 47.6% target share in games where both were active. That’s quite high but comes just short of that 50% mark seen by duos like the 2018 Steelers or 2015 Jets. Tyler Boyd’s presence as a legitimate target-earning slot receiver complicates matters. Most of the other teams mentioned above didn’t have a third option nearly as good as Boyd.

Higgins and Chase might never be a true funnel duo as long as Boyd is healthy. Even though the Bengals were 10th in neutral pass rate last season, they were still just 20th in raw pass attempts. They play a bit slower, a more conservative brand of football (25th in total plays run) than you might expect.

There’s a chance the Bengals might have to change up their philosophy going forward. It would make sense to lean into a pass-happy identity more as all these receivers and Joe Burrow prepare to hit their prime years together. However, we haven’t seen the Zac Taylor-led Bengals operate like that to this point and given the team’s overall success in 2021, it’s unlikely a facelift is on the way.

It’s looking unrealistic to expect Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins to slice off half the team’s targets for themselves and we’re already talking about an admittedly smaller pie than we’d want. That means that in order for the optimistic case we’re going to need them to be closer to a 1A/1B tandem rather than a No. 1/No. 2 pairing.

Godwin and Evans combined for just 39.4% of the Bucs’ targets in 2019. Didn’t matter because they were so good at the game. The 2016 Packers had their slot receiver Randall Cobb finish with 84 targets but it didn’t matter because Nelson and Adams were so good at the game.

Good news: I do think Chase and Higgins are the next 1A/1B tandem; these guys are that good at the game.

But should you prioritize one or the other in drafts?

The general public will likely not hesitate to crown Chase after the rookie season he just had. The fifth overall pick broke the rookie record for receiving yards and tied for third in the NFL with 13 touchdowns. He was a big play maven, finishing just behind Deebo Samuel in yards per catch. There might be some small handful of folks out there still clinging to some notion that he’s not a great route runner or technician based on a wrong college evaluation.

Trust me when I say you’re way past due to let go of that bad take. Chase saw a heavy amount of press coverage as a rookie and defeated it with precision. He’s a true No. 1 wide receiver.

The real debate might center around Higgins’ standing. I’m comfortable putting him comfortably in that 1B conversation. In a hypothetical world where the Bengals took Penei Sewell at No. 5 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft instead of Chase, no one would blink an eye if the team ran out Higgins as their top wideout.

Higgins is a long receiver with big strides to eat up ground in the vertical game. His trump-card trait is his ability to win contested passes but he’s also a smooth separator against man and zone coverage. He’s got a strong set of release moves to get off press, even if he gets more layup looks than Chase as the team’s flanker receiver.

Anything you’re looking for in a top-flight, ascending top perimeter receiver, you’ll find in Higgins’ game.

So while this team may not have the highly concentrated target share between two wideouts we often see in those aforementioned dual top-12 receiver finishes, they certainly boast the talent profiles.

Let’s not act like their situation is a negative in their outlook, though.

While you can pick some nits in the way the Bengals' offense operates from a structural standpoint, there’s a lot to love. All of these great duos listed above played with an efficient quarterback ranging anywhere from Aaron Rodgers to a flaming-hot random Ryan Fitzpatrick season on that spectrum. Joe Burrow is a comfortable projection in that cohort.

Burrow led the NFL in adjusted yards per attempt and ranked third in touchdown rate last season. Most efficiency metrics come with year-to-year volatility but Burrow is a talented passer just now finding his groove. His best days are ahead, especially now that the Bengals fortified their offensive line. Cincinnati ranked 15th in passing DVOA last season. Despite the heights they’ve reached so far, there’s a greater ceiling to push for as long as this cast of characters stays together.

Early drafters are aggressive in their rankings of Chase and Higgins. Based purely on their talents and the efficiency upside of their situation, this duo is the best bet among any wide receiver tandem to squeeze two players into the top-12 at the position.

We need not spend precious earth seconds arguing about which player is better or even a superior “value” at their ADPs in fantasy. Both receivers are great talents and going in comfortable spots in drafts. Chase should be a Round 1 fantasy pick. Higgins shouldn’t last much longer on the board.

The correct approach is simple: Chase — no pun intended — them both this season.

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