A handful of top-tier prospects officially opted out of the 2020 college football season including Gophers wideout Rashod Bateman, who will now spend the next nine months preparing for the NFL draft after posting huge statistical seasons as a true freshman and sophomore in back to back years for P.J. Fleck and the Minnesota program.
Despite being just 20 years old and having far more room for both physical growth and on the field improvement, diving into Bateman’s tape demonstrated why this kid is already regarded as one of the cleanest wideout prospects in the country.
National draft pundits like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both have Bateman in their top 25 overall players for good reason. Kiper even penciled Bateman into the top 10 to the Detroit Lions with the eighth overall pick in his most recent mock draft. While those early predictions will be watered down throughout the next nine months, it gives you a better understanding as to just how high Bateman is on the national radar for NFL team’s front offices, scouts and coaches.
Three key attributes stand out when watching Bateman: his release, route running and play strength (or physicality). He has rare play strength both with the ball in the air and in his hands, helping him generate extra yards and production. He is one of the most pure, well rounded and polished pass catchers you’re going to find in this draft behind only a few names like Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) and Rondale Moore (Purdue).
I love how physically Bateman plays the game. I grade so many young receivers coming out who look like they could jump into the NFL right away on the inside as a slot man, but more times than not it takes that same wideout multiple seasons of learning the nuances and tendencies of being an outside weapon on the boundary. The vast majority of young prospects just don’t have it right away, and may never find it. But not Bateman. Despite being just 20 years old, he already sits at 6’2”, 210 pounds and shows off his own ability to play both inside and outside thanks to plays shown in the video breakdown below.
There are so many things to come away impressed with in his game, like Bateman getting in and out of his breaks like a bully at the stem (or top) of his route. Or constantly winning his one-on-one jump ball battles down the field and in the red zone. However, what impresses me the most is his wide frame and catch radius over the middle of the field — a great help for his quarterback. He muscles the ball out of the air with no regard for his own body in between the hash marks.
The Gophers run a heavy run-pass option (RPO) system, so these slants are a big part of the Gophers offense, and Bateman made a college living off picking defenders apart for constant 8-, 10- and 12-yard gains — moving the chains for his team. One attribute that makes Bateman such a well-rounded wide receiver is his confidence through physicality. Bateman gives the defense fits as an agitator and marks his territory in between the hashes all game long, which he uses in combination with his soft hands to snatch the ball out and away from his frame. In fact, you rarely would see Batmen let a pass hit his body, a great sign of a natural pass catcher.
Bateman will never be mistaken for a blazer in the speed department. Instead, it’s the violent nature in which he plays the game that allows him to make up for it. The “me first” mentality he has when the ball goes up, that it is his for the taking, and being interchangeable both as an inside option and outside weapon immediately is pretty rare to see from wide receivers transitioning to the NFL game. But Bateman seems poised to break the trend.
Another standout trait was Bateman’s double moves, which are some of the deadliest in the country. They were on full display during his time in Minnesota, and he created massive plays because of it, fooling the secondary with a commitment to his underneath route before blowing by the secondary for splash plays downfield. The strong breaks at the top of his routes combined with his rough and rowdy play style sets up success both before and after the catch. No matter which route Bateman is asked to run, he is looking to stretch and fight for every yard with proper running balance, which helped him end his sophomore season with over 20 yards per catch on average.
The bottom line is this: He was just a four-star recruit and not even one of the best 15 wideouts coming out of high school, but Bateman followed P.J. Fleck from his hometown of Tifton, Ga. to Dinkytown, and after just two years was on pace to break virtually every single University of Minnesota wide receiver record. Just like that, Bateman quickly cemented himself as one of the best targets in the nation. All that has equated to a first-round grade in the 2021 NFL Draft, as Bateman should be one of the first five wideouts taken.
Like many before him, he’ll undoubtedly get knocked down a few draft slots because he won’t run that ridiculous 40 time some teams foolishly fall in love with. But Bateman shares some similar traits to highly productive targets in the league who also lack the top end long speed like Keenan Allen, Deandre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Adam Thielen and Tyler Boyd.
Thanks to a rare combination of crisp route running, a pesky play style, the rare ability to succeed evenly both as a slot and outside on the boundary and some of the more natural hands you’re going to see in the class, Bateman is locked in to having a smooth transition to the NFL game a year down the road.