The 2021 NFL Draft is full of playmaking wide receiver talent. Most evaluators assume that the top two guys are Alabama’s Devonta Smith and LSU’s Jamarr Chase. Devonta Smith is in the midst of an incredible season. In fact, he may become the first WR since 1996 to win the Heisman Trophy. This season, Smith has 105 catches, 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns in just twelve games. Chase is an uber talented player in his own right and is coming off a strong 2019 season. Last season, Chase recorded 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Therefore, despite sitting out the 2020 season, his draft stock has not fallen at all. There is, however, one more wide receiver deserving of praise – Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman.
Bateman’s final season at Minnesota was shortened to just five games after opting out of the season. However, in his prior season, he was able to record 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. While these numbers are not nearly as impressive as the ones recorded by other top prospects, it is worth noting the QB’s that they have played with. Ja’Marr Chase got to play with eventual the number one overall pick Joe Burrow. Meanwhile, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle have been fortunate to play with Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones. Additionally, both have played under Tua Tagovailoa, too. Rashod Bateman’s QB was Tanner Morgan, who is unlikely to be drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft.
What Bateman shows on tape is a strong, sturdy frame at 6’2″ and 210 pounds. He has plenty of juice to get down the field, while also playing incredibly physical. In comparison to Chase and Smith, I believe Bateman is a superior route runner. There is also a good chance that he ends up being the fastest of the three. However, I would like to see his improve against press coverage, swell as at the point of attack. I would like to see that physicality after the catch translate to high pointing the ball and dominating against corners who try to get there hands on him. I believe these are both traits that an NFL wide receiver coach can teach, especially to a player of Bateman’s caliber.
As it stands right now (very much subject to change in the coming months) I have Bateman as WR2 in this class right behind Chase, and slightly ahead of Smith. I think very highly of all three players, and expect all will have long and productive careers at the next level. However, as we get closer to draft time, do not sleep on the kid from the University of Minnesota. He has a strong chance of becoming an elite WR prospect due to his size, playmaking ability and confidence.