LSU record-setting receiver Ja’Marr Chase announced his decision to opt out of the 2020 college season on Monday.
A person familiar with the situation says defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, who started 13 games last season, also has told coaches he will opt out. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Shelvin’s decision has not been announced.
The moves allow Chase and Shelvin to turn their attention to next spring’s NFL Draft. Chase was expected to be among the first players drafted overall in 2021 since helping LSU win the 2019 national title with single-season SEC records of 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns receiving.
“We are living in such an unprecedented time,” Chase said in a social media post Monday, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic that has immersed this college football season in uncertainty. “After careful consideration and many emotional conversations with my family, I have come to a difficult decision."
The departures of Chase and Shelvin also come one week after LSU was ranked sixth in the AP Top 25 preseason poll.
Chase was a first-team All-American and the Biletnikoff award winner in 2019.
He was the top target for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow both throughout last season as a whole and in the Tigers’ 42-25 victory over Clemson in the national championship game, when he had nine receptions for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
Chase's decision was surprising only because of its timing.
Uncertainty has swirled around college football in general since it became apparent months ago that the coronavirus pandemic would remain a prevalent public health risk into the fall.
Although the SEC – unlike the Big Ten and Pac-12 – did not move to postpone this season, the conference has eliminated all non-conference games and moved to a 10-game season with a delayed opening day on Sept. 26.
But Chase continued practicing through last week before word began to circulate on Sunday that he was expected to opt out as two other defensive teammates – cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. and defensive end Neil Farrell Jr. – already had done.
“The competitor in me badly wants to play the season and go to war with my brothers," Chase said in his announcement. "But during this time with so much going on, this is what’s best for my family.
“I have been fighting the thoughts and concerns that have crept into my mind," he continued. "But I cannot ignore what I feel in my heart, and this ultimately is the best decision for me.”
Up until this past weekend, Chase was expected to be an on- and off-the-field leader on an LSU offense that has numerous new starters, including quarterback Myles Brennan.
Now Brennan’s top returning receivers likely will be Terrace Marshall Jr., who had 46 catches for 671 yards and 13 TDs last season, and Racey McMath, who had 17 catches for 285 yards and three TDs.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron also has listed 6-foot-5, 249-pound freshman tight end Arik Gilbert as a player he envisions being among the Tigers’ most productive in the receiving game.
Shelvin last season made 39 tackles, including three tackles for losses. He was a solid force against the run who also regularly occupied two blockers, making opposing offenses more vulnerable to blitzes.
Siaki Ika, who played in 12 games as a freshman and had 1 1/2 tackles for losses, is likely to see more playing time in Shelvin's absence.