Just how good is Rashod Bateman, the second prominent 2021 NFL Draft prospect to opt out of the college football season? For starters, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was a first team All-Big 10 performer in 2019. The Georgia native was lured by P.J. Fleck to the Minnesota program in 2018 as a four-star receiver recruit per 247 Sports and looked the part right away. Now, let's go a little deeper on the highly-touted Bateman, who'll spend the year training for the NFL instead of playing collegiate football.
Bateman played a prominent role in the Golden Gophers offense immediately after stepping onto campus. He caught 51 passes for 704 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. Accounting for just under 26% of Minnesota's receiving yards in a true freshman season is a massive market share figure. And higher market share figures typically indicate future NFL success.
The true sophomore caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards (20.3 yards per) with 11 touchdowns.
After a quick scan of #DraftTwitter, I realized I'm higher on Bateman than most. And it starts with his savvy releases at the line that not just combat but routinely destroy press coverage. The majority of receiver prospects simply aren't advanced in that foundational element of thriving at the boundary receiver spot. From a variety of wiggles at the line to quick, powerful hand work, Bateman has many ways to create separation at the start of his route. With the cornerback quickly scrambling in recovery mode, Bateman consistently finds himself in an advantageous situation before he makes any breaks down the field.
Most tall receivers lean on their size as their trump card. Bateman's different. While he absolutely can go up and rebound the football (he reeled in 10 of his 16 contested catches last year per Pro Football Focus), he's more advanced as a route runner at this stage of his football career. Bateman was asked to run an assortment of routes -- mostly as a perimeter option -- in 2019 and demonstrated subtle head/shoulder fakes to free himself and plenty of explosion out of his breaks to generate even more space between himself and the defensive back covering him. At his size, that type of NFL veteran-esque route salesmanship is reason to get excited about what he'll be capable of in the NFL. He plays with a good amount of speed down the field to stretch defenses vertically and is an easy-to-spot hands catcher with a flair for the circus grab. Lastly, Bateman flourishes after the catch. Per PFF, he broke 17 tackles on his 60 grabs last season. Jerry Jeudy was credited with 15 forced missed tackles on 77 catches.
Bateman's an extraordinarily well-rounded wideout.
Bateman's film shows some hip tightness, but it's not an unusual level for a 6-2, 210-pound receiver. In almost every case, they aren't as fluid as shorter, lighter wideouts. That part of his athletic profile doesn't necessarily hurt him as a route runner, but he'd be able to turn cornerbacks more frequently if he could flip his hips quicker out of his initial route stem.
To me, Bateman is plenty fast enough for being a larger, outside receiver. I just can't label him a burner. If he ran in the mid 4.4s, I wouldn't be surprised -- because many times he ran away from cornerbacks in the Big 10 on go routes -- but something closer to 4.50 is probably most likely. Lack of elite speed will likely be the consensus knock on him.
Like I did in my profile of Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley, who decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season last week, I'm going with a floor /middle ground/ceiling comparison for Bateman because it'd gives a good general idea of the type of player he is and provide a broad range of outcomes for his level of success in the NFL when considering factors outside his control (coaching, scheme, etc.) once he gets to the league.
Jones lasted until the fifth round of the 2012 draft after three consistently productive years at Cal. At 6-2 and just under 200 pounds, he showcased a complete game to win in all phases. While he's never been dominant in the NFL, his polished game has produced five seasons with 700-plus receiving yards, three of which featured nine or more touchdowns.
Robinson went in Round 2 in the famed 2014 receiver class, and he's been one of the most slept on wideouts in football for years. Like Bateman, Robinson is a bigger (but not enormous) outside target with good athletic talent and refinement to get open and come down with the football on wayward tosses or jump balls. He's gone over 750 yards receiving in four of his five full NFL seasons with a pair of 1,000-plus yard campaigns. Robinson also led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 14 in 2015.
Yes, Jones is a lofty comparison. I get it. But I can't help that I got Jones vibes while watching Bateman last season. And no, Bateman isn't Jones' size. But when it comes to composition, 6-2 and 210 pounds is very similar to 6-3, 220. As a last resort, Jones can physically outmatch basically every cornerback sent his way. But as the most well-rounded receiver in football, his ability to beat press and run sharp, explosive routes are the two main reasons he hit the ground running in the NFL and rapidly ascended to superstardom. I see those traits in Bateman.