Ja'Marr Chase is used to proving people wrong. The Bengals' rookie receiver has done plenty of that during his rookie season, as he has played an immense role in helping Cincinnati reach Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
Four days before he and his teammates will face the Chiefs for the right to go to the Super Bowl, Chase was asked to recall a specific moment from his past where he was doubted. It took a second, but Chase was able to provide an example.
"I can tell you, honestly, one of my best stories ever," Chase said. "Les Miles told me I couldn't play receiver when I was coming out of high school. That was something I had on my shoulders growing up. Les Miles told me that he thought I could play cornerback. I wasn't really in full position as a receiver yet.
"I just kept working on my craft. Offseason, waking up early in the morning just to work out. I just [stayed] focused."
Chase's hard work paid off. While he never played for Miles (who left LSU after the 2016 season), Chase blossomed into college football's best receiver by the time his sophomore season came around. That season, he caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns while helping the Tigers capture the national championship. Against Clemson in the College Football Championship, Chase caught nine passes for 221 yards and two scores in LSU's 42-25 victory.
His success at LSU with quarterback Joe Burrow compelled the Bengals to select him with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The selection of Chase came with some outside criticism, as many felt that Cincinnati would have been better-served selecting former Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Those opinions appeared to be validated after Chase endured a rocky training camp that included several dropped passes during the preseason.
But as he did with Miles, Chase proved his new doubters wrong. During his first season in Cincinnati, he caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns while helping the Bengals capture their first division crown since 2015. In the playoffs, Chase put up consecutive 100-yard performances in Cincinnati's wins over Las Vegas and Tennessee. In Nashville, his 19-yard catch set up Evan McPherson's game-winning field goal to propel the Bengals to their first AFC Championship Game since 1988.
Chase's recent play has garnered praise from Jerry Rice, whose MVP performance in Super Bowl XXIII prevented the Bengals from winning their first Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"He doesn't seem like he's a rookie," Rice said on NFL Network. "He's playing like a veteran. His route running, his confidence, his game-breaking abilities. He wants the ball, he wants to be that guy. ... This guy can do it all. I think he's loving the limelight right now. He's having fun, and I think they have a legitimate chance of winning."