Rashod Bateman has had an outstanding Gopher career and is potentially going to be the first Gopher taken in the 1st round since 2006 when the New England Patriots took Laurence Maroney at 21. A year ago there were 5 Gophers who were drafted, including Antoine Winfield Jr. being taken in the 2nd round and nearly winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
But will Bateman be the first Gopher 1st rounder in 15 years?
Home: Tifton, GA
Bateman exploded as a high school senior in Georgia. He led his Tift County team deep into the Georgia 7A playoffs and his monster season earned him a 4-star rating as well as a late scholarship offer from Georgia. But Bateman fell in love with PJ Fleck, committing to the Gophers early in the recruiting process and never waivered in that commitment.
He came to Minnesota and immediately earned himself a starting position opposite Tyler Johnson (drafted last year by Tampa Bay). Bateman started all 13 games as a freshman, making 51 catches for 704 yards and 6 touchdown. Then it was his sophomore season when he put his name on the radar of all NFL GMs. During the Gopher’s historic 2019 season, Bateman had 60 receptions, 1,219 yards and 11 TDs. In that season he earned All-American honors, Big Ten Receiver of the Year and 1st team All-Big Ten.
This past pandemic-altered year, Bateman contracted Covid-19 in the summer of 2020 before deciding to come back to play the shortened Big Ten season and played in just 5 games before shutting things down to focus on getting ready for the NFL.
You will see three thing in every single draft profile written about Bateman.
One, he is an elite route-runner. In a little prep for writing this, I found that his route-running precision was well established before he arrived at Minnesota. He runs clean routes, make great breaks and because of it is able to gain separation from defenders on a regular basis.
Two, he has great hands. Drops were incredibly rare for Bateman. He would make the routine catches appear very routine and he would make the spectacular catch as well.
Thirdly, Bateman is a guy who goes and gets the contested ball. In college, 50/50 balls belonged to Bateman.
In addition to those attributes, Bateman has a great NFL WR body. He is a very smart and instinctual player. His commitment to a school like Minnesota when he had late offers from the likes of Georgia and other blue-chip schools speaks to his character as well.
His monster 2019 saw him put up his biggest games in the critical final 4 games of the season. This includes his 7 catches, 203 yards and a huge touchdown in Minnesota’s upset over Penn State. It includes 7 receptions and 3 touchdowns in a much needed win on the road over Northwestern. And it was a loss, but his 6 catches, 147 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin were significant contributions.
Through his 3 collegiate seasons, there was a LOT to like about Bateman and the expectation is that his work ethic, natural ability and intelligence will lead to a very productive career.
Without trying to sound too much like a fanboy, Bateman doesn’t have a lot of holes in his game. One analysis from Pro Football Focus agrees with me.
“There genuinely aren’t many holes that be poked in Bateman’s game. While his junior-year production didn’t quite stack up to his sophomore-year production, much of the latter came after contracting Covid-19 and losing 10 pounds right before the season. He was one of the highest graded receivers in the country as a sophomore and led the nation in yards per route run from an outside alignment.”
It is true that his 2020 production didn’t live up to the 2019 production, and fell dramatically short of the hype heading into the Covid-season.
Prior to his Pro Day, there was concern about Bateman’s speed. But running a 4.39 40 put those fears to rest.
Bateman is pro-ready in a number of areas, perhaps there is concern that nothing will stand out, making him a clear #1 for a team needing help at WR. So the question for many teams is, is he worth taking in the 1st round and is he good enough to immediately boost your offense?
That question seems to be facing a few teams who are considered to be in the hunt for Bateman. Projected to be picked in the latter part of the first round, there are three teams that routinely have been tied to Bateman in mock drafts.
Chicago Bears (20) - looking at the majority of mock drafts, this seems to be the highest someone will possibly be selecting Bateman. There are always surprises, perhaps Washington at 19, but going higher than 20 seems like a stretch. Bateman would immediately plug into the Bears opposite Allen Robinson. The good news is that he would make a great complimentary receiver to Robinson, often getting less attention than the veteran. The bad news is that he wouldn’t have a capable quarterback getting him the ball. Peter King’s final mock draft has the Bears taking Bateman, as does CBSSport’s Chris Trapasso.
Baltimore Ravens (27/31) - Another situation where Bateman can line up with another solid receiver on the other side, but this time he’s have Lamar Jackson throwing him the ball. Perhaps not the most accurate quarterback in the league, but such a dynamic weapon that defense’s have to give him a lot of attention. Bateman would be a really nice fit with the Ravens, giving their passing game a boost to go with a very good ground game.
New Orleans Saints (28) - A team that needs help at WR and Bateman would look good lining up alongside Michael Thomas. A team that prides itself on a dynamic passing game, but will have to figure out their identity in the post-Drew Brees era.
Green Bay Packers (29) - Aaron Rodgers is so damn good and the Packer front office has often done very little to help him out (thank you). Bateman and Rodgers would make a great combo giving the Hall of Famer another legit weapon to throw to and making Bateman better because that’s what Rodgers does. There seems to be more steam behind the Packers drafting Kadarius Toney at 29 and I’d be OK with not having to watch Bateman score TDs wearing green and gold.
Other 1st Round Possibilities - Washington at 19, New England at 15 and Indianapolis at 21
Philadelphia Eagles (37) - The Eagles have an early 2nd round pick and could use some help at WR. There have been a few mocks that have this being a likely landing spot.