Ja'Marr Chase of the Bengals carries the ball against Kansas City...

Ja'Marr Chase of the Bengals carries the ball against Kansas City at Paul Brown Stadium on Jan. 2 in Cincinnati. Credit: Getty Images/Andy Lyons

LOS ANGELES — Michael Irvin knows a lot about wide receivers. He’s a Hall of Famer who played the position, so there is a pretty good depth of knowledge.

But when he wants to know more, he turns to Jerry Sullivan.

Sullivan is the wide receiver guru who made such an early impact on Irvin that he nearly convinced him to play his college football not at warm, glitzy, sexy, successful University of Miami but at cold, bland, boring Indiana. The Bloomington winters likely were too much for Irvin to stomach so they never connected formally, but the two have stayed in touch for the past four decades.

"He’s been working with wide receivers that long," said Irvin, also an analyst for NFL Network.

Irvin trusts Sullivan’s opinion on his trade more than just about anyone’s, including his own.

So when Sullivan started raving about a kid he was working with at LSU, Irvin listened.

"He said he’s never seen anybody with such raw physical skills and abilities," Irvin said of Sullivan’s assessment of Ja’Marr Chase.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) runs against the...

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) runs against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski) Credit: AP/Mark Zaleski

There was something missing, though. Something that Chase needed to develop. His talents were all-world, but his drive to be great? It was middle of the road.

That’s where LSU teammate Justin Jefferson came in.

"[Sullivan] said the best thing for him was he spent a lot of time around Justin Jefferson," Irvin said. "He said Justin Jefferson is the only other athlete he’d seen who wanted to win as much as I did, that he had that level of competitiveness. And when they spent time together, it rubbed off on Ja’Marr and now he’s a whole new beast. He’s always had the physical skill set, the gift, the ability, but now he’s got a taste of the lion’s hunger from Justin Jefferson. He bit into it and now he has it. He has everything."

It’s that combination of skill and spirit that has allowed Chase to explode on the NFL scene. The Bengals wide receiver’s 1,455 receiving yards set a rookie record, edging Jefferson’s 1,400 yards for the 2020 Vikings.

Chase has set records. He already has been named offensive rookie of the year. Now he’s trying to cap one of the most phenomenal first years with a Super Bowl victory.

If he has a big enough game, Chase also has the opportunity to do something that no rookie has ever accomplished: win Super Bowl MVP.

What he has done already seems plenty, though. Certainly it’s enough to put him atop the pantheon of his position in his franchise’s history.

Even Chad Johnson, the Bengals’ all-time leading receiver, has ceded that.

Yes, Ochocinco says Chase is Numero Uno.

"He’s probably the best Bengals receiver to don the damn stripes," Johnson said in a radio interview this week. "He had a stellar rookie season that’s never been done. He’s playing in a Super Bowl. I had a decade to help my team achieve and get to. I didn’t do that.

" . . . I might have been the most entertaining receiver — maybe player — to ever play this game. But what Ja’Marr has done in just a year’s time would identify him as the best Bengal to ever play, especially at the receiver position."

Another former Bengals receiver echoed that sentiment . . . and likely will on Sunday.

Cris Collinsworth, who will call the game for NBC, noted the contributions of Johnson, Isaac Curtis and others.

"Ja’Marr Chase, in my estimation, is already the best receiver that I’ve ever seen play with a Cincinnati Bengals uniform on, and I don’t say that lightly," he said. "The number of times I’ve seen Ja’Marr Chase catch the football 5 or 10 yards down the field and score a touchdown without anybody touching him, his catch-and-run skills have just been so much fun to watch this season."

Even Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — who once stormed into the NFL from LSU — is impressed.

"He’s someone I watched closely at LSU and just the things he was able to do, it wasn’t just like because of the offense or the coordinator that these guys were going crazy," Beckham said. "He’s an elite guy. It truly is amazing what he’s done as a rookie . . . I’m just very happy for him."

There is a good chance that the Bengals’ chance to beat the Rams hinges on Chase. Irvin said we’ll quickly be able to tell whether that will happen based on how Joe Burrow reacts to the expected matchup of Chase and All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey.

Irvin harkened back to Troy Aikman’s recent criticism of Dak Prescott not getting the ball to CeeDee Lamb in the Cowboys’ playoff loss to the 49ers.

"Troy said, ‘If I was with Michael right now, he would have 18 catches because once I see one-on-one on that back side, that’s the throw,’ " Irvin said. "Joe Burrow and Chase do that. One-on-one, you put the book down, there is no more reading the defense, I’m going over here with the ball.

"And I can’t wait to see if he holds on to that when it’s one-on-one with Ramsey. That’s the psychological game. When he sees one-on-one, does he go right to Chase or does he start looking around doing what he didn’t do all year long?"

It’s important for Burrow to keep feeding Chase, Irvin said, because of the message it sends.

"This will be a mental wrestling moment right here to watch," he said. "Norv Turner would always say to me, ‘Michael, I cannot let a guy take you out of our offense. I can’t even let our offense perceive that he is taking you out. I have to work you in early because if I don’t work you in early, then in their minds, they’re going to be like, oh, man, they’re taking out our best weapon.’ That takes a little hope away from them, and I always say hope will dictate everything."

Chase’s catches

REGULAR SEASON

No. Targets Yards TD Avg./catch Avg./game

81 128 1,455 13 18.0 85.6

POSTSEASON

20 27 279 1 14.0 93.0

Day 3 of Gilgo search … Hempstead water safety … Overnight at the wineries  Credit: Newsday

Manslaughter sentencing ... Strip-search hung jury ... Day 3 of Gilgo search ... Gateway's 'Rock of Ages'

Day 3 of Gilgo search … Hempstead water safety … Overnight at the wineries  Credit: Newsday

Manslaughter sentencing ... Strip-search hung jury ... Day 3 of Gilgo search ... Gateway's 'Rock of Ages'

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME