With the sports world in flux due to COVID-19, NFL and college football players alike have been given the choice to opt out of their respective seasons. On Tuesday, wide receiver Rashod Bateman — Minnesota's top prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft — added his name to the pool. He chose to opt out of the 2020 season and will prepare for next spring’s draft. He is the 20th-ranked player on PFF’s preseason draft board, and he has little projection to speak of after producing at an elite level as a true sophomore in 2019.
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Listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Bateman has the all-around versatile body type that gives you no pause about his skill set translating to the NFL. He can win outside or inside, and he creates separation at every level of the field while thriving after the catch. The only thing missing from Bateman’s game is elite athleticism, but he still looks above-average on tape.
As a sophomore in 2019, he ranked seventh nationally in yards per route run (3.48), although that mark seemingly doesn't even do Bateman justice. The Minnesota receiver won where it’s the most difficult to do so: from the outside. And he did so more frequently than anyone in college football — yes, even Ja’Marr Chase. His 3.6 yards per route from a split-wide alignment led all receivers in the FBS. A big reason for that is just how gifted he is already with his release packages. He gets off the line of scrimmage about as well as anyone in college football, aside from Chase.
Rashod Bateman is an advanced route-runner with strong hands in open and contested-catch situations.
He’s not a rare athlete, but he still creates separation quickly at and away from the LOS — very smart football player and likely top-50 pick.pic.twitter.com/THGtN6kUPu
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) August 4, 2020
There simply aren't reps on his tape where he gets locked up early and taken out of a progression. Wide receivers won't see the field if they can’t get off the line of scrimmage in the NFL. The vast majority of early-round busts at the position don’t translate to the league because they can’t deal with NFL-level physicality at the line and early in their routes. With Bateman, that’s no issue whatsoever.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with Bateman, who checked in at fourth in PFF’s preseason wide receiver rankings. Drops have been somewhat of an issue in both of his seasons with the Golden Gophers. As a freshman, he had eight drops on 57 catchable targets. And this past year, he coughed up five on 65 catchable targets. Still, it's not a big enough issue that I’d use them as anything more than a tiebreaker in a draft conversation.
If there were another concern, it’s the level of competition Bateman faced at Minnesota last season. He skirted the talented press-man corners from both Michigan and Ohio State on his 2019 Big Ten schedule. In Minnesota’s bowl game against Auburn and Noah Igbinoghene, he couldn’t get much going, hauling in three catches for 49 yards — 34 of which came on a screen. But the tape shows that’s not necessarily representative of his performance, as he was able to consistently get off the line of scrimmage and create separation along his route against the Auburn corner. If that’s the biggest criticism of a player, I’m not too worried.
The bottom line is that while a 2020 season could have boosted Bateman’s draft stock and solidified his status as an early draft pick, he already proved himself to be a first-round talent.