In 2019 the Gophers finished 10th in both the Associated Press and the coaches poll, carried by future NFL players Antoine Winfield Jr., Tyler Johnson, and Kamal Martin. Another player from that team is about to join the professional ranks: wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
In last year’s draft, many Vikings fans, including me, were upset they didn’t take Winfield, Johnson, or Martin. But what if they took Bateman this season?
He profiles incredibly similarly to Justin Jefferson, according to draft experts. Like Bateman, Jefferson wasn’t considered among the top three wideouts because he didn’t have Henry Ruggs‘ speed, Jerry Jeudy‘s route-running ability, and he supposedly wasn’t a complete player like CeeDee Lamb. Similarly, Bateman is not as fast as Jaylen Waddle, as good a route runner as DeVonta Smith, or as complete a wideout as Ja’Marr Chase.
And like Jefferson, Bateman’s pro comp is Keenan Allen.
Although he doesn’t possess the attributes that distinguish the three highest-rated wide receivers in his draft class, Bateman is precocious in his ability to sell his routes — another similarity to Jefferson. Whether it is on a contested grab or a double move, Bateman always looks to make a play. Bateman certainty is no slouch: He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash on his pro day.
The wideout from Tifton, Ga. chose to attend the University of Minnesota over traditional SEC powerhouses like Georgia, Texas A&M, and Tennessee. In his sophomore season, Bateman formed one of the nation’s best wideout duos with Tyler Johnson — who was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round last year — in a season where they both eclipsed 1,200 yards.
Bateman initially opted out when the Big Ten announced that there would be no fall football last year, but he decided to come back when they announced an abbreviated schedule.
The Gophers were much less successful this season due to a combination of players graduating, opt-outs, and COVID cases. But in the five games he played, Bateman had 472 yards on 36 catches in Johnson’s role, playing more out of the slot than he had in previous years. Due to this change in role and the loss of Johnson, Bateman wasn’t the same big-play threat he was the year prior, and he saw his yards per reception go down from 20.3 to 13.1.
While wideout might not be a pressing need at the moment, I am in favor of drafting one in the first round if it means the Vikings are going to update their offensive philosophy, which looked archaic at times last season. And they could draft Bateman with an eye on the future — he could eventually take over Adam Thielen’s role whenever he decides to call it a career.
According to most experts, Bateman is in the second tier of eligible wideouts behind Smith, Waddle, and Chase. He will most likely go anywhere from middle Day 1 to early Day 2. If the Vikings want him, they could trade back for more draft capital and still take him.
This isn’t just a local play. He’s a great fit.
At 6’2″, 210 lbs, Bateman already looks like a pro receiver. Last season, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck moved him inside to the slot to allow him to create a mismatch with shorter slot cornerbacks, and Bateman used his size to either create separation or make contested catches all year.
He is also a skilled route runner who has shown an ability to run every route. Bateman’s initial move off the line of scrimmage puts defenders on the back foot early. He also generates lots of separation from cuts and breaks in his routes.
Bateman has finished top-10 in yards per route run in the FBS (3.48 and 3.45, respectively) in his last two seasons. Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith is the only other wideout to finish above the 3.4 mark the previous two seasons.
While he may not fill an immediate need for the Vikings, they should be happy to land Bateman if they decide to trade back. In the past, both Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman have shown that they aren’t afraid to take the best player available or even trade back instead of forcing a pick to fill an immediate need. Remember the Mike Hughes pick? Despite having Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, and Terence Newman, the Vikings saw that corner would soon be a need and decided to select Hughes instead of Will Hernandez, who would have helped them fix up the offensive line.
We know that Thielen will slow down eventually, and despite how incredibly talented he is, Justin Jefferson can’t carry the entire load alone. With Bateman in the fold, the Vikings would have one of the best WR trios in the NFL and could split time between Bateman and Thielen to keep both fresh.