While the 2021 NFL Draft features wideout prospects with grander pedigrees than Rashod Bateman, few have produced as prodigiously from the moment they stepped onto the college field.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ star wideout broke onto the scene in 2018 with 51 catches for 704 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that trailed only upperclassman Tyler Johnson on the team. The campaign proved to be just an appetizer for what Bateman would accomplish for his follow-up, a 60-catch, 1,219-yard effort that also saw him haul in 11 scores. Only his lack of draft eligibility — the NFL requires entrants wait at least three years following their high-school graduation before going pro — from declaring at that time.
But like many NFL hopefuls, 2020 brought difficult decisions regarding the coronavirus pandemic. With the Big Ten initially reluctant to play football and the situation with the virus still in flux, Bateman announced that he would forgo his junior season. However, when the conference reversed its decision on playing in the fall, Bateman re-enrolled in Minnesota and returned to the team. The wide receiver went on to play in five games before opting out again as the pandemic worsened late in the year.
Even with the shortened final collegiate season, Bateman remains one of the consensus top wideouts available in the draft.
Whereas most of the 2021 wideout class features prospects with obvious trump cards and weaknesses in their toolbox, Bateman offers a well-rounded skill set with no glaring flaw. At 6-foot, 190 pounds, he has the adequate size to match up with any defender he will face on the perimeter. Bateman has always played bigger than his frame might suggest and has the athleticism — a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and 36-inch vertical — to beat his coverage.
But Bateman’s true intrigue comes from his refinement as a receiver. An advanced route-runner at only 21 years of age, Bateman releases well at the line of scrimmage and freezes defenders on cuts. Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan quickly learned to trust Bateman to come down with 50-50 balls as well. Whenever Bateman played, the offense flowed through him.
At the same time, Bateman doesn’t possess overwhelming physical traits relative to the other top prospects at his position. But that doesn’t mean he falters in any one area, as Bateman has proven himself in a number of roles within Minnesota’s offense. In that way, Bateman performs like a smaller but faster version of Keenan Allen as a prospect.
Mock Draft landing spots
While Bateman has the talent and upside to develop into a legitimate No. 1 receiver, he would benefit from playing alongside one early in his career as he better learns how to handle press coverage and other defensive tactics that he will face in the NFL. Accordingly, if the Green Bay Packers opted to select a receiver in the opening round for the first time since Javon Walker in 2002 or trade back into the early second-round to take a wideout à la Jordy Nelson in 2008, Bateman could pair with first-team All-Pro Davante Adams. Both pass catchers would benefit as would reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Fantasy impact: Rookie year
As long as Bateman lands in a situation with a functional quarterback, he could realistically produce a strong rookie season. That scenario could involve a slow start as he works his way into a regular role and adjusts to NFL competition. However, once the game starts to slow down for him, Bateman could become a weekly flex option in standard leagues.
Fantasy impact: Career
Bateman appears to have as reasonable a chance as any wideout in this class of developing into a multiple Pro Bowl selection and potentially more. Receivers who produce well as early as he did at Minnesota tend to continue performing in the NFL, and as he physically matures his strengths will only grow more pronounced. The lack of a trump card in his arsenal provides some pause, but Bateman could become one of the league’s premier pass catchers in the right situation.